When it feels like the world is falling apart and I to find goodness, I dive into the Theater – specifically in the reading of plays.
So far this year I’ve read:
- Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
- Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.
- Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the boys.
- August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle, including Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, and Fences.
- The latest play I’ve read, sucker-punched me with its ferocity – it’s Lawrence and Lee’s Inherit the Wind.
You may have seen the film with Spencer Tracy, but it was first a play, a fictionalized account of the 1925 trial of the high school teacher John Scopes for breaking Tennessee state law and teaching the theory of evolution rather than the Biblical account of creation The title of the play comes from Proverbs 11: Those who trouble their households will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise. Sounds like Jesus in Matthew 13.
William Jennings Bryan is the prosecutor, and a stalwart activist in the religious movement we know as Fundamentalism. The defense attorney for Mr. Scopes is Clarence Darrow; a different kind of man.
The play was a sensation and even though Williams Jennings Bryan won the case and Mr. Scopes was fined $100, Clarence Darrow’s determined defense of Mr. Scopes dealt a blow to Jennings Bryan. Just days after the trial ended, the religious zealot, William Jennings Bryan died.
There is a quite heartbreaking scene in the play, for me it’s the crucial treasure. An arrogant and brash reporter hears of Bryan’s death, and says to Clarence Darrow:
“Why should we weep for him in death?
You know what he was –
a Barnum & Bailey Bunkum;
a Bible-Beating Blowhard.”
But Clarence Darrow says:
“A giant once lived in that body.
But the man got lost – lost because
he was looking for God:
too high up, and too far away.” [ii]
As Jesus leads us into today’s parables he insists we not get too high up and too far away looking for the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s how many of us get lost – looking for God too high up and too far away. We forget, or never knew, or were denied along the years the possibility that God’s kingdom, as Matthew says, is to be found within and between us – close in, as near as a heartbeat, and breath, and hands touching.
Instead of lifting our eyes to the skies, Jesus walks us through field and farm, village and lakeshore. He leads us to the earth, to soil, to water. [iii] Jesus lands us at:
- Princeton Seminary’s Farminary and the fields of radishes, greens, and squash are flourishing to;
- Thomas and Trevor’s Homesteaders Kingston Farm, where the trellises are up, tomatoes and peppers are launched, lavender is in full force, and the chickens are trying to behave, and then;
- Down the shore to the docks of Barnegat Light, where two million pounds of seafood will be hauled in this summer.
- Jesus says, “Children of God, don’t get lost looking for the Kingdom of Heaven too high up and too far away, the treasure is right here and right now, right under your nose.”
Did you notice in our text, Jesus’ emphasis is not just on finding Gospel treasure, but on what we do with it once it’s found:
- In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field;
- On finding one pearl of great value, she went and sold all that she had and bought it;
- They drew the fish ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
Do you see Jesus’ path for us? When we confuse the Kingdom of God with being moral, upright, self-righteous, and virtuous, we forget we’re made of dust.
Jesus gives us eyes to meet God:
- in the common rather than the rare;
- the familiar rather than extraordinary;
- not so much in being special but ordinary;
- rather than in our strength and cleverness; to meet our Maker in our weakness, fragility, and blemishes, and in that, we discover priceless treasure: The Upside-Down Kingdom of God.[iv]
Scott Hoezee, puts it like this: When we encounter something precious, something of immeasurable value, nothing else compares. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. When we encounter it and realize what it is, it enters our hearts, seizes our imaginations, and overwhelms us with its value. No price is too great; nothing that we own can rival its value…And here’s the thing: it comes to us in the every day when we are studying – driving, cooking – chatting, raising children – teaching.
- In the every day, God leads us to a field:
- Don’t get lost looking for the Kingdom of Heaven too high up and too far away.
- Keep cracking open the ancient book looking to the Spirit to guide you to truth that is anything but ancient.
- Keep gathering in prayer circles and at sick beds and bow your heads and say your prayers.
- Keep reaching out to the isolated and anoint them with your time.
- Together we keep splashing in the waters of baptism and eating the bread and drinking the cup. [v]
In 2 weeks, it will be 53 years since Apollo 11 took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins to the moon. It remains “one giant leap for humankind.” The Apollo crew found out that God is not too high up, nor too far away.
You may not know, because it was kept a secret, that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong celebrated communion on the moon. It was as a part of their faith and vocation.
Buzz Aldrin, a ruling elder at the Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas near Houston, said,
We wanted to express that … this mission transcended electronics and computers and rockets…so I wondered if it might be possible to take communion on the moon, that as we reached out into the universe, we trust that we are doing God’s eternal plan for [hu]man[kind].” [vi]
It was a Presbyterian question he said: “Was it theologically correct, [was it decent and orderly] for a layperson to serve communion in space?”
I am not kidding. And to make sure, Aldrin and his pastor contacted the General Assembly and got back a quick reply that it was a “go” and Aldrin took a tiny, wrapped package of bread, wine, and a small chalice.
When he and Armstrong had landed on the moon, Aldrin said “Houston, this is Eagle. I would like to request a few moments of silence and invite each person listening in, wherever and whoever they may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in their own individual way.”
At the same time, his church in Webster, Texas was celebrating communion, inside the lunar module, Buzz Aldrin took the elements from his flight pack. He poured the wine into a small chalice, and in the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.
This is the body of Christ. This is the cup of salvation. They prayed, they ate, they drank, and they gave thanks. [vii]
God is never too high up. Never too far away.
God is here.
[i] Matthew 13:44-48, 53 (NRSV): ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
[ii] Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee; debuted at Broadway’s National Theatre, New York City, April 21, 1955.
[iii] William L. Dols.
[iv] William L. Dols.
[v] Scott Hoezee. “The Lectionary Gospel, Year A, Matthew 13” from the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, calvinseminary.edu.
[vi] Buzz Aldrin. “Communion in Space: An Astronaut Tells of a Little-Known but Significant Event on the Moon.” Guideposts Magazine, October 1970. As found in an article by Yasmine Hafiz, “The Moon Communion of Buzz Aldrin that NASA Didn’t Want To Broadcast.” The Huffington Post; Huffingtonpost.com; July, 19, 2014.
[vii] Buzz Aldrin.