Down the Rabbit Hole

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Matthew 4:12-23

Something I learned more than ten years ago, right when I started preaching: whenever a scheduled big event happens in the world, the wise preacher waits until after that event to write one’s sermon. It’s a headache, but it saves you a rewrite; never assume that you know how these things will go.

But before our nation’s 45th President was inaugurated around midday on Friday, before my Facebook timeline was filled with a combination of fear but also jubilation, resistance but also pride, all mixed in with a few dashes of bitter indifference, and before all of those people got crossed up into arguing with strangers about whose emotions were correct, something else trickled across my feed on Thursday night, something that seemed somehow appropriate. It was a clip from the cartoon version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

If my Facebook timeline is any indication, a lot of us, of varying political views, actually, feel like we’ve kinda fallen down the rabbit hole a little lately. Whether you feel that what’s happening currently will swing us wildly to the positive or wildly to the negative or maybe you’re hoping for somewhere in between, our current situation is not what one would call normal. Things are swinging wildly, with high emotions everywhere.

Down the rabbit hole we go.

Now, listen to me one time really well: as I said on the Sunday after the election, your politics are not my concern. It is not my obligation to affirm your political beliefs, and neither will I push mine into you. Neither of those is fair, and both are well above my pay grade. The things that make me a pastor, by necessity, would make me a terrible politician. I am not interested in telling you what the correct emotional response to any of this is, because there is never a “correct” emotional response. My goal is not to make you feel afraid of anything, but neither is it to convince you to feel calm and okay.

I said the Sunday after the election that our one promise is that we will not forsake each other. We welcome all of God’s people in this space, including those with whom we vehemently disagree politically — an increasingly strange thing in today’s climate —  and no, it is absolutely not always easy, but we would rather have each other than not.

So down the rabbit hole, together, we go.

The reality is that the news is weird and facts are increasingly seeming to be an combination of strange and shaky and a little scary, regardless of whom you think may be lying at any given time. We are deeply divided and we don’t know how to talk to our neighbors. But those neighbors, indeed some of the people in this room, are afraid today, feeling unheard and hated, even possibly afraid of what comes next. Some of us are downright scared of our neighbors, and this should not be. That part is my concern.

That is my prelude: that’s what you need to know about that.

And so on Thursday, while thinking about this text about Peter and Andrew and the calls of the first disciples while also doing some light reading about the ways the world would change on Friday, I stumbled upon this video of the Cheshire Cat meeting Alice in Wonderland.

Down the rabbit hole we go.

Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, my personal spirit animal and favorite trickster in all of literature, shortly after she arrives in Wonderland. She finds herself in the woods, alone, with signs pointing everywhere, bidding her to go this direction, no, that direction, no, up, no, down.

Sounds a bit like our political climate. Everything wants your attention, everyone wants your support.

Alice, with the ambivalence of the current American public, says, “I wonder which way I ought to go…”

Just then, she hears a voice singing what sounds like nonsense:

“Twas brillig

And the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…”

A smile appears above a branch, glowering down on Alice. “Lose something?”

Alice replies with a start, “Oh, no, I was just wondering…”

And the cat treats her to another serenade of nonsense as he appears in his full form.

“Why, you’re a cat!” Alice says. “I just wanted to ask you which way I ought to go!”
“Well that depends,” the cat says, “on where you want to get to…”

“Oh it really doesn’t matter, as long as I c…”

“Then it really doesn’t matter,” the Cheshire Cat replies, “which way you go.”

In turbulent times, we all get turned around, unsure of which way to go. What we forget is that our turbulent times are not the first or only turbulent times. We even forget where we want to get to.

Today, Jesus begins his ministry by calling the first disciples. And he does so in turbulent times. The first line of our Gospel lesson tells us that this happened right after John was arrested. Israel at the time is occupied by Rome. Things are shaky. Things are scary. Some Jews in Israel support Rome. Others see it as the oppressor that kills its neighbors. Matthew tells us specifically that Jesus, for his part, begins to preach the exact same message that John preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Gutsy.

Jesus knows where he wants to get to: the Kingdom of God.

And as he walks by the seashore, he sees Peter and Andrew fishing, and he tells them the famous line: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they get up, immediately, and follow.

Now, like a lot of things in the Bible, we’ve gotten used to this passage and accepted it as fact: yep, they get up and follow immediately. But back up. Think about it. This random dude comes walking by these fishermen and says, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fish for people!” — a crazy statement worthy of the Cheshire Cat.

Had I been Peter, I’d’ve likely said, “Whoa whoa whoa. Are we gonna net ‘em or hook ‘em?” It seems to be an operative question. “Also, uh, we eat fish… we’re not going to… are you some cannibal, man?”

But they don’t ask him anything. They get up and they follow. And all at once it occurs to me that what Peter and Andrew did in immediately getting up and following this guy they’ve just met both makes no sense and makes all the sense in the world, considering the turbulent times they lived in.

We believe that a life can be changed in a moment like that. Especially if you’re feeling desperate, like you need to do something. How often do things that are seemingly meant to be begin as crazy impulses?

Like when you finally decided something: to ask that person out. To get up and go back to church. Or that one time when you decided that enough was enough and you needed to make your voice heard. Or that one time that you left your metaphorical nets, got up, and followed.

Down the rabbit hole.

You have to be a little crazy to take that moment, but if you do, you can find your life’s purpose therein.

I imagine Peter and Andrew following after Jesus thinking to themselves, “Is this who I am now? Is this who we are now? People who just leave our jobs in the middle of a work day and go follow after this new teacher?

Yeah – I guess this is who we are now.”

Down the rabbit hole they go: in a path that leads to miracles, trouble, the Kingdom, and ultimately, resurrection.

In her encounter with the Cheshire Cat in the forest, the Cat says, “You know, if I were looking for a white rabbit, I’d ask the Mad Hatter.”

Alice sputters, “Oh, no no, I…”

“Or,” the Cat interjects, “There’s the March Hare, in that direction.”
“Thank you,” Alice says, turning in that direction, “I think I’ll visit him.”

“Of course,” the Cat interrupts again, “he’s mad too.”

Alice looks dismayed. “But I don’t want to go among mad people!”

“Oh, you can’t help that,” the Cheshire Cat chuckles.

“Most everyone’s mad here.” he pauses for a big laugh.

As he begins to disappear he continues, “You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.” he then sings his way into invisibility, leaving Alice to navigate Wonderland.

We have already talked during Advent about how faith, in itself, is a little crazy. The idea of resurrection is a little crazy. The idea that somehow, through our most turbulent times, that God is still somehow in control of all this chaos, is crazy. From its very beginnings, Christianity has been a little nuts. It begins with this guy who is God incarnate approaching guys who were doing their jobs and telling them “Get up and fish for people with me.”

And they went. Down the Jesus-y rabbit hole they went.

Jesus is calling.

Even here at Our Savior’s, we’ve got folks who took that call even when it seemed crazy to step out in faith. To open your home to strangers. To feed people even when it was hard. To give to someone or something even when it seemed crazy.

I would love to change our welcome to, “Welcome to Our Savior’s. Most everyone’s mad here. You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.”

Our times are turbulent and our world is changing. And the biblical witness is here to tell us that that’s most often exactly the time when God chooses to call people into action: when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. When the temple was in need of rebuilding. When Israel was occupied by Rome. And Jesus begins just after someone was arrested for preaching the same message: the Kingdom of heaven has come near. God gets moving during the messy times. All God is looking for is people crazy enough to join in, to jump down the rabbit hole, to step out in faith to speak God’s words, to defend the vulnerable, to preach the Gospel, even when it seems crazy. Where we are going depends on where we want to get to — but Jesus is headed for the Kingdom, and Jesus is calling us to come along.

And that is when we, like Peter and Andrew on the seashore, throw our nets down and look at each other we think, “Maybe this is who we are now.”

Maybe you’ve never been the one to speak up for what you believe. Maybe you’ve never been the one to comfort and protect those in distress or feed the hungry or pray for your leaders even or maybe even especially when you vehemently disagree with them. Maybe you’ve never been the kind of person to engage someone with the opposite beliefs as yours.

It is not within your abilities to control the emotions of others. They will not calm down or be afraid or be happy because you tell them to. But by the grace of God, you just may come to understand them. No one who is told how to feel will ever obey, but they can be understood.

Maybe you can work to understand your neighbors: why they are scared or why they are freaking out or why they are happy or why they feel so unheard or why they feel heard for the first time in ages. 

Crazy, I know. But Jesus is calling, and maybe this is who you are now.

Get up. Fish for people.

Jesus is always calling us to become a new creation, to do a crazy thing, especially in turbulent times.

And the God who calls is able, even if God does seem a bit nuts at times, calling us to do hard things.

But hey, we’re all mad here. You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.

Amen.

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