"You have to learn to love the bomb."

That's the most important perspective on comedy
longtime Second City director, Jeff Michalski,
offers actors under his direction.

It's a perspective that has shaped,
among countless comedians
who have helped us face hard truths through laughter,
Amy Sedaris,
Paul Dinello,
Chris Farley, and
Stephen Colbert.

In urging his disciples to partake
in this flesh and this blood he speaks of,
Jesus offers the very same perspective.
For his flesh and blood.
That is, his whole self.
Alive.
And incarnate.
Human and divine.
Finds itself unmistakably and unreservedly
in no other place than crucified,
dead on a cross.
In today's parlance:
"You have to learn to love the bomb."

Next to Pope Francis,
Stephen Colbert
is the most watched theologian of our time.
In an interview published this week in GQ,
he confesses to Joel Lovell
that it took him
"a long time to really understand what that (teaching) meant."

No question about it,
this teaching is difficult!
Difficult for actors and comedians.
Difficult for Jesus' disciples.
Difficult for people like you and me.

How it is falling flat on one's face --
How it is the struggles of life --
How is is death, itself --
can somehow bring about thriving
is outside our wildest imagination.

Jesus asks more insightfully than accusingly,
"does it offend you?"

Yes, this teaching may very well offend us.
Or bewilder us.
Or knock us off our feet.

Especially if our expectation is to have the best.
Or be the best.
Never struggle.

This teaching offends the expectation of
blessing and reward and success
thought to result from doing right and avoiding wrong
or getting it right, and not failing.

No prosperity Gospel here.

To borrow Colbert's explanation:
"(It's) not 'Don't worry, you'll get it next time.'
(It's) not 'Laugh it off.'
No, it means what it says.
You gotta learn to love when you're failing..."

"The embracing of that,
the discomfort of failing in front of an audience,
leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you."

"Fear," Colbert says, "is the mind killer."
The original community
to which Saint John's Gospel is addressed
was filled with fear.
Fear depicted in today's reading.
Fear depicted throughout the Gospel.
Fear manifest in partisan discourse
that is the experience,
and therefore the language,
of this beloved, though afflicted, community.

Historians are't quite clear on all the details.
But, we know that at some point
this community,
accustomed to gathering both
on Sabbath and on the Lord's Day,
on Saturday and Sunday,
at some point as tension approached breaking point
this community within a community was either
thrown out of the Synagogue,
had no option but to leave the Synagogue,
or chose to leave their beloved Synagogue on their own accord.

Like it or not,
they were on their way
from being Christian Jews
to becoming Jewish Christians.
Some couldn't abide the shift.
The separation from Synagogue community was too much.
A split between families, impossible.

For a number of others,
they could abide the shift.
But with no less pain of separation.
No less palpable the split between and among families.

This we know:
no matter who you were then,
no matter which side of the divide you were on then,
you shared in the pain of division.
Pain which persists to today.
Pain as strong and as real as death.

Of the disciples who stayed in the Synagogue,
Jesus says this:
"But among you there are some who do not believe."

It would be misguided and irresponsible
to read
supersessionism,
anti-semitism or
Christian triumphalism
either
in to
or
out of
Jesus' statement.

Lack of belief cannot
negate God's promise to
Christian Jews
Jewish Christians,
then
nor Jews or Christians
today.

Nor can lack of belief
negate God's relationship to the one who would betray Jesus.

Jesus, himself, provides this word of caution.
He and his Father,
his beloved daddy or papa, to correctly render the Greek,
have known all things all along.
And know perfectly well,
that some have learned
to love failure, struggling, pain.
And others haven't.
And still, God loves all no less.
Because God,
in flesh and blood,
human and divine,
faces the same
in dying on a cross.
The cross is not saying we must suffer.
Must experience pain.
No.
It acknowledges that there is suffering and pain in life.
And suggests that,
to borrow Colbert once again,
"the question is, 'need we face (suffering and pain) broken? Yes.
Bitter? No."

While we cannot change what has happened
or will happen in life.
And while acknowledging this inability to change something
is not the same thing as wanting it to happen,
our response to suffering and pain,
God's response to suffering and pain,
is to take it --
chew on it --
ruminate on it --
jest about it --
And bring forth
courage
and fortitude
and dedication
and healing.
Bring forth even from death,
life.

Saint John calls this sort of living
eternal life.

Eternal life lived now
directly through any and all
suffering and pain and death,
faced in life.

The ultimate in "learning to love the bomb."
Or in Saint John's language, "learning to love the cross."

Learning to love the cross in this way
is these best thing to ever happen.
The best thing to ever happen to you.
The best thing that ever happens to us together as God's people.
The best thing that ever happened to the world.

How does Jesus put it,
"Then what if,
(on the cross)
you were to see the Son of Man
ascending to where he was before?"

•Learning to love when we're failing
in not our default.

It is not the dominant perspective in this world of ours.

It's not natural for the church, for any church,
including Saint Peter's.

It is something the disciples struggle with, too.

For however much Peter receives this teaching now,
standing in the courtyard outside Jesus' judgement hall,
pressure and pain will be so great,
he will deny Jesus.
Not once.
Not twice.
But three times.

You can probably name --
-- I know I certainly can name --
plenty of times I feared failure,
feared change,
feared uncertainty,
shuddered in pain.

Yet, we know we are at our best when we are not afraid.
Individually.
Collectively.

The clearest example
here at Saint Peter's
dates back a few years
to a liturgical planning initiative.

We opened up a process whereby everyone
was free to weigh in on how we might celebrate
the four Sundays in Advent.

All sorts of ideas emerged.
Some of them completely off the wall and kooky.

Just about everyone you expected to shun these ideas
embraced them.

I delighted in being pushed far outside my comfort zone,
as singers and choir members in mufti
sat mixed among the assembly in a silent prelude,
then stood randomly and
moved toward the Font singing
"Prepare, ye, the way of the Lord" from Godspell.

Pastor Derr snapped his fingers in time
as Jonathan Kline sang "Something's Coming"
from West Side Story.

Tom Schmidt provided expert musical arrangements
for some of the oddest of instrument combinations.

We set out to do something.
And do it bold.

And, it failed.
Failed miserably.
Not one thing we did that year repeated since.

But you know what?
If you were here then, you remember it today.
If you weren't here then, you couldn't imagine us doing it today.
And still,
this disaster gave us
a completely re-envisioned Compline Vigil on Holy Thursday.

The very same people involved in that Advent initiative
-- and even more people every year since --
crafted an exquisite liturgy of poems written and read by members,
songs sung from a variety of voices,
all within the context of Compline, night prayer.
The prayer office we now use
to close every one of our committee meetings.

All because we were not afraid to
"Love the bomb."

It is this same teaching to which President Carter
is giving such powerful witness.
"I've been president of the United States.
I've been governor of Georgia
I've had this tremendous work with the Carter Center.
I have thousands of friends.
I've done many things,
I'm ready for this next adventure."

Imagine our nation saying, doing something
similar
about the insidious racism plaguing us.
Or our slumping educational system.
Income inequality.
The affects of climate change.

Imagine Saint Peter's
unafraid to carry out our vision:
Together, cultivating church today for tomorrow!

The point is this:
loving when we are failing,
loving the cross,
loving the bomb
however you want to say it,
is the only way to life, to eternal life.

A robust facing
of ups and downs,
of death itself,
square in the face.
And loving it.
And living.

To capture the point,
the disciples' response
"Lord, to whom can we go?"
is better stated
"Lord, to whom
else
can we go?
You have the words of eternal life."

Words.
And ways.
And rituals.
And experiences.
And events.
And challenges•
seemingly insurmountable challenges.
And pain.
That seem a lot like death.
Is death.
But, in fact give us opportunity to live life.
Life eternal.

Because this Word,
This Word as in the beginning.
This Word from which things take life.
This Word made flesh.
This Word is not an easy one.
But it is a Word of promise.

A word of promise that no matter what,
to face the cross and live
is the greatest gift from God.
A gift for us to love.

It's been five weeks, now,
since we began contemplating
what scholars call Saint John's "bread of life" narrative.
Today we see in full what this gift is really all about.

To take and eat,
the bread of life,
the bread of heaven,
the very body and blood of Christ,
is to love the cross.
And to experience in the cross God at work.
Around us.
And in us.
God at work
directly through all of what life brings.

Life where even though we might experience
pain and suffering and challenge.
Even though we might die,
Even though we will die.
We will thrive.
We will live.
Have a good meal,
and likely a laugh or two along the way.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Sunday, August 23, 2015 - Morning Masses

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
Saint John 6:56-69