By Charles Rush
July 12, 2009
Matthew 13: 44
(mp3, 6.1Mb) ]
e opening scene from Time Bandits, the Monty Python movie, pans in from outer space to a suburban neighborhood in England. We see thousands of blocks of the suburbs, hundreds of homes in variation of 6 house plans. It looks like the seemingly endless sameness that goes from the suburbs of North Chicago all the way to Milwaukee.
The camera zooms
in on one home. Inside Mum is fixing a microwave dinner with her hair in
rollers. Dad is pulling on a can of cheap beer in the easy boy lounger chair in
the dining room. The T.V. is on. You notice that there is a T.V. in every room.
One the T.V. is a game show like Jeopardy. The game show host is at least as
obnoxious as Pat Sajak. The sound from the tele is so loud, no civil
conversation can be had.
Mum is calling
their only child to the TV dinner tray in front of the tube for the evening
meal. This kid emerges from his room but begs off from dinner. His parents are
glued to the set, glazed over by the beaming particles of banality that have
sucked the élan from their souls.
The kid walks
backward into his room and retreats to reading his book on Knights and
Chivalry, of a different England in a more engaging era. He falls asleep, the
light from the TV still shining under his door.
In the middle of
the night, his bed starts to shake. A bright light is glowing from his closet
door. He pulls the covers up over his chin. The door to the closet bursts open
and a knight on a horse rears and bolts straight over his bed, smashes through
a picture on the wall above the bed board. The kid freezes. People keep
streaming out of his closet, jump on to his bed, through the picture frame
after the knight on the horse. All of them are wee people, just like in the old
England before it was so banal.
The kid looks
through the picture frame. All of the people are falling into space and
disappearing quick. What does it mean? Where does it go? He looks back over his
shoulder at the safety and predictability of his TV den. He looks into the
swirling chaotic adventure in front of him. He looks back at the security of
his Mum and Dad and suburban England. He looks forward into the closing chance
of the great unknown. And he jumps through the picture frame. Go for it kid.
It is still the
secret longing of every kid. Our world isn’t quite so uniform as Levittown but
we might be surprised to hear our kids interviewed on the subject of adventure.
I doubt that our children are going to remember us as real adventurous either.
I suspect that twenty years from now, when our children lampoon us, they will
remember how concerned the whole generation was about safety. They are going to
tell us that we loved them so much, we couldn’t let them fall.
Of course, a
great deal of it is legitimate. We’ve learned a few things. When I was a child
in the South, one of our favorite past times in the summer was riding our bikes
in the evening behind the trucks that sprayed clouds of DDT to kill mosquitoes.
I swear I never once heard a parent suggest we shouldn’t ride right behind the
truck, let alone come in doors, or organize a protest against spraying in
Ours is a
generation that believes in safety. This is a generation that added an 11th
commandment. “Thou shalt not unbuckle your seat belt for any reason at any
time.” It is amazing to see toddlers all buckled in. I had trouble with my
kids. But nowadays these car seats are so deluxe. Soon they will come with a
built in juice dispenser and a remote to the VCR. Why would you ever need to
are phenomenal. All rounded edges. Lots of plastic and tire rubber. Slides that
are tubes so you can’t fall off. Nice fencing all the way around it with a gate
that is locked every evening. And if a kid does a kamikaze off the three foot
high walk way, he is cushioned by 18 inches of mulch.
Or, how about
these new trampolines that have all the springs covered with pads and come with
a screen all the way around the tramp to catch anyone that might go over the
edge. They have a netted top, looks like a cage. Kids jump around. All the
parents have to do is throw in some bananas and apples, come back in a week.
I was with one
of my godson’s last weekend. He wanted to show me how he could ride his new
scooter. He had on his helmet, his elbow pads, his knee pads and a mouth piece
just to ride down a 5 degree slope on his driveway. He was having a hard time
keeping his balance. No wonder, he looked like the Michelin man.
Of course, part
of this is driven by law suits. Nowadays, if an accident happens, somebody gets
sued for it. It is as if, we are teaching the next generation that accidents no
longer happen. I suspect our children are going to tell us, that it was as if
we believe that the goal is to get our kids through their youth without a
broken bone, without any pain. That is understandable for parents but it is not
very exciting either.
My fear is that
we are communicating this to our kids about religion as well. Directly and
indirectly, I’m worried that we are telling them that religion is a kind of
inoculation that will be good for them in the wide world of sex, drugs, and
violent movies. We got through it when we were kids, you’ll get through it too.
It’s like oatmeal, not very exciting, but “it’s the right thing to do.” It may
be true that we didn’t get much from the institutional church when we were kids
and it may be true of most church programs we could enroll our kids in today.
But Jesus says
this is not true of the Kingdom of God. We’ve just had bad religion. Jesus says
that the Kingdom of God is like finding a treasure in a field. It is so joyful
and exciting that we are willing to sell everything we own to buy the field and
have that treasure.
In the ancient
world, people buried stuff all the time. This was an era of regular wars.
Burying stuff was the safest way to protect precious cargo. The Kingdom of God
is like stumbling on some buried loot from one of these wars.
For us, the
Kingdom of God is like sorting through the papers in your Grandfather’s attic
just after he died and discovering a shoebox with a rubber band around it.
Inside are sheaves and sheaves of stock certificates for I.B.M. stock and a
picture of your Grandfather with Tom Watson taken back in the 30’s. They are
both holding a typewriter that your Grandfather invented. Inside is a note that
says, “For all your help in our little venture together. I hope one day this
stock is worth something. Yours, Tom”. Sheaves and Sheaves… your mind is
bubbling with possibility… a whole new vista has suddenly opened up… you can’t
even sleep it is so overwhelming.
I suspect that
our kids are aching for a little real adventure in the midst of all this
safety. Real spirituality is like that, let’s not forget it. And in the bible,
real spiritual encounters so often come in open-ended adventures. Abraham and
Sarah are told to “go to a land that I will show you” by God. Moses is called
out of the desert to go to Egypt and speak for God”.
spirituality is an adventure. And it is not only an outward adventure, it is
also an inward adventure. I am thinking for a moment of a spiritual journey not
in the bible but which we can learn from nevertheless, the journey of Odysseus
one of the oldest spiritual journeys recorded.
a noble battle against the Trojans and he wants nothing more than to return
home to his beloved wife Penelope and find happiness. But happiness is not so
easy and you can’t just sail back home to realize our full spiritual purpose.
On the way home,
Odysseus is held captive on an island by Calypso, a goddess that forces him to
love her until he is sexually drained every night. Rough work, but someone has
to do it. He is stranded on this island and she will not let him go. She
symbolizes the inner struggle that we all have to go through coming to grips
with the primordial sexual urges that rise up within us and control us at
different points in our lives, particularly in our youth. Part of the interior
spiritual journey is coming to grips with our shadow side and wrestling with it
until we have developed a meaning and purpose for ourselves, not because
someone is watching over us like the police, but because we have wrestled
through with our shadow side to the point that we have owned our purpose for
At one point,
Odysseus proclaims that his love for his wife is so great that all other
sexuality causes him pain. He pleads to be freed and Calypso, upon hearing
this, lets him go.
He sails for
home again. But he is stranded again on an island and has to fight the Cyclops,
a half-god/ half-man that is a brute no one can handle. Again, the outer
adventure is matched with an inner adventure. As we go through life, we have to
face the primordial brute forces of emotion that reside so deeply in our selves
that they threaten to overwhelm us on occasion- anger, frustration, the lust
for revenge, rage. It doesn’t matter that they are real or apparent, they are
parts of ourselves that still have to be met and wrestled with if we are ever
to find our way home to happiness.
Jenny in Forrest
Gump goes back home with Forrest one day to the house she grew up in.
Standing there, she remembers the sexual abuse that she suffered as a child at
the hands of her father. The house is empty now. Her father is dead. She picks up
a rock and throws it through the window… and another, and another. She is
wailing and throwing. Forrest says “sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”
Real rage, real revenge is a lot to deal with spiritually.
Like so many
real victims of abuse or unjust suffering, her adult life revolves around
managing the subterranean emotions of anger, revenge, rage. And the polar twin,
self-loathing, feelings of unworthiness, licentious behavior that doesn’t take
No, that is
tough spiritual work, wrestling with those subterranean emotions, tough mainly
because we don’t even realize that they are affecting us until we have already
acted out in some rash, stupid, self-defeating manner. It is a life long
adventure to tame them.
the Calypso, a giant that has killed hundreds and hundreds of men who have
tried to battle it and lost their lives. He continues home.
He lands on
another island and is taken to cave to the underworld. He sees his old comrades
that died in battle at Troy. He sees his mother. He sees his childhood friends
and mentors. He has to come face to face with the inevitability of his own
dying, his own mortality. You can’t find the full spiritual meaning of our
happiness on this earth without coming face to face with your own dying. That
is not easy work either but it simply must be done. Through that encounter, he
comes to realize that beauty, power, wealth, position are all fleeting. They
come and go but they don’t last. He comes to realize that the only thing that
transcends time is our character- the excellence that we have internalized and
externalized in gestures of love, compassion and sacrifice for others. For the
rest of his life, he is going to focus on character.
Finally, he gets
home. He has been away for 10 years. He comes disguised as an old Man. Things
have changed. His kingdom is in disarray. A bunch of people figure that he is
dead. His old friends having big feasts on his cows while he was away. Some of
them have been trying to seduce his wife full time. Now, he has the biggest and
most painful challenge of all. He has to figure out who is genuine and who is a
well-meaning fraud. He has to look into the soul of other and discern who has
character, who is virtuous. That takes wisdom. And wisdom only comes
after you have mastered all these other things.
At this point in
his life, he has seen all that glory on the battle field has to offer. He
understands the possibility and limits of money and material things. He has
mastered his emotions and his sexuality. His morality and his spirituality are
his own. No one has to tell him what to do. They don’t have to guilt him into
anything. That is not the point. He is beyond that. His moral spirituality is
internalized. He is in search of excellence, of a virtue that money cannot buy
and time cannot rust.
The truth is
that authentic spirituality is something we make our own. It is like a treasure
that we find. The truth is that the inner journey is as adventurous as the
outer journey. It is as challenging to master and a great reward when you
discover true excellence and virtue. I’m not saying it is easy. I’m not saying
it’s quick. But it is not boring and frankly, it is not safe either. No matter
how much we inoculate ourselves against it, the spiritual adventure will try us
to the very depth of our souls. But what an adventure it is.
A version of this sermon was preached by Rev. Rush on October 1, 2000.
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