Once they entered the Weddell Sea, they found thicker ice than expected, and strong winds. After trying to pick their way through the ice for many days, a gale drove the ice together against the ship, freezing it in.
In 1912, if your ship got stuck in the ice, you were in big trouble. You had very little hope. You would probably freeze to death, or go crazy or die of hunger or some horrible disease. Probably a bit of all four.
The crew of the Endurance had two advantages. The could hunt seal to supplement their diet and burn blubber for light and heat, and they had their leader, Ernest Shackleton, who said, in essence, “No, we are not going to die here. We have hope.” Shackleton set the tone.
Men would come to him and say “What’s next, Boss?” He would say, “Cut the ship free of the ice. They tried. Didn’t work. “What’s next, Boss?” “Clean the upper deck.” What’s next, Boss?” “Clean the lower deck.” “What’s next?” “It’s relatively warm, why don’t you play soccer outside?” The men did this. There are pictures of them in their shirt sleeves playing soccer in the polar ice. It seemed so warm compared to the cold before.
For nine months, they stayed on the ship in the frozen ice, until the Antarctic spring, when the pack ice began to move. “What’s next, Boss?” “Run those beams of wood across the boat inside the hull to strengthen the ship. The ice is squeezing it.”
“What’s next, Boss?” “Get off the ship, set up camp on the ice.” “What’s next?” “Get the lifeboats. We’re going to pull them to the open water.” “What’s next, Boss?”
Eventually the ice flow upon which they camped split up so they sailed in the life boats to Elephant Island, completely uninhabited. Shackleton then took his navigator and four other men, one of whom was the bully, (he wanted the bully with him), and sailed by compass alone, dead reckoning across eight hundred miles of the South Atlantic, bigger waves than he had ever seen, in constant danger of capsizing, for fifteen days, over two weeks, finally landed on the south shore of South Georgia Island. Shackleton and two others then walked across the unexplored snow covered mountains of the interior, at one point sledding down the side of the mountain on a coil of rope because they had no strength to climb down, and finally stepped into the whaling station on the other side, saying “We have come to report a shipwreck.”
Three months later, Shackleton returned to Elephant Island and picked up his men. Rescuing them all. Not one of the crew from his ship perished. Leadership. The leader sets the tone.
Now, Jesus is our leader. In the Gospel lesson for today, he is even called “King” and “Messiah.” People are mocking him. They see Jesus hanging on the cross, dying by inches in agony, and they say “Oh, I am going to make myself feel bigger by making this person feel worse.” “I am going to make myself look better by treating him worse.” So they say, “Why don’t you save yourself, Messiah!”
You and I know, and everyone who has read the book of Luke for the last two thousand years knows that Jesus is indeed the king, the Messiah. Indeed, he is king not in spite of being crucified, not in spite of being humiliated, but precisely because he was crucified and humiliated.
Jesus suffers the consequences of our brutality as a species, our petty vindictive malice as a people. Jesus shares our suffering. He enters the places of our brutality and vindictiveness, and loves us there.
That changes everything. By raising Jesus from the dead, God says, “No, this power, this power of the cross is the greatest power in the universe. All other forms of power, legitimate as they may be, are subject to this power, act in servanthood to this power. This is the way to get things done. All other ways of getting things done, legitimate as they may be, are subject to this way of getting things done, the way of the cross. The way of sacrificing out of love. Not sacrificing because we are forced to. Not sacrificing because we are intimidated into it. Not sacrificing because it’s expected of us. But sacrificing for the sake of hope, for the sake of life, for the sake of resurrection, for the sake of the triumph of love.
That’s the tone our leader sets. It changes everything.
What a strange leader we have, such an upside down king. His birth is announced to shepherds in the fields, essentially the same as the people who pick up garbage by the interstate while the rest of us drive by. He is born, not in a mansion but in a stable, and Mary and Joseph lay him not in a safety certified top of the line crib, but in a manger, a feed trough, a hay bin.
When Jesus is an adult, he goes home to his home town. The home towns of kings usually receive great benefits, economic advantages, social status. He preaches to the people of Nazareth. He says, “It’s time. It’s time for good news to be preached to the poor, sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free.” Everyone is so excited.
But then he says “This power of God is not tame. It is not subject to your assumptions and expectations. It is wild. It will reach out, not just to people from my region, my nation, but to foreigners, like the widow of Zeraphath, and even to enemies, like Naaman the Syrian.
People are so furious that they want to throw Jesus off a cliff.
This strange king calls both Simon the Zealot and Levi the tax collector. You could not have found any two people farther apart on the political spectrum. Zealots supported armed rebellion to throw out the Roman occupation. Tax collectors squeezed the people for the money that went to pay for Roman luxury and the Roman army. Profoundly different.
So are you surprised that nowadays the church also includes people of differing political point of view? In this congregation, we have people from a wide variety of places on the political landscape. So next time you say, “Oh, those liberals, what are they thinking? Oh, those conservatives, what are they thinking?” remember that those liberals or conservatives are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They are sitting in the pew, right next to you. And if you are astounded by how differently they think, then ask them to have lunch with you. Listen to each other. Find out where you are getting each other’s information. Respect. Come to understand. Because we have all been called by the same king, just like Simon and Levi. A different, upside down king.
Jesus stands up to hypocrisy and lies, even though he knows that they are going to kill him for it. He requires us to do the same. That’s the tone.
What a strange king. How can we possibly follow such an upside down leader?
Here is some good news. Jesus is not king of just us. He is not just our leader. Jesus sets the tone for all of creation. He is king of existence itself. Every galaxy. Every quasar. Every atom and electron and quark and gluon. He sets the tone for it all.
So that if you commit an act of compassion and it seems to be swept away in a tide of enmity and ill feeling, you might feel like it is lost, to no purpose, but it is not lost. God gives it a purpose. God will use the good we do in ways we never see.
If we stand up for the truth, stand up for what is right and we are swept away, it is not futile. God takes our stands for the truth does good with them that we can’t imagine.
Jesus sets the tone even for death. I know death feels like the end. I know. But Jesus has made a way through death into God’s eternal life. Jesus says to us criminals as we are dying, and he is dying with us because he shares our suffering, Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus sets the tone for creation. He sets the tone even for death. And that tone is hope. That tone is life and resurrection and the triumph of love. That’s the tone.
So next time you feel like you are frozen in the ice, like there is no hope, going crazy, starving, ill, freezing cold, remember who your leader is. It’s not me. It’s not Ernest Shackleton. It’s not any human authority or government official of any kind, whether you like them or not. Our leader is Jesus. Jesus sets the tone: the tone of hope, the tone of life, the tone of resurrection and the triumph of love. Jesus saves.