I remember that, growing up, when I came to the end of childhood, right around the transition to middle school, I became overwhelmed with a sense of the fakeness of the adult world. As we grow up, we get to that point, that pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz moment, when we see that the earnest and supportive environment our parents presented to us (if we’ve been lucky) isn’t the whole thing. There are a lot of ugly truths that we begin to wake up to. There’s so much competition, concern about appearances, and daily, grinding unhappiness that we soldier on with. Within a year, I went from being a fairy-believing, neighbourhood ballet choreographing little elf, to being sunk in depression and disillusionment about the whole project of human society.
Perhaps the suddenness and completeness of the realization happened because I experienced two suicides, early on—there was a colleague of my father’s, at his law firm, a man who was heavily involved in national politics; he took the fall for a campaign fundraising scandal, and consumed with shame, took his own life in a motel room. And there was a friend my age, a boy whose household always seemed strange and chaotic; one day he leapt, inexplicably, from the ninth floor of an apartment building. These tragedies seemed to underscore the fact that no one was admitting, that everything was a sham.
Then I started Confirmation classes, because that was the age I was, not because I was particularly interested, or had ever gotten very much out of Sunday School. The teacher was Father Fred, the young assistant at the church we went to. There were only a few kids, maybe half a dozen. All we did was sit in parlors much like the ones here, in ancient chintz armchairs in sunny rooms on long afternoons, and we read through the Gospel of Mark together. There were no bells and whistles, no particularly ambitious program. Just respecting us enough, and trusting the Gospel enough, to let us encounter the Word for ourselves, not explained or illustrated, just Jesus. And there He was, right in front of us, pointing to everything I had seen and been so devastated by. Calling out hypocrisy, the fake life, and saying, “That’s not all there is; there’s something else, something much bigger.” There is something real, something true, that you can pour all your love into and never see the end.
The Jesus we meet in Mark is not about appearances. Everything that’s ever made you think, that’s wrong, doesn’t anybody see that’s fake and worthless, doesn’t anyone care? Jesus just makes it plain, and doesn’t let us off the hook for an instant, doesn’t soft pedal it or clean it up. Yes, all these things people do are real and terrible, and you can’t put human scaffolding around them to hide it. You can’t make up little rules and rituals to make the bad go away like magic (if I wash my hands three times before eating, it won’t matter that I hate the job that pays for the meal, or if I recite the words of a prayer all the way through, it won’t matter that I berated my spouse). All that stuff that we try to fool others and even ourselves with, God is not fooled.
This revelation could have been even more depressing, but I have found it to be just the opposite, to be the most hopeful thing ever. We are seen by God, understood and known, with everything stripped bare, all that we do and even all we think, all the secrets we guard so closely. The darkness is not dark to you, O Lord, the night is as bright as the day. We are, in fact, judged, and judged with perfect justice, with perfect insight and accuracy. Growing up and coming to awareness of the world’s horrors, great and petty, I craved the sense that someone was watching, that someone was a witness. That sense was instantly satisfying. But, even that whole reality that I had come to, and found myself joined in by Jesus, isn’t the end. It’s just the next step, after we leave the safety and ignorance that we know, again, if we’re lucky, in childhood. We graduate to harder things, often with a shocking suddenness. It’s what happens next that has taken a lifetime to fall down before, a lifetime to serve. Because we learn that the God who sees, who gets it and admits it and pulls back the curtain, God doesn’t stand back at an infinite distance with cold condemnation, “Look what you did, look who you are,” but is the same Jesus who comes and stands in our place. Humankind cannot bear very much reality. Only God can bear it, and God does. That is not the moment’s dawning awareness of youthful anger. That is the rest of our lives. As Saint Paul tells us, this morning, “Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” We have horror and anger, at what we have done. God has chosen to make something even more; God has not chosen to destroy, but to give His own life. The answer to hypocrisy, it turns out, is not a righteous, purifying anger, but humility.
At the Beach Service this morning, we baptized Louisa Greco, in the ocean. At every Baptism, Jesus stands beside us (He was there today, in the water, at Sandy Beach), saying yes, for you, I’ll do it all again, take up the life of being misunderstanding, mistrust, betrayal, torture, abandonment, and death. That fake life is our Creation, our whole reality, that we weave around each other until there’s no way out. No way out but through, so God will go through death itself, and take our hand, dive beneath the waves with us, and bring us up again into new life, into the sunshine of a beautiful day, surrounded by love.