Posted on Tue, Jan 19, 2016
Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11
Last night I had the incomparable pleasure of singing—wait—and getting paid to sing on a stage with my son Duncan, daughter Jamaica and my old singing partner Steve Brown. As it often does when we sing together, it made me wonder how I came to be so fortunate, so nested in a place and time so right and so perfect. Singing with them and watching Mary watch us and then watching her dance made me feel not so much younger, but suspended in time, as though our lives were spilling into one another’s. What made this incomparable is that in this modern life we live this is not one of those things one sees coming—having your children join you in one of those endeavors that you have been passionate about, that has given your life substance and meaning. Few of us rear our children to join our occupations or our preoccupations, for that matter. In fact there are so many stories shared about how we ruin children by insisting that they follow in our footsteps.
I was truly a lazy father in that respect. Frankly, I didn't think that my life plan and goals as a young person were all that worthy of emulation. The only great and sensible thing that I did before the age of forty was to marry Mary Dunn and that was more in the category of dumb luck. The point is that these days, we tend to think that our children, quite naturally, are going to be different from us. They dress differently, they talk differently and they tend to know and respond to a different music.
It has been such a pleasant surprise that most of my children even one who didn't sing with us last night, Haliʻa, seem to know all of the songs that I love and that I have been singing for as long as they have been alive. Frankly, that made the task of putting a concert together with them so much easier. Basically we just did songs that Steve and I already knew and that my children had learned as a result of hearing them over and over. It meant that I didn't have to learn more than one or two new songs, which was a great relief to me. By the way, it is not true that an old dog cannot learn new tricks. They just don't like to. We don't mind doing the old tricks over and over again, otherwise, we prefer to be left alone.
Iʻll bet you think this story isn’t going anywhere. I don't blame you.
See, I am speaking from the standpoint of an elder who, like most elders have seen our share of things in this world: Sad things; stupid, wasteful and sadistic things and also things of wonder, beauty and grace. But these texts on the second Sunday of epiphany celebrate not the weary, cynical or wise, but the young, energetic, hopeful in us, as though we were all young men and women with most of their lives in front of us. And actually Isaiah is not merely addressing the young people who face the task of restoring Jerusalem, so much as he is appealing to that vigor and determination that all of us are capable of and the effort and dedication that will be required by all to rebuild a nation.
It reminds me of how many times Mary and I have retold the story of our courtship and marriage and our children’s births and we have told them not just to amuse our friends but as subtle reminders to each other of where we have come from, so that when we annoy or disappoint one another, there is still a memory somewhere saying “this is not all there is to your relationship.” And it has always been important to us that our children hear these stories as well. For as smart and talented and vigorous as they are, they do not know their future or how they will handle the situations they confront in their lives.
Look at the psalm today where it says, “5Your love, O LORD, reaches | to the heavens, and your faithfulness | to the clouds.” As clever as our children are, they do not know what it means to be faithful. Faithful is something you know 20 or 30 years into a marriage or relationship, through temptation, disappointment, self-doubt and even betrayal. Shaped and tempered by all of those things, faithfulness is the blessing of life, unknown in the same way to the young but so dear and cherished to those who have lived it. Faithful is about choices and it is about trust. It is about learning to be worthy of one another, even when it is very clear that we are so different.
When the psalm talks about faithfulness it’s really talking about Yaweh’s faithfulness to Israel as a parent to a child, and that is a faithfulness that anyone, young or old can understand. And our love for our children, like Gods love for us, comes with hope and expectations that they will live lives as fulfilling and as meaningful as they can. Hopefulness is really what the wedding is all about isn’t it? Why Jesus begins his mission at a wedding is so appropriate, because that occasion is the very epitome of hope. We know nothing of the future, but we are willing, in the moment of our vows to entrust our lives to another with the belief that together we can create something worthwhile or even magnificent.
It can be depressing how contemporary ideals minimize the promise of marriage with its focus on mere romance and desire, often forgetting that the long steady sharing and commitment is what creates opportunity after opportunity of experience and growth, of learning to rely on someone else and to be ready to be relied on. Because if you want to know, really, what you should expect of yourself, from yourself in life, think of what would make you proud in your own children. That will tell you everything you need to know.
You might want to begin by disabusing yourself of the belief that you can intentionally create a good, kind and contributing adult from your children, on your own. Oh. I know we want to think so, but honestly, what you set out to teach your children will never have the same effect as what they perceive in you. To be completely honest, I learned more about being responsible and kind from them than they probably learned from me. Whatever is good about our family is, like the harmonies of our music, just the result of our being around each other and learning to deal with each other’s weirdness.
And that brings me to the most important part of all of this, or else this homily would be nothing but the smug self-congratulations of someone who has been so incredibly undeservedly lucky. In that passage from Isaiah, Imagine that community of people standing on the ruins of the city of their ancestors. There would have been people in that circle who had lost families, lovers, children in captivity or on the difficult journey home. And I know as I know how it would be in this community here today, that there would be hands of love extended to those who were grieving along with the sure knowledge that the nation would be rebuilt not only on the joy and hopefulness of the young and whole but on the sorrow and despair of those in loss and the sober restraint of those who had seen too much.
And that is exactly why the Pope’s recent message about caring for people seeking refuge is so important. As a Hawaiian sovereignty activist for many years, I know that the actual foundation of nation building are the communities of people, usually marginalized by powerful institutions, ignored by their governments, harassed and oppressed by their own police and military. I know that the people who most strive for justice and fairness in their societies are those least able to finance and expand their efforts, and what they accomplish usually comes as a result of fierce determination and will, and a belief in their cause. And while we may rightly fear the terrorist who has lost any hope for justice in the world and has faith only in his or her ability to make others tremble, we must not ever, ever allow that fear to make us forsake our aloha and our recognition of that aloha in others.
Faith and Hope sustain families and communities but it is love (aloha) in the end that heals and creates grace. Where faith can turn to hurt in betrayal and hope can be dashed in our own perceptions of failure, love simply is. Aloha is indivisible, it is, when all is said and done, indestructible. When we say God is love, Aloha ke Akua we reaffirm love’s essentialness and indestructability.
So we should rejoice. Often. Because in the end, love lives among us. There is no greater gift, no more to grace than that. It is why there will always be second chances and third chances and 70 times 7 chances because the love that lives with us in the world does not surrender, not to disappointment, not to failure, not to betrayal and tragedy. Not even to evil. We should rejoice. Every day.
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