Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Jesus, the Party Animal--A Sermon

Jesus, The Party Animal
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

July 4th, 2010

Luke 7:31-35
Matthew 11:16-19

Some people are just never happy.

No matter what you do, some people still will not like you.

The sooner we learn the lesson that we cannot please everyone the more at peace we will be in our own skin. If we don’t learn that lesson we will forever be changing ourselves in order to meet the expectations of others. No cat will ever catch that tail.

We played the flute for you,
But you wouldn’t dance;
We sang a dirge,
But you wouldn’t weep.

Apparently, that was a verse of common wisdom that Jesus used to make a comparison. The same people who were criticizing John the Baptist were criticizing Jesus. The criticism against John was that he fasted and led an ascetic lifestyle. The criticism against Jesus is that he ate and drank. Jesus is saying,

“You guys are never happy. You don’t like fasting. You don’t like feasting. We play the flute, you don’t dance. We sing a dirge, you don’t weep. Your are nothing more than a bunch of whiners. Wisdom is vindicated by her children. Or in other words, If the shoe fits, wear it. Truth is as truth does. Am I right or am I right? ”

Jesus is showing that his critics are simply shallow whiners. They are ignoring the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus by criticizing their personal lives. That is an old, old trick that the busybodies fusspots, tattletales, and scolds never tire of playing.

If someone is saying something that really matters, fusspots don’t argue the substance, they attack their personal habits, or personality, or the way they dress. It doesn’t matter if a prophet comes fasting or feasting, those who cannot or will not hear the message will find a reason to disregard the messenger. Jesus here is exposing this hypocrisy.

We know this is true. Think of the people who made a difference and were agents of social or political change. Prophets we might call them. How often were they criticized for things that had nothing to do with their message or work. If you can find a way to discredit the messenger, then we won’t need to hear the message.

Think of all the criticism Al Gore has received for stuff that has nothing to do with his message about making us aware of the impact our use of fossil fuels is having on the climate. Think of former President Jimmy Carter, who told the truth to the American people about energy in the 1970s. We didn’t want to hear it. So we found a way to dismiss him.

Jesus says, “What do members of this generation remind me of?” The answer? Whiners with deaf ears who miss the point. Elsewhere Jesus is reported to have wept over Jerusalem and said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you murder the prophets and stone those sent to you.”

But you know, it is no use complaining about that either. If you are going to be an agent of change, unwarranted criticism and scrutiny are part of the package. Do the best you can, hold your head high, and never, never, never, never give up.

Or as a member of my previous congregation liked to tell me when I was feeling discouraged,

“Party on.”

Jesus was a party animal. That was the conclusion by the Jesus Seminar. Jesus was not an ascetic. He did not shun the pleasures of life but embraced them. He ate and he drank and he did it with the wrong crowd: toll collectors, sinners, and women and men of ill repute. Historical Jesus scholar Dominic Crossan said Jesus practiced an open table.

What we see in the sketch of Jesus is a person who approached life with amazement, wonder, and awe.
  • It is doubtful that he would have ever come up with anything close to resembling a doctrine of original sin.
  • It is doubtful that he would have ever thought that he needed to die on the cross for the sins of others.
  • It is doubtful that he thought that humanity was fallen and needed redemption.
  • It is doubtful that he would have ever thought that we are ultimately spirits or souls trapped in bodies.
All of those doctrines were attributed to Jesus, but I doubt they were part of his own awareness.

I cannot know that for sure. I can only interpret his life from my perspective. I see in Jesus a person who was in love with life. He was so much in love with life, that those who could not experience joy and pleasure despised him. They called him a glutton and a drunkard. Then they killed him.

This poem by Mary Oliver describes those poor souls. It is called A Bitterness:

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery,
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as
your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser
and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful
flowers of the hillsides.

After reading that poem I realized that I don’t ever want to be remembered that way. I felt sorry not angry for those who didn’t see the joy in the life of Jesus or in the lives of the prophets of grace or in the lives of those who could experience happiness.

If there is anything that will save the human species it will be a recovery of joy, humor, awe, amazement, and pleasure. We will need to turn to Earth and accept its transience. We cannot cling or hold. We can only float with it.

We need like a she-bear to scoop out the honey when we find it. This is again, Mary Oliver. This poem is Happiness:

In the afternoon I watched
the she-bear; she was looking
for the secret bin of sweetness -
honey, that the bees store
in the trees’ soft caves.
Black block of gloom, she climbed down
tree after tree and shuffled on
through the woods. And then
she found it! The honey-house deep
as heartwood, and dipped into it
among the swarming bees - honey and comb
she lipped and tongued and scooped out
in her black nails, until

maybe she grew full, or sleepy, or maybe
a little drunk, and sticky
down the rugs of her arms,
and began to hum and sway.
I saw her let go of the branches,
I saw her lift her honeyed muzzle
into the leaves, and her thick arms,
as though she would fly -
an enormous bee
all sweetness and wings -
down into the meadows, the perfections
of honeysuckle and roses and clover -
to float and sleep in the sheer nets
swaying from flower to flower
day after shining day.

Bitterness or Happiness?

Life is so short.
We get one spin on the big wheel.
This day will never come again.
Neither this moment.
Party on, friends.
Party on!

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