Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, preached today, June 25 (the feast is June 24th) given at Trinity, Easton, PA.
"But no one in the family has that name."
I am told that this is how Barbara Crafton began her talk at the Community of St. John Baptist when preaching on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Everyone in the room got what she meant. Everyone has had that moment in their family when we screw up our courage and tell them the truth, or this is how it is, knowing that this is far outside the expectations and norms of the family.
Remember the film The Graduate, when Ben (played by a young Dustin Hoffman) announces that he is going to marry Elaine Robinson? His parents are thrilled until they find that Elaine has no idea this is going to happen.
"Ben," his father asks. "Don't you think this plan is a little...half baked?"
"Oh, no sir" Ben says. "This plan is completely baked."
You can picture their looks. How they look at each other trying to decide how to frame their response. Maybe they will try to talk you out of it. Has this happened to you?
"Dad, Mom. I don't want to follow in the family business. I want to be a priest."
"I am getting married to...."
"Dad, Mom, I need to tell you that I am gay and I am in love."
"Kids, I am joining a religious community."
"I can no longer run the rat race. I am going to change careers and do what I have always wanted to do."
"I'm not just having a bad spell, folks, I am depressed and I am alcoholic and I am going into treatment."
You can think of your own stories. The moment when you had to stand up and tell people who care about you that you are called to live and do something that is an entirely different path than what was expected.
The people we love whom we tell this truth to will look at us strangely and may even try to talk us out of it. Whether they disagree with us or support us, they will wonder. What's she or he up to? What is God up to?
Elizabeth had no business being pregnant...she was well past those years. And Zechariah, who dearly wanted Zechariah Jr. had to give up that dream...and who had his voice taken away so he wouldn't mess it up. Yet, here was Elizabeth...expecting and delivering a baby boy. And here was Zechariah, who scratches out Johns name and then becomes the only male in the Gospel of Luke to break out in canticle.
John would probably be an enigmatic child... a person called to be at once away from and confrontive of his community. A person of great faith and great urgency. Whatever Zechariah's family business was, John would not be joining in.
One thing we learn from the saints is that God takes people who think they are one path and are now set upon something new and unexpected and unknown. We see in Elizabeth and Zechariah that God has a way of taking us out of the places where people expect. God has this way of radically changing our direction in unexpected ways.
The saints teach us this because each and everyone us need to have our direction changed at one time or another. Left to our devices we might fall into the humdrum or we might act out wrecklessly. Either way, we need a course correction. It might come in the form of an a-ha, or a wake-up call, a kick in the butt or being rendered speechless. We are all governed by sin. We are all separated from God and each other and creation and there is nothing that we by ourselves can do about that. We all need a course correction.
Through the cross and resurrection, God makes it possible to break through the sin and the ordinary and dig deep and begin to touch and experience the person God sees, the person God calls, the person God made. God did not make us to live mundane or self-destructive lives. God made us to be holy, and full and healthy.
What happened with Elizabeth and Zechariah, happens with us. We might experience when we stand before stunned relatives, friends or co-workers and name the truth about us, the hope within us, that defines us and makes us real and points the way to knowing the person God made and sees. When we reach through the sin (which is now dead) and begin to touch--grasp--the one whom God calls, God loves, God changes it will cause us to change direction.
And that will be disorienting. Maybe to us. Certainly to the people around us. And it is wonderful because it is at moments like this we discover what it means to be loved and called and converted. We don't just put aside one life and take on a new one. We reach past the life that we know and begin to live the life that we hope. When we live under grace, we are changed and the people around us are amazed, and wonder what God is up to.
God intervenes. We see a glimpse of what God sees in and about us. We catch a glimpse of Hope. And our direction is changed. Sooner or later it will happen to all of us.