Saturday, 26 March 2011

A Funeral Sermon with Reference to John 14 and Ethel's poem, "Dumb Luck"—for Ethel Helgeson

Jesus gives us words of comfort for times like this: don’t let your hearts be troubled, he says. That’s not easy. Times like this are sad. Death is troubling. He goes on to say, you trust God, now trust (or believe) in me. That’s not always easy either. So many questions. Our intellects kick in. Heaven? Life after death? Resurrection?

Ethel wrote something about that problem and shares some of her homespun, direct, what I’ll call, wisdom with a twinkle, in a little poem called “Dumb Luck”:
Intellectuals are sometimes exasperating
I find they’re attracted to me
They’re too smart to do all the mundane things
The things I alone can see. 
Like weeding, dishes, housework and such
All these are beneath their endeavour.
If only I could be born again
And be so unreasonably clever. 
I wonder if Jesus might say something like what Ethel wrote to you and me? You’re attracted to me, but too “smart” to just accept—to trust in me— and do the seemingly mundane, unexciting things, the things that have to do with what I see and tell you about; like my Father’s home full of rooms, rooms that could have your names on them, which I’ve gone on ahead to prepare for you if you want one. You’re too “smart,” too sophisticated, too intellectual, to do the mundane things I see that will get your life lived safely and well—like just believing in me, simply, like a child, doing the spiritual equivalent of Ethel’s “weeding, dishes, housework and such”—confessing your sin, rooting out the things in your life that cause betrayal and grief and pain and destroy loving relationships, keeping yourself spiritually, emotionally, physically and sexually clean, going to church to learn of me and so your relationship with me will grow and get richer in worship.

I wonder if Jesus might finds our intellectualism and sheer rationality exasperating because we think all of that is, as Ethel wrote, “beneath” us somehow, so we join Thomas when he says, "No, we don't know the way, Lord. We haven't any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?" But it’s not so much that we don’t know it, we really don’t want to know it because we’re afraid we might end up doing the equivalent of Ethel’s “weeding, dishes, housework and such.” Besides, it can’t be proved scientifically, it’s too much like wishful thinking, too childish.
Intellectuals are sometimes exasperating
I find they’re attracted to me
They’re too smart to do all the mundane things
The things I alone can see. 
Like weeding, dishes, housework and such
All these are beneath their endeavour.
If only I could be born again
And be so unreasonably clever.
If only, Ethel wrote, I could be born again—what a fortuitous turn of phrase for us today—to be born again, spiritually reborn, into life eternal, with a resurrection body, living in one of those rooms Jesus talked about.

If only, she wrote, I could be “so unreasonably clever.” She meant so as to avoid the mundane drudgery she ended up doing because the others thought it was beneath them. But there’s another way of looking at it. To be “unreasonably clever” as in irrationally, passionately so, heart-clever. The kind of clever that has husbands and wives and friends loving and cherishing one another despite life’s relational weeds, dirty dishes and lack of housekeeping. The kind of irrationally, passionate clever that takes Jesus at his word when he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me,” the kind of clever that chooses to see what Jesus is describing, believes in him, and gets to live forever in one of those rooms in his Father’s heavenly home—as it is our hope that our sister Ethel does.

It would be smart not to rely on the dumb luck Ethel wrote about, after all, time marches on. As Ethel put it in a sort of Medicine Hatter’s haiku entitled “Salt and Pepper”:
I glance at my hair
It is greying so fast
My mousey, brown head
Has highlights at last.
One day people will be gathering like this to say goodbye to you and me, too. We need to make our minds up whether we’re being smart or too smart, as Ethel wrote, before it’s too late.

The fact is, Jesus is calling. Come home, he says, Come home.