Dead Poets Society June 30, 2013 Luke 9:43-62
A couple had expressed their ideas to each other about what to do for their holiday. She had talked about hiking through a coastal rain forest. He had talked about surf-boarding and beach time. Then they started packing. He gathered up his board, easy-inflating pfd, water resistant sun screen, swim trunks, beach blanket, and cooler. She gathered up her good hiking boots, walking staff, back pack, insect repellent, bear spray, hat, walking shorts, compass and water bottle. Then they looked at what the other had packed. “Houston, we have a problem!”
Communication is a challenge in most relationships, especially when the expectations or hopes on the two sides of the communication are radically different. Jesus was out to do whatever was necessary to help others find the right way to God and to their true selves. The disciples were looking for a rescuer.
The Dead Poets Society pierced, challenged, amused and inspired its viewers, supported by Robin Williams’ incredible acting gifts. If you have never watched this movie, I do not have the gifts needed to adequately describe it. The English teacher in this movie built bridges between dead poets and the hearts and lives of his students while resisting the expectations of the administration of the school. In the course of the movie, the lives of his students add their own drama to the drama in the poetry and the lives of the poets.
After the scene of the transfiguration and their return to the realities of life below, the Gospel of Luke mixed in a variety of drama. While the disciples were excitedly exclaiming about the wonderful things Jesus did, he told the disciples the Son of Man is about to be betrayed.
The disciples were clueless about what he meant, and they were too embarrassed to ask him to explain. Then they started arguing about who would be greatest or most famous. He brought a child to the center and challenged them to accept the child as they accepted him, and that the least among them was the greatest. We can imagine the disciples thinking to themselves, Hey what? That makes no sense.
And the drama continues. A man asks to join them, and Jesus said the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep. He invited another man to join them, and the man replied he would as soon as he buried his father. Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead. Another “Hey, what?” We could spin this little story in several ways. Maybe the man’s father was not dead yet, and it was an excuse. Maybe there were other family members to look after the burial. Maybe Jesus was in a hurry, not wanting to stay long enough in one place for the authorities to capture him. And maybe Jesus was so focused on his mission of sharing his story, he did not have the time to wait for anyone.
Another wanted to follow, but asked to say goodbye to his family first. Jesus’ answer here seems pretty sharp as well –“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” To me, this answer would make most or all of us unfit for the kingdom of God.
Jesus did not just challenge the assumptions, practices and authority of the religious and political leaders, he challenged the assumptions, practices, and expectations of his listeners. And we are still challenged by his words and deeds. The two most severe challenges are to act now, not later, and the challenge to not look back once we have started.
There is laughter and deep tragedy in The Dead Poets Society. Following Jesus, pursuing his mission and our mission will almost certainly also include both. There was an intense deepening of relationships in the film, and we will experience an intense deepening of relationships as we become more real to one another and to others.
The Dead Poets Society explored what it means to be a teacher, the dynamics of power in tradition-oriented institutions, and the challenges for young people going through their coming of age events. We see the power of love by the teacher for literature and for his students pushing against the comfort levels of the administration, fellow teachers, and even some students and their parents.
Our Bible contains the works of hundreds of dead poets including those whose work was adapted by successive generations of poets as they sought ways of expressing their experiences of God and the Spirit. The most important poetry by Jesus was in what he did and in how he connected with others. Since then, thousands of other poets have shared their experiences of God, Jesus and the Spirit, and helped to shape and reshape the Christian church.
And so here we are: recipients of the creative gifts of thousands of people over thousands of years. What will we do with their gifts? Will we reject their messages because they are uncomfortable? Will we resist effectively sharing their gifts, like some of the staff in the movie? Will we allow them to touch us and transform us? For the love of God and other people what are we prepared to risk?
May God encourage and guide us as we travel the way set by Jesus.