Finding Our Way Home – Chuck Rush 4/19/15

On the Road
Lk. 24: 13-35
Our story starts with one of the most enduring images in human history, being on the road. It brings to mind the Paul McCartney and John Lennon singing that quintessentially 60’s song, “The Two of Us”.
Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone's
Hard earned pay
You and me Sunday driving
Not arriving
On our way back home
We're on our way home
We're on our way home
We're going home
For all of us gathered here, this has been a theme in literature our whole lives, the genre of two friends on the Road trying to figure it out. They are kind of clueless like the guys in Jack Kerouac’s book, ‘On the Road’, only without the skewed distortion of hallucinogenic drugs that Kerouac made Kerouac’s work so Kerouac in the early 60’s.
In the 70’s, it was the very beguiling images of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hooper in ‘Easy Rider’ trying to figure out what the 60’s meant with the ‘who me’ Jack Nicholson on the back of their chopper in his football helmet.
That was followed by ‘Thelma and Louise’ in the 80’s, two middle aged women, trying to figure out how to be women in a world of chauvinists small and smaller, careening from one catastrophe to another on a mission to find out if they could love themselves and find meaningful romance at the same time.
That was followed by “The Motorcycle Diaries” in the 90’s, where the college aged Che Gueverra and his buddy take a road trip in a very beat up motorcycle across South America and meet all manner of peasant poverty and social ills that brought the educated and wealthy Che into a new consciousness and a new political approach that he became so famous for.
That was followed by- and here we are squarely in our generation- the movie ‘Sideways’, where two middle aged boys who refuse to grow up, steal money from their mothers and sample wine up and down Napa valley, all in an attempt to get laid the week before one of them gets married- at the tender age of 40. They still sort of raise the great questions of the meaning of life- just dumbed down, fluffed out, and the butt of jokes on themselves.
Gone is that concern about the great existential questions of human existence that wracked Woody Allen just two decades ago. Now we are content with an argument over the sumptuousness of Pinot Noir versus Merlot and getting to the wedding on time. Such is our generation.
But the great quests in literature have usually been about the great questions. I read the novel “Molloy” by Samuel Beckett in college. Beckett has this character Molloy that starts out on a journey on his bicycle and much of the trip he suffers from a handicap and can only pedal the bike with one leg. Very odd. It is a meandering tale and Molloy runs into this person and that.
He is looking for someone but he can’t exactly remember who it is. Along the way he keeps seeing a handkerchief here or a country lane there that jogs his memory. It looks vaguely familiar and it keeps him going. Along the way, people offer him bits of information that are helpful.
Towards the end of the novel, Molloy starts to lose his health, and becomes tired and somewhat desperate to quit this journey and find his way home, only he doesn’t really remember how to get back. He is just getting weaker and weaker, each new day filled with some ambiguous fog that partially helps him on his way but never enough to see clearly. He just keeps stumbling forward.
And just when he is about as inwardly discombobulated as the ever-changing landscape around him, he turns up a very pleasant drive, walks up to the house at the end of the drive and is filled with a sense of positive vibrations, like little fizzy bubbles from champagne floating to his consciousness. And walking around he has this overwhelming sense of harmony and resonance like he could close his eyes and still reach his hand behind him and find the latch a side door. The place seems so familiar.
He has, unwittingly, found his own home. And without knowing it- all along- he has been looking for himself.
Beckett’s novel was admittedly very strange but I thought his description of mid-life aptly describes most of us. Whatever expertise we may have in our professions, mostly we feel that the interior search to discover authentically who we are- who we really are- is pretty much like the character Molloy. We are on some vague quest, we are in poor health. We have forgotten just slightly more than we remember. We know who we are looking for but not really- not nearly as well as we ought to know them. We have this sense that we are just stumbling forward in a fog, hoping against hope that we are headed in the right direction home.
And he wrote this piece at the end of World War 2 with all of the questions that were posed to us Westerner’s by the Holocaust, by two World-Wars that nearly cut us in half, and were only brought to a peace by the invention of a nuclear bomb. Symbolically, the question of the meaning for us at the end of the war was posed by those gaunt faces at Auschwitz staring blankly through the barbed wired.
And it prompted this deep, soul-searching question in Europe and the U.S.? What is the meaning of Western humanity? What was the point of Western Civilization now that we have come to this impasse? The flowering of humanism in the Renaissance… the spread of human rights for all people… the dignity and sanctity of the individual… the freedom to create… the role of conscience… self-development and the faith in new economic initiatives.
All of these ideas, all of these values shaped over centuries of faith, reason, art, erudition. And in the most advanced part of Europe, in the most urbane and sophisticated heart of Europe--…….. and we have the blank stare of the victims at Concentration camps, silently posing this question for us… Who are we really? What have we been about?
Particularly for those European intellectuals that felt that they were born into a ‘world come of age’, they lived on the other side of the Enlightenment from the Age of Faith. They believed in the humane values of the individual, of conscience, of human dignity and values of Christianity but those values were no longer rooted in the institution of the Church which they had left behind. We had become so sophisticated, so secular, so mature…. So why do we have these haunting, gaunt eyes staring at us from these death camps?
Collectively, all of us in the West had to set off again in search of an explanation, a collective soul-searching…. And without really knowing what it was exactly that we were looking for, we came to realize that we were looking for ourselves.
Do you ever wonder about that in your own life? Do you ever wonder that right in the middle of living your life, you might actually be missing the point altogether?
This is one of the main reasons men love Tony Soprano. Tony has so many contradictions in his life, so many compromises that he has made to patch his career and his family together, that at 45 he has these panic attacks which cause him to faint. The mobster in therapy- and he gets that his life is killing him, but he still doesn’t really get it. He knows something is wrong- wrong enough to go to therapy. But if the therapists suggest to Tony that his life of extortion, lying, and murder might be the root cause of his anxiety, he just shrugs like, ‘what do you want me to do? It’s my job.”
Do you ever wonder if you are like these two guys in our story, walking with Jesus but not actually seeing who Jesus really is- you are going through your life and you are getting it done but you have this feeling that you the meaning of your life is eluding you, even you?
It is like Rollin Burhans, who tells of the day he went to pick up his son at Harvard. Graduation ceremonies were scheduled and they went to see what was going on. The German chancellor Konrad Adenauer was to be there, and they stood outside the graduation hall to watch the cars and limousines drop people off at the entrance, hoping to spy him. They looked and looked, but they never saw him. They did see one car drive up and two elderly women get out and walk in together. They go home disappointed.
When they got back home, his wife said, “Did you see them?!” “See who?” Rollin answered. “Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller!” she excitedly said and showed them the news photo of them: Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller as they walked into the Harvard graduation, the two older women they had seen. They had seen them and missed them all at the same time.
Do you ever wonder if you aren’t watching your life, but without the newscasters at CNN and Fox to tell you what is significant about the tape of your life right in front of you- that maybe you are seeing it and actually missing it completely at the same time?
Dante has that haunting opening line in the Inferno “Midway through the journey of our life I found myself in a dark woods, and straight away I was lost. Ah, and how hard it was to actually tell even what kind of wood it was… the thought of it is as scary as death itself… I cannot say how I entered it, it [was like] I was a sleep.”
If you haven’t felt this way yet? Great. But you will. Everyone, each in their own way, loses their way.
That is why the message of the New Testament is about starting over. It is about redemption of what is lost. No one gets it right out of the starting gate. At some point, we all lose our way and the point of our lives becomes about putting it back together, about picking up these broken pieces and figuring out a way to go on. It is about reconciliation with others, with God, with ourselves. We worship the God of the Second Chance. The spiritual point of our lives is not about obtaining perfection. It is about recovering from our brokenness. It is about healing what is quite obviously sick in our families, in our communities, in our selves.
How do you do that? Our story this morning contains a simple suggestion. Don’t overlook the obvious.
The enigmatic figure of the hidden Christ does two things. First, he opens the scriptures. We have a tradition and perhaps the main value of that tradition is that, over the past 2-3 thousand years, this long procession of millions of people that have been in this tradition, have posed almost all of the main spiritual questions. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
By the way, you probably aren’t going to be very good at it either. I think of the satirical film, The Darjeleeng Limited, a story about 3 brothers that go to India to find their mother and sort out their odd New York upbringing. Not having any religious tradition, but sensing that healing their family was fundamentally a spiritual quest, they keep coming up with a series quasi-religious things to do, harnessing the energy of the universe like some Indian swami would, as though somehow Indian rituals are more spiritual- I guess because they are more exotic. Of course, they look absolutely ridiculous and Quixotic. And the movie is pretty funny. But, I never would have believe how many otherwise sophisticated, educated New Yorkers will look anywhere and everywhere for some loopy spiritual guide like Shirley MacClaine rather than consult anything at all in the religious tradition that has sustained 400 generations of their ancestors.
Of course, when you are sick, you could just seek out healing remedies wherever you could find them, but I wouldn’t advise ignoring intentionally anyone that has gone to medical school or who is acquainted with our 2000 years of medical education.
The tradition may not have all the answers, and surely it has created some stumbling blocks along this arduous tenure, but it is probably wise to stay in conversation with the tradition. You aren’t the first generation to get lost on the way.
And the second one is also simple, but probably profound. When do these two lost travelers recognize Jesus for who he is? In the breaking of the bread… Even today, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
For Jesus, as a Jew, he was undoubtedly saying the blessing that Jews say the world over even today. “Baruch Hatah Adonai Elohenu Melek Ha Olam Ha Motsi Lechem Min Ha Eretz” “Blessed are You, O God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” It is the very simple, but profound blessing and eating together that brings us into community.
So also with the Eucharist. We break bread together and we share in our communion together. I had a patient years ago that was afflicted with Schizophrenia of a manic variety. He was always talking to himself in this garble… agitated, his poor mind flooded with more thoughts than he could focus on. The doctors and staff were amazed at the fact that the young Chaplain was the only person that could actually get him quiet and calm. It was during the Eucharist. After the elements were blessed, I would stop over him and say, “Spencer, the body of Christ” and he would finish “which is broken for me” and taking the wafer he would become completely calm. He stopped talking. He stopped his nervous habits. For about 20 seconds, he was himself again. It was sort of miraculous.
If someone were to ask me why I take communion week in and week out, I think that is what I would say. I want to remember whose I am so for a minute I can be myself again. Week in and week out, we bring so many different burdens and concerns around that table, sometimes full of grief over the recent death of a loved one, sometimes just psyched about a new job, sometimes just looking for something to help us endure the coming week with an intractable problem that will not be resolved. We stand shoulder to shoulder.
Because one way or other, the end of this story is probably significant. After these two recognize Jesus. After they wake up and get it, what do they do? They stopped wandering aimlessly confused by themselves, and they return to their people. They head back to their peeps.
For better and worse, that is exactly where the matrix of our salvation lies. We are no better and no worse, no more able to find ecstatic rapture than with our people. The experts and the patients are sitting on either side of you. No matter how far and wide your journey may take you- and it just might be pretty far and wide- eventually the long and winding road leads you back here to start the healing. Welcome home! Amen.



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Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.