Luke 1:1-4 (Homily)
When I was little girl, I wrote stories. Learning to read fueled my pint sized writing desire; I didn’t want to be merely a passenger on the story train, I wanted to call those places and beings into existence, I wanted to be the engineer. With a pencil, eraser, and a wide-ruled piece of paper, I summoned into being characters made of glue, talking dogs and cats, story-book ending reversals and what-ifs, magical places, deep woods, vast fields, and majestic horses.
That pencil and wide-ruled paper would give way to multicolored pens and spiral-bound notebooks of college-ruled sheets. I didn’t pass notes in high school; I passed stories with my best friend. Together we spun chapters upon chapters of tales of love and romance, bringing our secret crushes on cute soccer players to life.
As an English major with a creative writing focus in college, I wrote and wrote. Plays. Essays. Poetry. Fiction. Satire. In my spare time, I filled personal journals with angsty poetry and meandering nonsensical musings about life and existence, God and the divine, scripture, human pain and human suffering.
Even as I left college and joined the masses moving to and fro on Wall Street, my poetry and prose came with me. A few weeks before the events of 9/11 traumatized my city in devastating ways, I started writing stories again. A clay pot by the name of Eli, his buddy Marc, and the Potter would not only keep me company on the dark nights where I couldn’t process the horror I had just witnessed from the distance of 1.5 miles, but they would be the midwives through whom my processing of terror and suffering of fragile humanity and an apparently silent God were born.
In seminary, I’d find ways for my inner iconoclast to come out. A thesis and three supporting points was boring. I’d submit epic poems to answer the question of predestination, or spin a tale about why confirmation was an important step in the Episcopal church. And at night, I’d curl up with my boys, sometimes reading to them and sometimes allowing my spoken words to pull them into imaginary worlds before they drifted off into to their own.
As they grew, bedtime stories became story installments on 5×7 index cards taped to the inside of lunch-boxes. No longer was I escaping into fantasy worlds I created for myself, I was creating escapes for my boys from the structure of elementary school. An anxious day, a stressful day, a bad day could be paused for a few minutes; just enough time to rest and dive back in after lunch. Time and space were held back, barricaded against by words gathered as a fortress creating and holding a place for my boys to breathe.
Now I stand here. And I get to use not only my training and authority to educate you in things of theology and religion, but I get to put my hand once again to the pencil and the sheet to create for you worlds vastly different from the one you are all too familiar with, where for a few minutes you can suspend disbelief. This story telling is part of our Episcopal identity that is as deep as it is wide. We put great emphasis on every part of the service being a moment of potential encounter between you and God in the event of faith. From the first song to the last and everything in between is structured to make that encounter possible. Not least of which is the event of preaching.
In preaching I get to use my words to create for you a moment in time and space for you to get caught up and caught in. I get to use my words to pull you into the rich and verdant possibility of encounter with God in the event of faith. I get to bring eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand with a God who loves deeply and fully. I get to call into being a moment so filled with conflict and comfort, where you are encountered and altered so radically that if you are listening even just a little bit, you can’t help but leave a little bit different.
I get to tell you stories about words so imbued with fertility that they spontaneously generate worlds of life (from the smallest plant to the largest mountain and every living thing between). I get to bring you face to face with a mighty, divine power who is deeply impassioned over people and the world that bushes burn, waters part, rains cause floods, food falls from the sky, and the earth quakes. I get to place you among the crowd of people enslaved, freed, and on the run; who cross a sea between walls of water, roam painfully through miles and miles of dessert, are fed from the sky, look to snakes for healing, and struggle with faith and belief that the promise uttered way back when is still valid, will still be fulfilled.
I get to point to the prophets of Israel who were so filled with the spirit and divine presence, that they couldn’t be silent anymore and spoke up, calling their people around them to wake up, hear, and return to the truth. I get to seat you at the stage of the greatest and most romantical story of love and desire between two people that Romeo and Juliet blush. I get to recite for you the poetry and songs of a people overcome with love and gratitude, hope and confidence, and sometimes fear and despair. I get to expose you to wisdom so ancient and so true, that there isn’t a fortune cookie or a horoscope in the world that could ever hold a match to it.
I get to ask you to be quiet as we all silently shuffle into a cave where a sleeping baby lies in a manger; “ancient wisdom born a wriggly infant to save the world,” I whisper to you. “Long awaited hope fulfilled.” I push you into the rushing and pressing crowds who are eager to see and hear and touch “This man who told me everything about me” (cf. Jn 4). I then prod you in front of a horrific instrument of death, and ask you to look up and see the painful death of Christ, this man who is God. Over the jeering, mocking, and taunting crowd, I holler, “This is what love looks like: sacrifice!” And three days later I get to bring you to another cave, an empty tomb, and let you feel and get caught up in the energy and fear of the women fleeing to go tell the disciples: Jesus is risen! And unlike before, now is a time for loud and ruckus noise! “Rejoice! Lift your voice! Love won! Life triumphed over death; light obliterated the darkness! Hallelujah!”
As a faithful tour guide of this great story, I then walk you through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the fits and starts of the early church comprised of people trying to figure out what just happened exactly, people like you and me. And I get to show you—each of you—where you’ve been grafted into this story since the beginning of time, where you along with all people of all history, are the intended recipient of this great work and act of love of God. I’m not here to give you another syllabus decorated with lists of expectations and to-dos; I’m here to call you out of all of that for a handful of minutes in order to tell you about what I think is the greatest story ever told, to write and speak you into it. I’m here to recreate that story for you in this time and space; to make that story come alive in this place at this moment.
I’m here to hand the story on to you “…just as [it was] handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, …so that you may know the truth concerning the things about [the great story of God’s deep abiding love for God’s world and God’s people, for you, God’s beloved child]” (adapted from Luke 1:1-4).