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Live Every Week Like It's Shark Week
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on her last Sunday at Christ Church, June 29, 2014

Christ Church Andover
Year A, Proper 8
June 29, 2014

Click for the readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

I need to clarify something in this final sermon.

I never said that Jesus was a jerk that first Sunday of my call here. I said that Jesus was being kind of a jerk, which is something altogether different. I mean, you really can’t hedge a statement more than that.

That first morning in August, when I preached what Jeff Gill would later refer to as my passing Arian heresy, the gospel was about Jesus refusing to give a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter his time, attention or healing. He didn’t acknowledge her until the disciples complained about her shouting at him, and she knelt before him, begging him to help her. Ultimately, he relents, commends her faith, and heals her daughter. But I’ll be honest, it’s not the easiest image in scripture of Jesus.

Jesus has long been my Achilles heel faith-wise. The Jesus who makes me uncomfortable as you may have gleaned over the past few years, is the Jesus with beautiful, windswept hair, the blond-haired, blue eyed, white guy who is the BFF (or best friend forever) of every faithful Christian. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I could talk about God, I could talk about the Holy Spirit, I could blaze through liturgy with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but Jesus, the Son, the Redeemer, eluded me. It was, in part, because I was afraid of Jesus. Our Lord’s name had been used so many times in hateful, exclusionary ways, that if Jesus was going to be used as a two-by-four of judgment, then that wasn’t a faith I was at all interested in being a part of, nevermind being a leader.

Jesus also made me nervous because he demanded so much from his disciples. I often preach about the disciples being told to ‘be not afraid’ after they say ‘here I am’, because I, too, have to hear that message over and over again. Following Jesus seems something that would be fine for fishermen to do two thousand years ago, but not me. I have things to do that I can’t just give up. I am not as radical as he seems to be in scripture, or as earnest. I can’t impress the man who walks on water with pithy sermons and making a collar look good. I can’t BS the Son of God with cocktail chat and framed degrees on my wall.

So what to do when one is Jesus, or Christologically-challenged? What to do with a savior who has been coopted, reinterpreted, depicted in so many ways over time, that we aren’t sure who he is in relationship to us? What do you do when you are faced with someone who can love more deeply than you can, protest and resist more sincerely than you are able to, and is one with the mind of God, offering us a glimpse into that mystery of faith that we could only guess about, but didn’t have knowledge of?

You learn to trust that the mystery of God in Christ is one you can plunge yourself into. You practice again and again trusting that God’s grace, totally unwarranted and no-reciprocation-needed-love, is more than we can ever ask or imagine, always doing more through us that we can or could do on our own. And Jesus, treats us as he does those we read about in the scriptures—he doesn’t tell us that it is easy or quick to know him and understand him, as in the story of the Canaanite woman, but he does tell us again and again that we are welcomed by him, one and all, received into his love regardless of how worthy or appropriate or knowledgeable we believe we are.

This morning’s gospel speaks to the Jesus that I have come to know, come to love and continually am challenged by. We welcome others and in return we welcome Jesus. We welcome Jesus, and we receive God. The symbiotic relationship of welcome and reception, of continually being drawn closer to God through relationships with other people, whether they are dear friends, total enemies or mostly somewhere in the middle, that is how I know Jesus.

One of my favorite quotes when I was preaching to our youth is from the TV show 30 Rock. Usually, I would try to give a background or context to the quote if I use it in a sermon, but to be honest, half the lines in the series were non sequiturs, so there is no particular context to offer. One of the characters, Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan says this to Kenneth the Page: “You and me... it's not gonna to be a one-way street. 'Cause I don't believe in one-way streets. Not between people and not while I'm driving. So, here's some advice I wish I woulda got when I was your age: Live every week like it's Shark Week.” (I give great thanks to our Anglican tradition which maintains that insight into truth and gospel can come from a myriad of places if you look for it, because this quote sounds crazy when you first hear it, but there are several nuggets of Christian truth in there.) There are no one-way streets between people, not between people and not between us and God. That ongoing, everpresent relationship that each person here has with the Creator is a two-way street, regardless of whether you believe that you or God has each been holding up your own end of the relationship.

If you believe that you are in relationship from the beginning, if you start with the concept that you are already connected to God, that you intimately matter to God, that this creation is a gift and extension of love and joy from the Creator, that opens up a world where you can dive into the mystery of such a God. You can imagine that there is more to this life, this ‘here-and-now’ than what you see or what you get. The mystery doesn’t require us to wait for heaven, like some far off promised treat, but begs us to live into this life as an extension of the Kingdom of Heaven, actively seeking out God’s presence in the darkest places and in the most ordinary ones. Immersing ourselves in that mystery requires us letting go of all that we think we know, all that we think we are, all the ways we are told we are tied down, limited, hedged by fear, and saying ‘yes’ to all that might be, could be, and that we are promised by our God, will be. It’s the yes of Wallace Stevens, who wrote, “After the final no there comes a yes/ And on that yes the future world depends.”

We are, as Christians, anchored in death. We regularly look to the cross. We bow before it. We make the sign of it over our chest and hearts. But the ‘yes’ after that final ‘no’, is in the mystery of the resurrection. I can’t tell you how it happened. I can’t tell you that I can prove it. But I can tell you that through the resurrection, trumping the ‘no’ of death, I understand my mission, our mission as Christians, in a way that doesn’t require Jesus to be a two-by-four of shame and guilt. Through the mystery of the resurrection, it has become clearer to me that Jesus doesn’t save spots at the table for his favorites, or require us to have secret knowledge that elevates us from others. He simply asks that we sit with him and others and eat with joy.

And that joy is important. In fact, joy, in God’s creation, in God’s creatures, in God’s Word, in ourselves, is part and parcel of being a member of this holy mess of a tribe called Christianity. God did not create the world to have it feel guilty, and weighed down and constantly shamed. God created it out of an abundance of love, playfulness, and, I would posit, a wish and hope to know it and grow with it, unconditionally. James Martin, S.J. in his book ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ reminds us that joy holds depth for our existence as well, because “joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God.” So what to do with this joy, this sense of freedom in God’s abiding love?

Live every week like it’s Shark Week.

Years ago, Shark Week was a low-key week of random television shows on the Discovery channel, all about Sharks. It happened once or twice a year, but it grew in popularity until in the past year they seemed to even create a made-for-television movie about sharks getting caught up in a tornado. I’m not going to comment on that here, but the original purpose of the week was to just enjoy the absolute pleasure of learning about creatures we all kind of loved and feared and were intrigued by. It was one week only, a week of ridiculous joy focused one of God’s creatures, with the sole purpose of just enjoying sharks.

What if we brought that attitude to our whole lives? What if we brought that curiosity and wonder and joy and lightness to each day we were given in this life? What if we lived every week like it’s Shark Week, taking pure joy in the things we overlook, or are too busy for, or take for granted because they are out of sight or out of mind, or simply because we have grown accustomed to them. The opening stanza of a poem by e.e. cummings is my morning prayer every day, whether I say it out loud or in my head, and the rest of the poem is the mantra for the rest of the day:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

What would happen if we believed that this existence was this ‘gay great happening illimitably earth’ and that our impulses would lead us to be thankful for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes? In that ‘yes’, the yes of God in creation, the yes of all of our spiritual forbears who trusted God when God’s messenger told them to ‘be not afraid’, the yes of Jesus who chose to be baptized, who said yes to the cross, who said yes to imperfect, wavering disciples, who said yes to those who so desperately needed a sign of love in an otherwise lonely world. We are those who learn to say yes to a God who comes to us in the form of Jesus Christ, empowering us with the Holy Spirit. We say yes every time we come to the table with others, yes to being transformed, to practicing, as we once did with repetitive scales at the piano, our prayer life with God and one another. We say yes when we choose joy and wonder as members of the faith over achievement, and yes, know that God is love, but more than that, God is mystery, trumping all of our cards we so carefully curate, inviting us to descend into the depths, into the deep, deep, cool refreshing waters of grace and life and hope. And when we are able to feel those things—that unconditional embrace, that divine breath breathed into our sometimes grasping bodies, we know that we can ask for forgiveness; own up without fear to the ways we have fallen short of the mark; we can know that in receiving God’s absolution, which will always be offered, we are changed from glory into glory, and will see God unveiled.

Because, you and me... it's not gonna to be a one-way street. 'Cause I don't believe in one-way streets. Not between people and not while I'm driving. So, here's some advice I wish I woulda got when I was your age: Live every week like it's Shark Week.

Live the yes.


Last Published: July 8, 2014 9:36 AM