Word for Word 6/5/24

Rev. Grant VanderVelden
Rev. Grant VanderVelden

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.
But wait, there’s more!
Up Jack got and home did trot as fast as he could caper; And went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.
Jill came in and she did grin to see his paper plaster; Mother vexed did whip her next for causing Jack’s disaster.
Now Jack did laugh, and Jill did cry, but her tears did soon abate; Then Jill did say that they should play at see-saw cross the gate.

Opinions vary on the rhyme’s origin story. For some, it’s all about the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. Others claim it’s an indictment of the 17th century English King Charles I and a tax he levied to line his own pockets. Around those two possibilities swirls the intriguing, made-for-reality-TV theater of political executions and royal corruption. And it’s tempting to get lost in the juicy gossip and unfounded inuendo of it all.

But I’m rather fond of the third, more sedate, definitely generic understanding of Jack and Jill as the everyman and everywoman. In other words, you and me.

The moral of the story thus becomes much more personal: If your friend is in trouble, you should help him or her in whatever ways you can. You should be the first person to help your friends who are wrestling with trouble and hardship. A friend in deed is a friend indeed!

Yet, perhaps even greater still, be careful in whatever you are doing with the intention of helping, lest you stumble and fall, and find yourself not-so-innocently sucked into the melodrama of another and needlessly swept up in filthy messes and messy dust-ups. Sure, you know Jack as your friend, but when it comes to practicing what you preach and lifting him up faithfully and helpfully, be honest: Sometimes, you don’t know jack.

In a Gospel scene, the apostles demand of the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) Apparently, as it relates to spiritual belief, the Twelve men closest to Jesus don’t know jack either.

During the Middle Ages, the word “jack” wasn’t a name but an insult to any lower-class male in merry-old England. Given their consciousness of social class, the upper-crust Brits took perverse pleasure in looking down on people, and the word “jack” evolved to reference someone virtually insignificant and seemingly worthless. Because it so often callously deemed peons and underlings as subhuman and disposable, the word “jack” eventually came to define a useless object.

So, in its own, special, double-negative-y way – whenever you pronounce someone “not knowing jack,” you levy a bananas-insulting judgment of inferiority, insignificance, and irrelevance upon another, in addition to grading their belief, intellect, and character with failing marks. Tacking on a coarse expletive serves to twist the knife of offense.

If that’s your endgame – tearing down another’s soul and spirit and reducing his or her existence to mere dust in the wind, then truly, you don’t know Jack. Your discipleship needs a boost. Thus we join the apostles in a heartfelt request: “Increase our faith!”

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you but had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Everybody needs a little Jesus. Some already have it – even those with mustard-seed-sized faith! They know Jesus; they know Jack.

Others, well, could use a little more. Bless their hearts, they don’t know Jack – at least not as well as they should.

You and I might actually come to know Jack better by ever-deeper submerging ourselves in the Lord’s kindness and compassion, holding ever tighter to the Lord’s promises of forgiveness and resurrection – and by the Lord’s Holy Spirit, joyfully and generously being the holy hands and blessed feet of Christ that bring Good News to a broken and fearful world.

Along the way, it’s more than OK to let loose your anger with the Lord for what surely feels like disappointment, his seemingly letting you let down; for not responding to your prayers as quickly or as exactly as you desired or demanded.

Then gradually, with honest confession lifting such nasty afflictions from the very essence of your spiritual being, you’ll start enjoying the kind of peace that surpasses all understanding, as the Holy Spirit opens your eyes and ears to the myriad and mysterious ways that the Lord is working together unto good in the midst of your trials, tribulations, and temptations.

You might not see those blessings right away, but be good to yourself: Even though you don’t know Jack fully, the Holy Spirit stirs your yearning to know Jack a little more.

“Increase our faith!” Everybody needs a little more Jesus! Be assured that Jesus will meet you where you are, and that truly is a really good thing!

The Lord is not panic-stricken by gender or sexuality, bathroom assignments, the contents of that book you read or that performance you attended, what you’ve done or left undone, what you’ve said or left unsaid.

The Lord is never surprised and is ever present in everything everywhere. Most often, if we’d just step aside and get the heck out of the way in humility and deference, you and I will end up landing in the precise places where the Lord needs us to be, finding nourishment for ourselves and nourishing those whom the Lord calls us to love: Healing and forgiving, listening and learning, including and inviting.

Without question, as the living Word of God, the Lord will convict you of your brokenness: A tap or two on the shoulder from his Spirit – or maybe a 2-by-4 up-’long-side the head. But then, if you let her, that same Holy Spirit commences shaping, guiding, and protecting you in the ways of the Lord – in his time and for his purposes! It is precisely as we sang earlier: “Mold us and fashion us, into the image, of Jesus your Son.”

Everybody needs a little Jesus. Just look around! He’s here! In the hearts and minds of his followers, at his Table in bread broken and cup poured, in his listening and responding to the incredible power of our fervent prayers.

Just look around! Jesus really is here, there, and everywhere!! Because, Lord knows, everybody needs a little Jesus, so we truly will know Jack.

Rev. Grant M. VanderVelden, D.Min., MBA
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Waukon