I don’t know how much Seinfeld y’all have seen, but I’ve seen just about all of them about 20 times, and one of my favorite episodes is the “Serenity Now” episode. In the episode Frank Costanza, George’s father, got a tape from his therapist which says that every time he feels angry or frustrated, he should say “serenity now.” The problem is that every time Frank feels his blood pressure rising he doesn’t say “serenity now,” he screams “serenity now!”
It would seem from the passage we just heard from St. Luke that on that day Jesus was having a ‘serenity now’ moment. Judgment by fire, no peace but rather division, you can read the weather but you can’t read what’s right in front of you. Serenity now! It’s tempting for us to think that way, but Jesus, being Jesus, isn’t the one in need of an extra dose of Xanax; anyway, you go tell Him to calm down: I’ll be under the desk in the sacristy.
Jesus didn’t and doesn’t need serenity now, we do. Keep the peace. Go along to get along. Let’s focus on the things we agree on. Jesus said no.
Maybe He learned that from His Mother. Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Mary’s highest feast day. The Gospel appointed for the feast is also from Luke, it’s the Magnificat, that song of Mary we have enshrined in the Lady Chapel. My soul doth magnify the Lord, sung our Blessed Mother, because He hath bestowed upon us serenity now. Wait, that’s not it. Mary’s whole being wasn’t lifted to the Lord because the Lord had made all things easy for her and for the world. Instead the Lord hath shown the strength of His arm, scattered the proud, cast down the mighty, he hath thrown out the rich like so much refuse. Not much peace and serenity there.
Yeah, I think Jesus got his fiery attitude in equal parts from His Father and His mother. And just as we reject that side of our Lord and His Mother, we reject it in each other as well. Our Church right now is wallowing in a state of hazy niceness, wherein the foremost offense is to possibly give offense. We are, as a Church, in the midst of some of the most important debates of our lifetime, and the course we have taken is to sit the bishops of the world in what are called Indaba groups, in which they sit and listen to each other while nothing gets done. We have chosen serenity now over salvation later.
Jesus says no. Jesus says no not because He wishes for fire to consume us or division to overtake us, but because He knows very well the fallen nature of His creation. He knows that when presented with the truth, when the light shines in the darkness and things hidden are revealed, He knows that some of us will stand up and rejoice and some of us will curl up in the corner. The truth can be immediately uncomfortable for the proud, the mighty, and the rich. Barbara Brown Taylor, a famous writer, “related a story from her childhood when she was growing up in the…South. Every day after school Barbara (who is white) and her siblings were supervised by an African-American babysitter named Thelma. Each afternoon she’d sit in a rocking chair reading her Bible while the children did homework or played. If things got out of hand, all Thelma had to do was lower the Bible an inch or two, just enough for the children to see her eyes glaring overtop the old King James Version, and order would be rather quickly restored. One afternoon, to the children’s surprise, Thelma engaged them with an activity. She told them to go fetch some blank sheets of paper and crayons. She then instructed them to draw their house: a classic southern home replete with a big pillared front porch, a nice lawn with some oak trees, and even a white picket fence. And so the children drew the house even as Thelma encouraged them to include as many details as they could. When the kids had finished their portraits, Thelma then said, “Now, I want you to draw fire comin’ down from the sky. Draw the fire lickin’ up the oak trees and the picket fence and the roof. Draw it that way ’cause that’s what’s gonna happen when da Lord comes back.”
“Well this widened their eyes a bit. But what has stuck with… Taylor in the years since then was not just that Thelma gave the children a backdoor eschatology lesson but that for Thelma this future fire was something to look forward to.” Thelma, with Mother Mary, looked forward to the time the mighty lost their thrones and the proud were scattered in their deceit. Thelma, and indeed all Christians, are to see that in the world that puts its trust in power and pride and riches, all the shouting of ‘serenity now’ is just chasing after the wind.
So if we’re not supposed to chase after the wind, after all those things that might bring us, however falsely, serenity now, what are we supposed to be chasing? The short answer is Jesus, we should be chasing Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Christians chase after that crown that Jesus has for us, and so we too, like our Lord, must endure the crosses we bear, we too must disregard the shame of being fools for Jesus. St. Paul tells us that God is treating us as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, Paul goes on to say, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. So in other words, no Cross, no crown. Power, success, and happiness can be found by anyone willing to fight for them; love, joy, and peace can be found by anyone as well, but they are found hanging on the Cross of Christ, and it is only by coming to that Cross, taking hold of that Cross, that we find true love, true peace, true joy. Mother Mary pray for us, that we, following your example, may chase after your Son even to the Cross, so that we may share with you and all the saints that crown of glory in the Kingdom in Heaven.