I just got back from a weekend retreat at Mo Ranch where I spoke to the Presbyterian Women of Mission Presbytery. It was such an honor to be the keynote speaker, and I had a great time doing it. Given that it was the week after Holy Week, I’m pretty sure my body didn’t think that it was such a great idea, and it rebelled in the worst way. I’ve just downed the first double dose of the Z-Pack, and I’m hoping that this bronchitis clears up ASAP!
The texts used were Ruth 1:8, 14-18 and Acts 8:26-40
The image I showed in this talk is THIS one from THIS series.
Ruth says, “Your people will be my people. Where you go, I will go, where you lodge I will lodge.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I?” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Both of these stories speak to the power of solidarity, companionship, and loyalty. When I think of the wording in the Ruth passage “Your people will be my people,” and the question the Ethiopian asks “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me,” I think a little bit of the show Grey’s Anatomy. If you don’t watch it, don’t worry, I’m going to catch you up by telling you a little story:
One day my husband, Elias, said “What’s the name of that telenovela you’re always watching?”
I said “It’s not a telenovela, it’s a show about surgeons.”
“um, ok” he said, and rolled his eyes “Every time I come into the room when you’re watching it, someone is either in bed with someone else, they are crying, or they are yelling at someone. It’s totally a telenovela.”
Telenovela is the spanish word for soap opera, and Elias is absolutely correct, Grey’s Anatomy is an evening soap opera. It is about surgeons, though. Kinda.
Anyway, in the show Grey’s Anatomy, the central character (named Meredith) has a lot of friends, but she has one friend Christina, who she calls “her person.” The way that Christina got to be called her “person” is from an episode when Meredith is trying to explain Christina to someone else. “She’s my person,” she says, “If I murdered someone, she’s the one I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the floor.”
Anyone have a friend like that?
This weekend at Mo Ranch I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the women in my congregation in ways that I’ve not known them before, and I’ve gotten to see the power of their friendships as well. My two house buddies over at pilot house, J and S have been friends for over 40 years. Their children were babies together, and they’re now, well, not babies anymore. J and S have a very, very long history. I don’t imagine J will be murdering anyone anytime soon, but I do imagine if there are metaphorical bodies to be dragged across the floor, S would be high on the list of people to help. I imagine the reverse is also true, that if S is in need, J will step up, and not in a small way, but in a big way. J and S have made me laugh so much this weekend. Last night, as I was sitting in the couch of pilot house, looking over the texts for this morning I heard them getting ready for the movie night (side bar: was that not amazing??) I overheard J say to S “Hang on, I have to take care of my bling here.” I ask you, ladies: what good is a friend if she will not wait for you while she takes care of her bling?
I want to talk a little bit about a person that I often refer to as “my person.” I don’t want to highlight her as much as I want to highlight what she represents which, to me, is loyalty and commitment and walking along side someone, just as Philip did for the Ethiopian. Just as Ruth did for Naomi.
You may remember that on Friday night I was talking about Peter refusing to have his feet washed. We talked about how hard it is to let people near our stinky feet, but how, when we do, we find that people don’t run for the hills, but instead, they find their joy in washing the dust off our weary feet and refreshing our spirits, and we find our joy in being known and loved by someone else. You may also recall that I briefly showed this photo and alluded to my struggle with anxiety. I was going to tell the story on Friday night that I’m about to tell right now, but I decided not to. The reason I didn’t (couldn’t) tell it on Friday night is that “my person” was here, and I thought it would be too much for me with her sitting right there. She’s not here this morning, though, so I think it’ll be a little easier to tell the story.
Several months ago, I was, for a brief time, that girl lying on the floor with the black sheet over me. The reason was a combination of things: there was a lot of stress in my life. I was sad over the loss of a church member who left this world too soon, and sad about the sweet young children he left behind. I had a busy week and a lot on my mind. My husband, who is an anchor and a safe place for me, and the primary caregiver of our children, was out of town. Perhaps worst of all (though I didn’t know it at the time) my body was also reacting to a change in medication which was causing my muscles to tense up and for my jaw to slowly start to lock shut. I wasn’t sure what was going on, and, because I’m prone to anxiety in situations like this, my mind started racing “What is going on? What will happen if my jaw permanently locks itself shut, or if my back spasms to the point that I can’t move? What if I can’t take care of Clayton and Samuel?” The more I thought about it, the more my brain betrayed me “You’re not going to be able to fix it,” my brain was telling me. I couldn’t keep up with the worries in my own mind. I was her — that woman on the floor with black draped all around. When I woke up in the morning, I was a complete wreck. Not only was my jaw almost completely locked shut, I had an awful headache, and I was throwing up. I needed help. I texted my person and said “Can you come over here right now?”
You know what she texted back? One word.
Not “why?” Not, “How long are you going to need me to stay, because I have a meeting in an hour?” not “What am I going to have to do when I get there?”
Anne Lamott says something about this in her book “Grace Unexpected” and I tried to find the reference, but I couldn’t. Something about an the type of yes that doesn’t ask questions, it just does what it needs to do.
Yes. I can come over right now.
Yes. Your people will be my people.
Yes, I will explain this text to you.
I told you earlier that my person was here on Friday night and is not here now, and a funny thing happened just last night, related to that very situation. When she was here, she was helping me get from here to there, because I have absolutely no sense of direction. I’m serious. Think of the person you know with the worst sense of direction. I’m about ten levels worse than that person.
After the Hollywood night (in which J said that she was getting her bling adjusted, and in which we had an amazing night of enjoying our friends entertaining us) I started to follow two church members (who are not staying in Pilot house, by the way) out of the building. After awhile I said “Wait a minute, am I just blindly following you?”
“Um, where are you trying to go?” they asked
“Pilot house,” I replied.
“Yeah, you’re going completely the wrong way.”
Our friends, our spouses, our partners, our fellow church members, our people: they show us the way. Without them, we blindly follow, and we go the wrong way, every single time.
The theme for this morning is “join in the dance.”
I’d like to suggest that the dance we’re joining in this morning has to do with what is going to happen in a few minutes when we join together in the celebration of the Lord’s supper. When we do this, we acknowledge that we are not alone. We come to the table with other human beings who are just as broken and needy as we are. We come to the table as lonely hearts looking for our matches, and suffering servants who have the capability to link arms and change the world. We come to the table with women we’ve known for 40 years and women we’ll never see again in this life. We come to the table as women who both have stinky feet but also have the great honor of being the first, the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection for all the world to hear. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.