Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Lent Year B: March 11, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Fourth Sunday in Lent Year B- Sunday, March 11, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Roy Parker, OHC 
Today’s story about the Cross implies a couple of important things on the Lenten journey toward Easter: one is the assertion to the Jewish authorities which Jesus makes later in the John Gospel, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am,” which is the revelation of his God-identity by means of the Cross; the other is the central message of Good Friday, that that particular day is, strange to say, not about the death of Jesus, but about the victory of the Cross, as if Jesus were to say,

“It’s not about me, folks, but about what God intends to do through me by means of this instrument.”           

The gospel is also about what can happen when we look toward Jesus the Savior who was fastened to the life-giving Tree as the serpent was similarly fastened to an elevated pole in the sight of the Israelites. I borrow my description of salvation partly from an interview between Bruce Springsteen and David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, which occurred at one of the magazine’s recent festivals  and complete it with a riff on the legendary OK sign adorning Chevrolet’s used car lots.

Springsteen’s remarks describe something of the interaction between the Crucified and Glorified Savior and the believer who turns to him entirely wholeheartedly. David Remnick is asking Springsteen about his manner of concert performance in the 70s, to which he replies: “Losing myself was something I was shooting for. I’d had enough of myself by that time to want to lose myself — so I went on stage every night to just kind of do exactly that. Playing is orgiastic. It’s a moment of both incredible self-realization and self-erasure at the same time.

You disappear and blend into all the other people that are out there and into the notes and chords and music that you’ve written; you kind of rise up and vanish into it. That was something I was pursuing, and I was pursuing intoxication and why people have gotten intoxicated since the beginning of time, why the war on drugs will never be successful, because people need to lose themselves; we can only stand so much of ourselves. For the audience’s part, they come not to learn something, but to be reminded of something when they come to see a performance or someone they love deeply. You’re getting people in touch with the center of themselves. 

Why do people come to a show? Well, you want to be reminded of the part of yourself which feels really alive. That’s what a great three-minute pop song does. In three minutes you get the entire picture. You get the possibility of life on earth and what that can mean and what that can do for you and do for others. It’s just encapsulated in three minutes of what can feel like nothingness, but for some reason has had the power to inspire and lift up and bring you closer to Godhead or whatever you’re pursuing. Our job is we’re repairmen, we’re reminders. I don’t get paid to play this song or that song . . . I get paid to be as present as I can conceivably be on every night that I’m out there!” So, Springsteen reminds us also of the chemistry between the Crucified and Glorified Savior and the heart of the supplicant.

     A further commentary is conveyed by Chevrolet’s legendary OK used car sign.

The OK Used Cars brand, Chevy’s used car trade-in division, started in the mid-1920s. The OK tag system was a checklist that showed what parts of the car had been checked and reconditioned prior to throwing it out on the lot. Said Chevrolet, “We developed this to protect the used car buyer, attaching a tag to the radiator caps of all our reconditioned cars — the famous Chevrolet Red OK tag — showing exactly what vital units have been checked OK or reconditioned by our expert mechanics. We believe that no fairer system of used car merchandizing has ever been devised, for it assures the customer honest value as well as a dependable, satisfactory car.” A list of thirteen items, from engine, transmission, and radiator to upholstery, fenders, and finish were systematically checked off, and the tag attached. At one time this was a big deal. Cars wore out quickly, and buying used, even recently used, was chancy. 

The OK tag put millions of minds at ease over the decades. As time went on with frequent style changes and updates rolling out of Detroit, to the fashion conscious nothing looked older than a three-year-old car, and you’d think this would leave used car buyers feeling down in the mouth. Nevertheless the OK tag took some of the sting and stigma away from buying a used car. It wasn’t brand new, of course, but that didn’t make it any less stylish or comfortable or dependable or tough or quick or peppy. Or yours.

One of my seminary classmates, Jon Olson, was rector of Christ Church, Ontario in Southern California, where I visited him upon moving to Santa Barbara some years ago. Jon was sort of a ‘beat’ artist, and among the items furnishing the sacristy was a crucifix above a prie dieu of which I have a facsimile.

The problem is that this OK tag does not apparently designate anything stylish or comfortable or dependable or tough or quick or peppy.  This particular model has obviously been totaled and not even ‘Rent A Wreck” would have it.  But we’re told it’s a sleeper, full of unsuspected value if we turn to it with all our heart. The OK tag for this particular wreckage implies features hidden from us until we hit a wall lie that which produced the wreckage.

When we hit the wall which causes god to disappear in the anxiety of doubt, there can appear what Springsteen describes as losing oneself, self-realization and self-erasure at the same time, disappearing and blending, rising up and vanishing, touching the part of yourself which feels really alive, the possibility of life on earth and what that can mean and do for yourself and others, which could be called God beyond god.  The crucified one wears the OK seal of approval because he’s utterly reliable in this regard.


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