“As followers of Jesus we were never supposed to be sensible. We are supposed to look at all the wounds and systems the world tells us that we are too poor and too powerless and too respectable to heal and change and say, “Oh yeah? Hold my beer and watch this!”
Sermon by Mike Kinman at All Saints Church, Pasadena, on Sunday, December 17, 2017.
John said, “I am, as Isaiah prophesied, the voice of someone crying out in the wilderness:
‘Hold my beer and watch this.’”
It’s been more than 20 years since comedian Jeff Foxworthy gifted us with this joke:
What are a redneck’s last words?
“Hold my beer, and watch this.”
Since then, that phrase that has become battlecry and epitaph of the prospective American daredevil. Recently it has morphed into a commentary on the escalating absurdity of life in general.
For example, after the 2016 election, this version became popular:
Britain: Brexit is the stupidest, most self-destructive act a country could undertake.
USA: Hold my beer and watch this.
But at the risk of ruining a good joke by trying to find something meaningful in it, there is deep Gospel truth in the person who tries to do what common sense says never should be attempted, who isn’t bound by the limitations of conventional wisdom of what is possible. Who is unafraid of the entire world looking at them and saying “what the hell were they thinking?”
Miguel de Unamono wrote “Solo el que ensaya lo absurdo es capaz de conquistar lo imposible.” “Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.” De Unamono was a Spanish Basque writer and he was summing up the wisdom of one of literary history’s greatest fools, that 17th century Spanish redneck, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Don Quixote knew the value of saying “hold my beer and watch this.” He knew that much worse than anything that could happen through attempting the absurd was the quiet desperation and shackleless enslavement of never having tried at all. Don Quixote immerses himself in the idealistic wisdom of the stories in his library and finally grasps the virtue in giving up his average and safe middle-aged life and re-visioning himself as a knight errant, riding the roads of Spain searching for adventure and defending the honor of a peasant woman he sees as a princess. And while we can laugh at him literally tilting at windmills and fighting them believing they are giants, Don Quixote understood what e e cummings would later write: “the intelligent person always fights for the lost cause, realizing that all others are merely effects.”
You think “hold my beer and watch this?” is insane? Don Quixote counters, “Too much sanity may be madness, and maddest of all to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
We laugh at the image of the redneck tying the ropeswing to a plane and trying to waterski across the ocean, and yet we laud Bobby Kennedy cribbing George Bernard Shaw and saying “Some see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
As we hear the stories of our scripture, the truth is revealed that our God is a quixotic God. Our God is bold and visionary and absolutely impractical. A God who loves lost causes and lost people. A God who embraces futile foolishness.
God looks at humanity, looks at us, struggling and wandering, self-obsessed and miserable, oppressing and enslaving one another, forging plowshares into swords and hoarding storehouses full of grain while children starve. God looks at us, looks at a humanity where the wealthy live in luxury and those most vulnerable are enslaved and killed, a world where no one in their right mind would leave the safety of a royal family to live as a refugee child, no one in their right mind would give up the ultimate privilege – being God – and empty the divine self into the form of the enslaved. This season of Advent we hear the story of God looking at all of this, looking at all of us and saying:
“Hold my beer and watch this.”
And so, God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary and says, “here’s what I want you to do. Become an unwed mother, set yourself up to be ridiculed, cast out, beaten and possibly killed. In a world that already treats women like dirt, I want you to give them cause to hate you even more.” And Mary looks at Gabriel and sings:
“Hold my beer and watch this.”
And then there’s John the Baptizer. John, the original redneck. John goes out into the desert, eating locusts and wild honey, telling stories that are wilder still. Stories about a Messiah, coming to save humanity. And the religious authorities don’t like this – ‘cause you know religious leaders can be pretty high control — so they go out into the wilderness to meet him and shut him up and they say “Who the hell are you? What do you think you are doing? What do you have to say for yourself?”
And John said, “Who am I? I am, as Isaiah prophesied, the voice of someone crying out in the wilderness: ‘Hold my beer and watch this!”
Sunday after Sunday we come here and hear the Gospel. A Gospel where God chooses to be poor instead of rich, tortured and killed by the state instead of seated on the throne. You could sum up that Gospel narrative in six words.
Hold my beer and watch this!
Sunday after Sunday we come here and hear a Gospel where Jesus says crazy stuff like
“When you host a banquet, don’t invite your rich neighbors but invite your poor neighbors.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
A Gospel where Jesus touches lepers, says if you want to be great you have to be a servant; A Gospel where Jesus says: “Go, sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me!”
A Gospel like that can be summed up in six words:
Hold my beer and watch this!
All too often we become bound to conventional wisdom forgetting that this season of Advent, the miracle of Christmas and the entire life and ministry of Jesus remind us that we are the beloved of a most unconventional God. A God who dreams for us to be unbound and follow the divine in being bold and visionary and absolutely impractical. A God who dreams for us to join her in loving lost causes and lost people, in embracing futile foolishness. A quixotic God who dreams for us to become an army of knights errant, knowing in Cervantes’ words:
“It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight’s sole responsibility is to succor them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.”
We are the beloved of a quixotic God who through St. Paul bids us “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks for everything –for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Who, again in Cervantes’ words knows that “The greatest madness one can be guilty of in their life, is to let themselves die outright, without being slain by any person whatever, or destroyed by any other weapon than the hands of melancholy.”
All too often we become bound to conventional wisdom forgetting that we are the beloved of a most unconventional God. A God who dreams for us to be unbound, and unafraid and free.
We sit on the greatest pile of wealth in human history and all we can talk about is how little we have. We have the greatest power and access to power in human history and all we can talk about is how powerless we feel. Week after week, in churches throughout America, we hear stories of Jesus overturning tables and subverting conventional wisdom and then we resume our conversations about security and liability and moderation.
Every moment of every hour of every day of every year, God is saying, “Rejoice always! Pray constantly! Give thanks for everything!” and yet too often those better angels are shouted out by the demons of fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of what might happen and what people might think.
We have so bought into the notion that wealth is to be preserved and that security comes from a bank balance and an insurance policy that we don’t notice the irony of at once believing this and praying “give us this day our daily bread.”
We have so convinced ourselves that good stewardship and risk management are one and the same that we don’t notice the irony of at once believing this and following a Christ who embraces the way of the cross as the way of life.
We fear failure so much that we forget we are the beloved of a quixotic God whose whole enterprise of incarnation ended up in rejection and failure.
We have an unconstitutional obsession with calling ourselves a Christian nation and yet we kill those who preach the radical Gospel of Christ over the safe Gospel of incrementalism and moderation. Dr. King when he speaks the truth that the greatest stumbling block to freedom is not the radical extremist but the white moderate. Bobby Kennedy who spoke the truth that “what is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant.”
As followers of Jesus, we were never supposed to play it safe. We are supposed to be extremists for love, extremists for justice, extremists for mercy and tikkun olam, “the repair of the world.”
As followers of Jesus we were never supposed to be respectable. We are supposed to be rejected radical revolutionaries, spat upon by governors and cursed by centurions.
As followers of Jesus we were never supposed to be sensible. We are supposed to look at all the wounds and systems the world tells us that we are too poor and too powerless and too respectable to heal and change and say, “Oh yeah?”
“Hold my beer and watch this!”
God is saying, “Rejoice always! Pray constantly! Give thanks for everything!”
That means we can stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the attempt.
That means joyfully rejecting the judgmentalness and indifference of the right and the circular firing squads and purity tests of the left and embracing the wonderful, imperfect, dangerous, uncontrollable messiness of love.
That means joyfully embracing that we will never be anywhere close to perfect, that we have and will continue to fail spectacularly, that frailty is an integral and beautiful part of each and all of our humanity, that the biggest mistakes are the biggest opportunities for grace and that every time we fall short, fizzle out and eff up, Jesus is standing before the leper, the beggar and the cross saying, “you think people ridicule you? You think people hate you? You think people wonder what the hell you’re doing?”
“Hold my beer and watch this!”
All too often we have become bound to conventional wisdom forgetting that we are the beloved of a most unconventional God. But the good news of a God who sees no bounds to her love for us is we don’t need to be bound any longer. Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of Venezuela and much of South America once said “the three greatest fools (majaderos) of history have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote – and I.”
Imagine what could happen if each of us aspired to say the same.
This Advent, just for a moment, imagine what could happen if each of us “Rejoiced always! Prayed constantly! Gave thanks for everything! For this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.”
This Advent, just for a moment, imagine what could happen if, in the words of the Franciscan blessing, each of us truly allowed God to “bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and those among us who are poor.”
This Advent, just for a moment, imagine what could happen if each of us really did see things as they might be and say why not, if we each truly became quixotic followers of a quixotic God, if we each attempted the absurd so we might achieve the impossible.
If we became the voices crying in the wilderness:
“Hold my beer and watch this.”