(A not-sermon for Epiphany 5C)
This morning I got to read the scriptures, which I don’t usually do when my colleague is preaching. He felt like changing things up, and I was happy to do it. I love to read the Psalms, and the gospel lesson about Jesus and Peter is a particular favorite of mine. We weren’t reading Isaiah or the epistle, but bearing them all in mind, I stepped up to the pulpit (we have one center pulpit, no lectern) and read the passages. I hadn’t looked at them today–wasn’t expecting to read them–but I read them earlier in the week, so they had that feeling of being known, but not intimately, not recently anyway.
And it struck me, as I read them, that reading aloud from the Bible, making the stories and the songs come alive, is one of the things I do best. I find ways to make the old words new, by playing with them, or relating them to something else I read or saw or lived.
Some say I work at a disadvantage because my writing is based in that old book of violent stories, and it’s certainly true some parts of the Bible are than palatable to a 21st century sensibility. But I don’t think it’s true the stories are not relatable, if that’s a word. I find them intensely, overwhelmingly relatable, in two senses. I relate to them, and I love finding a way to relate them to others, to relate them to our lives now.
The texts for this Sunday all ask us to lean into the plans God has for us. Now, I’m a pretty post-theistic Christian, as I’ve mentioned before. I don’t imagine God the Father with a plan for me on his yellow legal pad sheets, spelled out with black marker.
My dad wrote on those legal pads, always. The markers that came home in his briefcase when I was a little girl were grey with a black top, and they made a satisfying squeak on the paper. When I visited his Senate office, I gasped with delight to see them all over the place, on everyone’s desks. It would be a relief to imagine God like him, making notes for my life in an intelligently illegible hand, with dashes setting off lists of what I might do, what I ought to do.
I would like that.
But we don’t all get the specific instructions that came to Isaiah–and really, who would want his? We don’t all get knocked down on the road like Paul and sent off to the town to see a certain person.
Maybe most of us are more like Simon Peter. We go on our daily round, doing the work that life brings to us, until a day when something unexpected knocks us to our knees, even figuratively, and we are, at least for a moment, awed.
I love this encounter between Peter and Jesus. I love the way Peter begs off, and I love the way Jesus acknowledges this is a lot to handle.
“Do not be afraid!” Or “Fear not!” That’s what it says in the King James Version. I like poetry. I was an English major, I cannot help it.
My daughter is 14, and unlike her brothers, who had chosen a direction or perhaps I might better say been chosen by a passion at that age, she wonders what she will do with her life. At that age, I had no idea. I thought I would get married someday. I imagined myself with a large family, mostly because I had a lot of favorite family names I wanted to use. By 16 I thought I cared more about music than most other things, though I also considered being a writer, and I enjoyed acting. I didn’t know, really. She thinks of teaching English or music, of learning Japanese and finding a career that uses the language, of being a psychologist or a doctor. We’ve talked about all of those just in the past week.
Fear not! I didn’t know what a girl could do, or rather I didn’t know a girl could do what I am doing now. I don’t know if my Birthday Twin, DK will read this — we are recent Facebook friends — but as a very little girl, even before the markers and the legal pads, I wanted to be his mother when I grew up, to be Mrs. K. )And literally, too. I believed he would be a minister, like his dad, and I would be the minister’s wife, Mrs. K the Next Generation.)
Oh, she was lovely and smart and kind! I simply adored her. In a time when most of the mothers I knew, and absolutely most of the minister’s wives, made home and church their work, I knew very few who did anything else. Mrs. F was a painter; shocking! (She painted nudes.) Mrs. K started the school at our church; it began with preschool and kindergarten. This must have seemed acceptable. This bright young woman, and I realize now she must have been very, very young, found a way to balance family life and church and going on to get her own graduate degrees, to write books about parenting and to teach early childhood education at a university.
And I still want to be like her, even though I mean it differently. I love the way she attended to her personal life and expressed her good gifts fully with the intention of making the world a better place, by helping parents and teachers relate sensitively to children.
I have no doubt that the first step on that journey was an encounter with the holy.
Now, just as I don’t hang onto the dream of a Big My Daddy writing out a plan for me on his heavenly yellow pad of paper, I don’t have a limited view of what it means for something to be holy. What moves you? What lights you up inside?
Yesterday, LP sang in the District Chorus Festival. It was her first time doing that kind of thing, coming together with an unfamiliar conductor and singers to make music for two days and then perform it. Because there are so many more girls than boys, they have a Treble Choir of 9th and 11th grade girls and a Mixed Chorus of 10th and 12th grade girls who sing with all the boys. That Treble Choir, wow! The conductor got sounds from them that made me gasp, that made me feel hot inside, that made the top of my head tingle! That was holy, holy, holy. In the place where ineffable graces meet human gifts expressed with pure intention, there is holiness.
I’ve been blessed to have so many of those moments with my three children, to see them act and dance and hear them sing and play music, to see them shine with a holiness that is also wholeness.
Your holiness may vary.
That’s okay. God used Isaiah’s gifts of speech and Paul’s gifts of zeal and Peter’s gifts for drawing in a catch, and our gifts will be used, too. We just have to get up off our knees and go, go out or deeper or back to school or onto the next thing. We have the gifts we need. Holy, holy, holy, God of love and majesty, All that is Good, draws us onward.
I’m hoping that when I someday look back over the long arc of my life, when I make my own list in some digital format made to look like my dad’s legal pads, I’ll be able to say I did grow up to be like Mrs. K, and like Peter and Paul and Isaiah and all the people who have been brave enough to follow,to use their best gifts in the full knowledge of their greatest weaknesses. I hope I’ll be able to say I followed.