Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Just Breathe

This little something-something was given Sunday evening, July 15, 2007.

Just breathing on that veil that separates
What Seems To Be and What Is
is the very thing that disintegrates it,
something lovers and mystics,
poets and infants,
musicians and philosophers,
parents and siblings
have been trying to explain to others
and themselves
for thousands and thousands of years
– time out of mind, really –
and it turns out that the stories told of it,
it – this experience,
are as different from one another
as we are, one from another.

And yet, there is an underlying
similarity, if you can
suspend your disbelief long enough
to read between the lines of
one person’s perspective,
one person’s issues
and pain
and fears
and frustrations.

And then what you can see
– the whole picture, including all those things –
is exactly what is,
no matter whether it’s a philosophical argument,
a piece of fantasy fiction,
an impromptu jazz improv,
or the act of washing an infant.

It’s all the same.
It’s all us breathing
– like we’ve never breathed before,
and like we’ve always been breathing
since the doctor/nurse/midwife
smacked us on the butt and began
our indoctrination to this reality
(somewhat harsh, compared to the womb)
we’d been breathing just like that since then,
but this time,
it was holy,
this time we knew it -
and for a split second
that lasted a year
the very air we breathe
actually dissolved the iron-thick door
between us and God

– the door that’s really just a curtain,
the curtain that’s really just a veil,
the veil that is so barely there
it’s only in our imagination,
our imagination that is so unhelpful
it turns it into a wrought-iron fortified door –

and for a heartbeat there’s nothing.
Absolutely nothing between us and God.

And then,
there’s something again,
and our brain snaps back
like a rubber band over extended,
but we’ve got the memory,
the sensation,
the experience of that moment
that nothing can take from us –
thank God nothing can take it from us.

And so we tell someone,
or we don’t.
It inspires something that we’re likely to do anyway –
music for the musician,
poetry for the poet,
yes, all of that,
but here’s the thing.

Here’s the amazing
jump up and down when no one’s looking
ecstatic thing:

this one experience
that may be followed by others
again and again and again
has the power
– and I do mean power –
to change us,
if we let it.

We can put our foot down and refuse,
of course –
of course we can.

But we can also crack open
the door of our souls
just a smidgen
(or even throw the door wide open –
that’s great, too)
and let the fresh air flow through.

It’s always then that we realize
how fresh the air really is,
and how cooped up we’ve been all along.

And before you know it,
you’re someone different –
a smidgen better,
a tad wiser,
and it feels like you’ve done
nothing at all to deserve it,
to work for it,
but of course,
it’s all a matter of perspective,
because if you’re like most of us,
it took a hell of a lot of something
to open the door just a smidgen,
but of course,
that’s not the sort of hard work
we typically give ourselves credit
for doing, when
we give ourselves credit for doing
something well, at all.

And so it goes.

Jesus as Clint Eastwood

This sermon was preached on July 15, 2007 (Proper 10, Year C)

Who is my neighbor?

The situation is a typical one. The new teacher comes walking into town – imagine the scene with me. I’m envisioning some Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western. The new teacher comes to town with some disciples in tow. Out strides the locals with one or two official types out in front. The guy in town with the biggest hat, or the sharpest suit, depending on the town, takes a step forward from the crowd to test this newcomer.

In the Clint Eastwood mindset, we might expect that official to be thinking, “What side of the law is this one on?”

But for our purposes today, the official is thinking something more along the lines of, “What’s that boy teachin’? Is he Orthodox, or is he a heretic? Is he a good Jew, or is he a damn Samaritan?”

So a question is asked – one of those telling questions, one of those complex theological questions, and it’s one that presumably has no easy answer.

And what does Jesus do? He does what he always does in this situation – and I say always, because this isn’t the first time it has happened, and it won’t be the last.

Jesus, who is both crafty and wise, answers the question designed to trap him with another question that demands the accusing party answer it for themselves. Which just goes to show something rather important: We already have the answer; to this question and so many others, we already have the answer, if only we will trust ourselves enough to dare to speak it.

And because it is demanded of him, the lawyer answers with what any good Jew, then or now, might say to such a query. The answer has a name, it is so common, so well known. It is called “The Shema.” It’s a distillation of the first two of the ten commandments. It is the convenient answer to any question of what it is God requires of anyone, for anything. I won’t bother quoting it in my broken ancient Hebrew. Here it is again, in English:

Love the LORD your God
With all your heart
And with all your soul
And with all your strength
And with all your mind.
And love your neighbor as yourself.

That is the answer that Jesus’ cross-examiner has given to his own question. It is the answer that is given by the Hebrew holy writings, known as “The Law,” and it is eloquent, succinct, and correct. Jesus points out the correctness of the answer and tells him to follow his own advice. But the questioner is not content with having had to answer his own question, nor is he content that Jesus got out of giving his own answer. So he asks for further clarification. After all, this Jesus of Nazareth person was a traveling rabbi, and if there is one thing that traveling rabbis did well, it was their ability and willingness to comment on the holy writings. The same thing in a Christian setting would be called preaching. In the Jewish setting, it’s called Midrash.

Now, one would think that the Shema was pretty obvious – Love God with absolutely everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. But already, perhaps, you’ve seen a questionable bit or two? The question from our time and culture is, “how can we love our neighbors when we can barely love ourselves, or at least, when we fail to love ourselves in healthy ways?” And it’s a valid question, because the command assumes that you are in fact, already loving yourself in a healthy and helpful manner. It’s a valid question, and we have to grapple with it, but it wasn’t the question in first century, Roman occupied Israel.

No, the question that the lawyer asks Jesus the Rabbi to preach on is this: “Who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?

And now, maybe the lawyer didn’t really give a fig about actually enacting the answer. Perhaps, after all, he was just asking because he was still in pursuit of this idea that he could trap this country-bumpkin preacher in front of his own congregation. Perhaps that was the case. Certainly the story has set the scene up for us to believe that. But perhaps it isn’t the case – perhaps he really wanted to know. We may never find out. But what we do know, is what Jesus said in response.

Now, he didn’t evade the question, and he didn’t turn it right back on the inquisitor, but neither did he give a straight answer that could be argued with. He told a story that hadn’t actually happened, but was certainly true, and it was to some great measure, shocking, but then those are the three hallmarks of Jesus’ parables, his favorite method of teaching. That’s what the lawyer got: a parable.

A parable, because the actions in the story hadn’t actually happened, but it described a great truth, and it was shocking, whether or not it seems shocking to our ears.

Who is my neighbor?

Now, a straight answer to that question might be something like, “everyone you want to be neighbors with, plus everyone you want to avoid, in addition to everyone you can’t stand. They are your neighbors.” But of course, you can argue with an answer like that until the cows come home. What is much more difficult to argue with is a concrete story of personal interaction, which is what the parable outlines.

A guy lies dying by the side of the road. Three people pass by. The first two are both upstanding citizens and leaders of the community, and just the sort of people you’d expect to help out a poor guy who is bleeding to death in the dirt. Now, please understand that the story doesn’t have him as a leper or outcast, someone who is poor, and of a completely different social class than those walking by. This story doesn’t even get into issues of social class. This guy who is lying in the dirt half dead was just like the ones walking by, only he got mugged in a rather brutal way and is now… lying in the dirt, dying. Now, the first two of these gentlemen who pass by carry the full weight of honor, respectability, and the love and favor of God. And what to they do? Well, here’s shocking part number one: not only do they do nothing to help, they cross to the other side of the road to avoid the dying guy. This would have scandalized the lawyer who was asking the question, but it’s hard to argue with when we all know full well that this sort of thing does happen. We may not like to talk about it, we may not like to hear it from the pulpit, and we share that with the first century Jews, but we all know it happens anyway.

But here comes scandalous thing number two: The third person who walks by is a Samaritan. Loathed and reviled by good Jews, Samaritans were likened to dogs by the Jews, who as a group did not apparently revere the animal as we do today.

And the Samaritan does not cross to the other side of the road.

And the Samaritan cleans and binds the wounds of the man half dead.

And the Samaritan loads him on his own animal, which means the Samaritan had to walk, for probably, miles, and took him to the nearest place to help.

And the Samaritan paid for his care, his food and lodging, well over what would probably be needed.

And the Samaritan promised to come back and pay more if necessary later, when he came back by again.

Shocking, shocking, shocking. It blasts apart stereotypes of who is capable of being a good person, a loving neighbor, not because of the man who got mugged and is lying half-dead in the dirt, but rather because of the particular individual who did help him, and because of all the ones who had a chance, but didn’t. The so-called “good people” didn’t lift a finger, and the so-called “bad guy” was the one who acted in the most merciful and graceful manner possible.

This is Jesus saying that our notions of who is Good and who is Bad are utterly meaningless.

Let me say that again. Our notions of who is Good and who is Bad are notions that are utterly meaningless. We can argue our assumptions and stereotypes until the cows come home, but they’re still meaningless. And when we base our willingness to show love and compassion to someone else based on assumptions of their goodness or badness, we are in fact going about the process backwards.

And so Jesus asks the question: “Who of these three acted as a neighbor to the man in the dirt?”

And the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy.” And I like to think that at this point, no matter his reasons for beginning this line of inquiry, that maybe this gentleman has learned something from the wise master, Jesus. I can’t imagine hearing this story, given what we know of the culture and the time, and not being moved.

“Who is my neighbor?”

The one who shows you mercy, no matter who you are, no matter who they are. So go, and do likewise. Be a neighbor, regardless of who you are, regardless of who they are.

Go, and do likewise.

A Decision

This little something-something was given Sunday evening, July 15, 2007

I was told at some point this week, or reminded, really,
That the main part of the experience of happiness
Was the decision to be happy.

Now, that’s just the sort of reminder that I love
Because it’s something simple
(Though of course, not everything
That is simple, is easy)
It’s something I can actually affect myself,
Something I can live into,
And it’s something that can have a bold and
Altogether significant effect on how I experience the world.

And since, even though I had heard it before
And had already attempted to incorporate it
Into my life,
yet it was a lovely reminder,
so I’ll repeat it again:

The main part of the experience of happiness
Is the decision to be happy.

And this idea does, I believe,
Tap into something greater than the isolated
Event of profound happiness
Gained by the decision itself

This idea taps into the very
Abundance of the Universe
That is already overflowing with
Joy, among other things

No longer a zero sum game
Order happiness from the menu and you have
To swap out something from
Column B, or two from Column C.

It’s more like putting your hand
Down in the water,
While sitting in a speeding boat

Just testing the water with your fingers
Provides you with a face full of happiness
As the water joyfully leaps up
At your mere inquiry.

And while perhaps you hadn’t planned
To have a face full of water,
Or Joy, at that exact moment
You can’t help but be happy about it

Because that’s the nature of joy.
And that’s the nature of abundance.
Just like exercising is guaranteed
To improve cardiovascular health

On demand, just like that,
A law of the universe, though it seems
Counter-intuitive huffing and puffing
On the treadmill, or in the park

Fully aware in that moment
Just how out of shape you really are
But you know this drop in the bucket
Will eventually fill the bucket

So it goes with any instance
Of the Abundance of the Universe.
So it goes with Love, with Understanding,
With Compassion, Wisdom, and Creativity,

So it goes with everything good
Every little thing, every big thing,
So it goes with Joy, and the rest –
Assumptions, fears, angers,

And all the things that stem from them,
Though they seem endlessly abundant
They are only in the way
Between us and the Reality

They’re the hurdle we have to
Pick out in the distance
So we’ve got a running chance
To jump over it, and not get

Cut down just as we get started.
Because all of those fears, angers,
Assumptions, those petty hatreds
And annoyances we cling to so admirably

Are really just the things keeping us
From having to trust
The Abundance of the Universe

They are really just the things keeping us
Distracted from realizing
That Truth isn’t in the smallness of
Right vs. Wrong, of my way or the highway

Truth lies somewhere else,
Somewhere at the intersection of Joy and Love
With a side of Compassion,
In Wisdom’s neighborhood cooperative

And that the directions to get there
Are blissfully simple, though not always easy,
As Mapquest won’t help,
Nor Google, for all its worth.

It requires summarily dropping
All that you carry
Tainted with anger and fear,
Injustice and intolerance,

Leaving it cold turkey,
And doing a 180,
Because so long as Fear is before you,
Love will be in the opposite direction,

And then you just walk.
Just go straight ahead,
Or more or less straight,
Keep walking, though it’s hard at first

Sometimes it’s easier to think about
Walking away from the Fear, or Anger
And work your way up
To walking toward something

That may seem foreign at first
But you’ll get there,
We all will – we’re all capable
It’s available to every one of us

This Abundance of the Universe.
All we have to do is lean over toward the water,
Reach out a hand, and feel the
Powerful wave reach right back at us.

We make our beds...

This was the morning sermon preached on July 8, 2007 (Proper 9, Year C)

We make our beds and then we lie in them. And yet, there is grace.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place.

That’s what the Psalm teaches us. The Psalmist – whoever he was, King David didn’t write this particular piece of music – is remembering what God has already done for the people to whom he sings. But this wasn’t just a one time thing – the Psalmist is succinctly describing a cycle of the Universe, and using metaphor to do it.

Now, the Psalmist may have been writing about any number of national or cultural difficulties – he may have been talking about the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, he may have been talking about the national upheaval in the not entirely smooth transfer of power from King Saul, the first king of Israel to King David, the second and most beloved king of Israel, against whom all other rulers were ever compared, and found wanting. The Psalmist may have even fast-forwarded through history here, and have been talking about the period of exile – when everyone who was anyone in Israel was forcibly displaced and made to be refugees in Babylonia – they didn’t take the poor people, mind you, just all of the politicians, priests, craftsmen, merchants, and anyone else who might have been necessary to the maintaining of a society, plus all the physical wealth. The Psalmist might have been singing about that time.

Regardless of what exact memory the Psalmist was trying to evoke for the people to whom he sung with his metaphor, there’s a point that is very clear here for us, and would have been terrifically clear to the people of Israel. This idea that we’ve reaped what we’ve sown. We’ve made our bed, and now we’re lying in it.

It’s an idea that, regardless of what cause to which we might attribute those historical events, the people themselves clearly understood the situation as one that they walked into with their eyes wide open.

Surely, we can identify with this.

Now, I don’t need a show of hands for this one, but who here has done something you regret? Or, perhaps, neglected to do something? Think on that for a moment. It could be large, it could be small, it could be something that happened yesterday, or earlier this morning, or twenty years ago. If there are several things to choose from, just for the moment pick one of those.

Now that you have that one thing in your head, think about the fallout from that incident. This may or may not be something you’ve ever done before, but indulge me and try it out. What happened in your environment around you because you did or didn’t do what you remembered? How did other people react? Think of it like a cause and effect chain of events. Where there effects you didn’t realize at the time, but only came to understand later, or even, now?

Now, for some of us, this moment that we regret may have had a happy ending, so to speak. It turned out okay anyway, or no one was hurt, or we went through the pain and were forgiven – and then forgave ourselves. For some of us, this moment of regret may not have had a happy ending. It was just one instance in a long line of similar ones, and still nothing has changed, or people were hurt because of that moment we regret, and there has never been forgiveness – either we have never forgiven ourselves, we have never accepted the forgiveness of others, or we have never actually received forgiveness from them.

It’s no light matter, these little regrets of ours. These little regrets, that sometimes, are not so very little after all.

And in addition to personal regrets, individual regrets, we may have regrets as a family, or as a group of friends, because moments in which we regret our words and actions aren’t just limited to how we act as an individual. When we’re in a larger group, our power to do and to be grows exponentially. Look, for instance, at how cruel teenagers can be to one another, in groups, whereas one-on-one their behavior is usually quite different. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, just go rent a movie – Hollywood has an entire sub-genre devoted to the nastiness and meanness of adolescents, in groups, and they’re not just making it up.

But lest we start to unduly vilify teens, let’s think of even larger groups – bigger than family and friends. Let’s think of… government. Let’s think of Buffalo as a region – full of lawmakers and law enforcers, full of non-profits and for-profits, full of public schools and private schools, colleges and universities, full of citizens of every stripe and age, as well as foreign nationals and ex-patriots from many lands.

Think of this, even as I read out again that portion from the psalm.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place.

Please note that this reflection of reality that we find in the Psalm doesn’t end on a note of pain, or suffering, or regret. Let me repeat that. The Psalm – not this portion, not the work in its entirety – doesn’t end with regret. And neither should we. Because regret isn’t the last word – perhaps in a world where there is no God, no compassionate Beloved who created us and cares for us and inspires us, perhaps regret would be the end – but we don’t live in such a world.

We live in a world where there is grace.

Now, grace is kind of an old fashioned word, as well as a woman’s first name, but in this usage, the “Grace of God” means that whether or not we think we deserve it, we are capable of receiving love, forgiveness and blessing, even in our worst moment, even in our darkest hour.

Grace is what the psalmist was talking about several thousand years ago when this piece was originally sung out to groups of people.

Grace is what we have all experienced at one point or another or maybe over and over again whenever someone forgave us, even though we’d hurt them, whenever someone loved us anyway. And we have been the living out of Grace ourselves – every time we forgive, or love – the light of the Beloved, the light of God shines out of us in those moments.

But more than just specific incidences, Grace is that underlying presence of God – Grace means the presence of blessing in our life, as well as the invitation of blessing. All good things.

Imagine that – all good things. This is Grace.

And so, we have those moments we regret; we have the cause and the effect that can be so painful and so detrimental – whether we consider it just on our own personal level, or on our regional, or national level – and then, we have Grace, which is not a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, but rather is the ability to heal the breach, no matter what the cause, no matter what the effect.

Think about that with me for a minute. God’s Grace helps us, allows us, enables us, inspires us, to heal the breach. The breach within ourselves, the breach between us and the ones we love, the breach in the communities in which we live, the nation in which we live, the world in which we live.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place

That is cause for hope.

Expectations, or Happiness...

This little something-something was given on Sunday evening, July 1, 2007.

I was thinking about expectations.

I have always thought that that there were two sorts of expectations.

There was the sort of expectations that you knew where unrealistic
Pies up there, in the sky.
Hopes and dreams for the far future.
Wishful thinking for a situation to be somehow,
Different than it is.

And then there were everyday expectations.
I expect to get up and have a cup of coffee before work.
I expect to go to work.
I expect to see a friend,
To do this or that around the house.
I expect for my dog to adore me,
For my child to greet me with joy,
For my spouse to be patient
For… well, you name it.

But when you start thinking about those categories…
Is it any more likely to expect your five year old daughter
To become a Nobel Laureate
Than to expect that your spouse will always be patient?

I was thinking about expectations.
I don’t know about you,
But when I can finally acknowledge that I have them,
They’re not terribly vague,
Neither are they terribly weak.
They’re specific, and strong and…

It turns out that I’ve been gambling
My present happiness for some future outcome.
Instead of simply existing right now
Right now
Doing whatever I’m doing
Being however I am
My poor unfocused brain
Is computing at a hundred miles an hour
Placing bets on the future
And then, God forbid, worrying about them

I haven’t finished the project yet
Will I finish it in time?
I haven’t called my mother today…
And so it goes, on and on.

But that’s not all.

I’ve been thinking about expectations.

Isn’t it funny how we blame our happiness,
Or lack thereof
On everything – absolutely everything –
Than the one thing that can decide
Whether or not we are happy,
Which is, of course, our own selves.

The butterfly may flap its wings tonight
In some jungle in South America
And two years later, next Tuesday
You’ll get married here in the City
And it will rain terribly
But not in the suburbs
And it will be terribly disappointing
But in twelve year, next Tuesday,
You’ll be able to trace it all back
All of your pain
All of your heartache
All of the marital trouble
All of the problem with the kids
You’ll be able to trace it all
Back to that terrible afternoon
Two years ago, next Tuesday
When it rained on your wedding day.

Isn’t it funny – in that dark, not actually humorous way –
How we are so adept at blaming everyone but ourselves?

Of course there is an alternative.
We could cut down on the expectations
With the ideal being that we cut them out
And meanwhile
Take responsibility for our own happiness
Or lack thereof.

Of course, that’s rather challenging.
It’s one of those things that is simple,
But not easy.
But the flip side is…

You’ll be happy.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martyr

Sermon given at Trinity Church, July 1, 2007, Proper 8

We have here some very somber readings. We have a reading from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – martyr. We have a reading from the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – martyr. We have a reading from Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah – martyr. The story about Jesus as it is told, has him on the road to Jerusalem – that final trip to Jerusalem, where in the words of the gospeller Luke, Jesus is about to be ‘taken up’, which can be read: gruesomely executed by the Roman Empire. Bonhoeffer is in a prison in Nazi Germany – he’s going to be hanged. And King has yet to make his final speech on April 4th in Memphis, where he will be shot and killed.

Everyone knows who the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. is, though not everyone has really gotten the chance to think about the fact that he did and said quite a lot more than just those four little words – “I have a dream.”

Most of us are acquainted with Jesus, so I’ll save him for the end.

Not everyone knows who the Reverend Doctor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, so please allow me to give you a brief history lesson. The time is 1931, the scene is Nazi Germany just before the outbreak of World War II. At 25 years of age, Bonhoeffer was a priest and professor, and having traveled widely, returned to Germany. With other theologians of note, Bonhoeffer founded a new Church, and eventually a seminary to train preachers, and though small, this was one of the few Churches – and by Church, I mean, capital “c” a national organization of parishes that have something in common, and not an individual congregation alone. This was one of the few Churches that provided strong and consistent resistance to the actions of the Nazis against the Jews during the war. Indeed, Bonhoeffer always objected – loudly and annoyingly, with a similar eloquence as Dr. King – to the stances and actions of the Nazi party. The Gestapo closed his seminary, so it had to go underground. The Gestapo banned him from preaching. Then teaching. Then any kind of public speaking at all. Eventually he was arrested when it was discovered that he was aiding Jews to escape to Switzerland. But that’s not even the big part.

The big part was that Bonhoeffer was nonviolent. He preached with stirring eloquence the same nonviolence that Dr. King would later preach. Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed in nonviolence with every fiber of his being… But Bonhoeffer was also faced with the reality of …Hitler. Hitler, needlessly killing millions upon millions of innocent people, all based on mindless and stupid assumptions about race, class, culture, religion, and sexuality. I imagine it’s hard to remain a proponent of nonviolence when faced with such inhumane madness.

Bonhoeffer was in a Nazi prison for a whole year before it was found out that he was in a plot to assassinate Hitler – a plot that didn’t succeed, of course – but a plot that included Bonhoeffer, a significant portion of his own family, and a number of high ranking Nazi military officers. When this was found out, he was transferred to a death camp at Flossenburg, and was hanged in 1945, three weeks before Flossenburg was liberated by Allied forces.

Like Dr. King, our church understands Bonhoeffer to be not only a theologian and preacher of note, but a martyr as well. And that is a little bit of history about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Now, Dr. King, in the reading we just heard speaks quite eloquently about nonviolence, and I would hazard to say that his words can stand alone. Though, I will say that his reflections about the strength and power it takes to be nonviolent stand as a very striking counterpoint to the actions of the disciples in the gospel story we just heard. Jesus and his followers are snubbed by the Samaritans, because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – obviously to pray at the temple, what other business could a wandering rabbi have in the city – and the very thought of praying in the temple was abhorrent to any self-respecting Samaritan. So they snubbed him, refused to offer him hospitality, refused to hear him at all, and sent his followers packing. And his followers – and we can’t even think of several anonymous faces this time, we’re specifically told that it was James and John – two of Jesus’ closest friends, the ones who after he was gone would be at the helm of this new movement we now call Christianity, who along with Peter, where making the sorts of decisions that usually are prefaced with the words, “Jesus would have wanted it this way,” we have James and John absolutely chomping at the bit to rain down a little hellfire and brimstone on the hapless village of Samaritans. Literally. They wanted to curse the village and literally call down vengeance upon in that would manifest in widespread physical destruction.

Jesus’ response is illuminating: he rebuked them. I imagine it went something like this: “Are you insane? NO!”

Ah, nonviolence. Given what we know of Jesus, it’s actually not too hard to understand his reaction. In fact, this is one of those moments where, if we see it coming down the pike, we can sit back in our chairs and smile ruefully, shaking our heads at those silly disciples who have got it wrong again, like some comic foil who is always tripping over his own shoes. We can sit back, smug, yes, but if we do so we are then pulled up short, because the next part of the story make significantly less sense to us, and our modern minds.

It makes less sense to me, too, though I suspect, like all good confusing bits of wisdom, there are actually several layers of meaning, each one helpful in its own way, each one speaking to a truth of the universe, each one completely different from the next.

And so we see three encounters in rapid succession – Jesus and potential disciples. Two of them announce their intention to join him, and in a rather roundabout fashion, he tells them no. One of them is invited by Jesus to join him, but when it turns out that he can’t leave right away it doesn’t go well for him.

So on the one hand we have Nonviolent Jesus. And on the other hand we have Rude Jesus.

It’s moments like this when I wonder if Jesus had an inkling that the trip to Jerusalem wasn’t going to be all milk and honey. I don’t think he planned to get so angry in the temple market place as to start a riot. I don’t think he planned to have only three years of teaching before he was arrested, tried, and executed, but it’s moments like this, when he was slightly less than patient, slightly less than all things good and kind that make me remember that he was human. He was only human. He was just human. He was human. And it makes me wonder if he had an inkling about what he was getting himself into.

It’s moments like this when I wonder if Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought that he might not live to see 40, as he helped get Jews to Switzerland, and preached sermons that made the Gestapo see red.

But of course, we know Bonhoeffer was only human, and we have this wonderful excerpt from one of his letters from prison, where he’s contemplating just that. Who he is, versus how he seems. He seems to other people, even in prison, all things cool and confidant, calm and wise. They say he walks out of his cell, when he’s allowed to walk out of his cell, like a country squire, or if you will, like a suburban CEO, subtly surrounded by an easy confidence. And yet on the inside he’s ripping apart, trembling, weary, empty, and faint.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt like that.

Bonhoeffer wonders who he is – the person he feels to be on the inside, or the person he seems to be on the outside. Or maybe both? Or neither? A hypocrite, or a weakling?

I wonder if Jesus ever felt like that.

But then, just at the end, he does the most amazing thing, Bonhoeffer does. He admits that he has no idea who he is, which really is something that he was making abundantly clear before, but it’s nice for him to admit to it, and he flips his all of his musings on its head. He changes the rules and suddenly he remembers the bigger picture. He stops trying to define himself in terms of a small fleeting action, and starts defining himself in terms of a larger state of being. He starts defining himself in terms of God.

I would wonder if Jesus ever felt like that, but I don’t have to, because we’re told that he did. Jesus did – he did define himself in terms of his relationship with God, and he did it all the time.

Maybe the bigger question, is, do we?