Crossing Over: Jesus as the Mad Hatter

Preached at St Alban’s in Albany, CA on July 22, 2012.  Pentecost VIII, Proper 11.
Mark 6: 30-34; 53-56

Two news items were distinctly present in my Facebook feed on Friday and Saturday this past week.

  1. 12 people were killed by a lone gunman at the midnight opening of a Batman movie outside of Denver, CO.  In addition to the 12 dead, the gunman also injured 58 people, 30 of whom are still hospitalized, 11 of them critical.  He left behind a booby-trapped apt filled with chemicals and explosives that has compelled police to evacuate all residents from 5 buildings until they can dismantle all devices.
  2. Chick-fil-A, a fast food chain based in the Southeast, made headlines when its president made anti-gay statements and used the Bible for his definition of family.

I find it beyond comprehension that this is a relatively typical week in US news.

Is it silly that my heart still carries hope for the Reign of God?  Is it folly to think that human beings are capable of creating a society in which all are fed, loved, and upheld?  Am I insane to think that human beings have more to give to one another than this?

Where is mercy?  Where is love?

I think what is actually more horrifying to me, is that I’m not shocked.
I am deeply saddened.  I am angry.  I am self-righteous in my opinions about guns and gun control and about what I see as bigotry.
But I am not shocked.  It’s a relatively typical week in US news.

Just as I am not shocked by other items in the news…
not shocked by wildfires screaming out of control in our Western states.
not shocked that people in Tennessee have fought a two-year battle over the building of a mosque that has included nearly every form of anti-Islamic harassment you can think of.
not shocked by the Boy Scouts who have affirmed their discrimination by saying they will “not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals.”

So, I’m jaded, I suppose.  World-weary.  Cynical.  But I simply cannot feign shock over the world we have created.  And I hold this in painful juxtaposition to my utter belief in and hope for the Reign of God.

It’s enough to make me quite mad – in the British sense of the word, that is.  And quoting a British citizen named Lewis Carroll by way of one of his characters called the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland:

“There is a place.  Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger!  Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.  Which I luckily am.”

I wonder if Jesus ever said something like this.  On occasion, people did think he was quite mad, after all.

And through our collective stories – whether it be Alice in Wonderland, or the Wizard of Oz, or the Chronicles of Narnia – we might be lead to believe that this “place” this “land full of wonder, mystery, and danger” is some kind of dream state.  A non-existent kingdom that abides only in fantasy.  A utopia which, to put it in Kermit the Frog’s words, is for “the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

This place of healing.  This place of wholeness.  This place of abundance.

How can we believe that this is real when we are faced with the knowledge that someone has the capacity to kill random, innocent people.  Or that people remain so bigoted that they will do whatever it takes to prevent others from having the same rights that they do.  Or that we, as a species, refuse to use the intellectual gifts that we have to develop solutions for the problems we’ve created by pillaging the earth of its resources.

Indeed, where is this place of healing, wholeness, and abundance?
It seems conspicuous by its apparent and painful absence.

I’d like to draw your attention to today’s Gospel.  But not just because of the Word proclaimed by Barbara our deacon.  I want you to take a look at the verse numbers.  You might notice that a significant portion of Mark’s Gospel was left out of the reading today.

You see, there are two very popular Jesus stories left-out of the reading from Mark’s Gospel.  One known as the Feeding of the 5000 or the Feeding of the Multitudes.  The other is Jesus walking on the water and calming the sea.  So, this passage from Mark’s Gospel is about more than healing – it is also about feeding when there seems to be so little and about finding the way when all seems lost.

Throughout this section of Mark’s Gospel – including both the words from today as well as the left-out bits, Jesus crosses over the water two times.

Nathan Simpson, artist

Nathan Simpson, artist

Crossing from a place where he had just healed and cast out demons to a place where he demonstrates the kingdom of heaven through feeding the multitudes.  Then, he sends his disciples to cross back but they get lost in the chaos of the crossing so Jesus comes to them to lead them back into the world where more healing is needed.

This is a repeat of a pattern from earlier in Mark’s Gospel:
Jesus heals (3:1-6), he speaks to the crowd about the Kingdom of God in parables from a boat (4:1-33) then he and the disciples cross over whereupon he calms the sea along the way (4:35-41) and leads them back to where more healing is needed (5:1-43).

Jesus shows us the way to cross over into the Kingdom and then gives us the strength and guidance we need to cross back into a world in need of healing.

Jesus our Rabbi, our teacher – showing us the kingdom, encouraging us to make the journey with him, reminding us that the gap between the shores, although chaotic, is not wholly unsafe or unable to be navigated.
Jesus our Savior – leading us to rest, and to abundance, and to healing.  Leading us to salvation.
Jesus our Redeemer – empowering us to continue our reconciling walk in this world by leading us back and directing our attention where it’s needed most.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition has something like this – they call it the Bodhisattva.  The Bodhisattva is the being who, motivated by great compassion, works for the enlightenment of all.  In this tradition, the world is seen much like a house on fire and the Bodhisattva is the being who is already enlightened and could choose to stay on one side of the crossing, but instead chooses to cross over again and again and again in order to liberate all from suffering.

The chant that is associated with the Bodhisattva is this:
Gate, gate.   Paragate.  Parasamgate.  Bodhi svaha!

Translated, this effectively means:
Gone, gone.  Gone beyond.  Gone utterly beyond.  Enlightenment, hail!

Now, I’m not saying that these traditions can or should be conflated and that Jesus IS the Bodhisattva.  What I’m saying is that, in the spirit of interfaith dialogue, another’s tradition can sometimes help to illuminate aspects of our own.  And also help us to understand that the paths of others are not so far removed from our own.

We, as Christians, see Jesus as the one who leads us again and again to salvation.  Who bridges the gap between the Reign of God and the state of the world.  Who walks the chaotic space between, asking us to join him on the other side where mercy is needed, calming the storm of our fears, and leading us back to his Kingdom.  Again and again and again.

We are called to this Eucharistic Table by our commitment to Christ and afterwards, Barbara, in her role as a deacon, will call us back out into the world – a world in need of healing.

Jesus embodied the Christ presence – that awareness that somehow enables us to walk the chaotic space between mass killings and healing, between bigotry and wholeness, between destroying our planet home and abundance.
Between death and life.

Click for a mercy-fix

And by inviting us to cross over with him as his disciples – which we are as baptised Christians – he teaches *us* to navigate.  He empowers *us* to embody that Christ presence too.
And he asks *us* to put away our fear and open our hearts, to feed one another because abundance is real, to heal one another because suffering happens, to witness one another’s truth so they may see their blessed nature and know their wholeness

And when we, ourselves, are in need of feeding, in need of healing, in need of having our truth witnessed… from somewhere a voice speaks to us because we have practiced prayer, we have cultivated a relationship with the Holy Spirit and that voice tells us that we are not alone.  That someone will cross over to find us in our darkest hour.  When the burning fire of the world has us in its grip – we will be found, just like we find one another.

This is the way it works.  This is the way it has always worked.  This is what human beings have to give to one another.  This is mercy.  This is Love incarnate.

About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rainer Maria Rilke
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One Response to Crossing Over: Jesus as the Mad Hatter

  1. hannah elyse says:

    thank you Michelle for these beautiful words of hope.

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