Dr. Carol Franklin
As some of you know, the last few months have been… I could be profane here, but I’ll opt for saying they have been trying at the very least. I’ve been in a weird place since my father died 33 years and three days short of the day in April that my mother died. This all amplifies thoughts about family relationships and commitments, about love and loss and the ties that bind us. It brings so much of my life full circle, and of course it’s set to a musical theme. As I reflected on the gospel lesson a thread of music, really what I thought was a lyric kept running through my head “what we do for love.” Of course the song really is “What We Won’t Do for Love,” but nonetheless, it gave me a focal point to reflect on my journey these last few months, and indeed most of my life.
This journey is about we do out of love and thankfulness for God’s grace and His singular gift of peopling our lives with such extraordinary personalities. Though I won’t talk about them in this sermon, it includes my four footers. A child of divorce, I was raised among a company of women who gave me a unique perspective on self and service, on love and commitment, on struggle and self-worth, in essence those things that make a life of worth. Like the women in our gospel, they gave a full measure of themselves, their gifts and their talents, without counting the cost. They loved expansively; supported each other; served with grace; nurtured and gave direction to me and countless children and adults. They taught me and challenged me to understand that life is full of good and one must be open to seeing and accepting that goodness. They also taught me that walking by faith and in the spirit is more difficult than following an outward law. It’s about listening for the voice of God and then responding obediently to his call.
Many colleagues have said, “Carol you could have been a college president if only you had been willing to do this or do that.”
Nobody understood that the kind of ambition they mentioned is not what shaped the choices I made. Now don’t get me wrong – I am ambitious (or I was before I retired). I wanted to do a good job, be recognized for it and advance in my profession. But what mattered (and matters most to me still) is serving and relating to others – being present in their lives and in their need, helping them to grow and find their way. Whether on the job, in the classroom or among family and friends, I have always valued being among us, being among a company of folks striving and journeying together.
While most of the company of women I knew were not blood relations, they were family. In most cases, I was their only family. It was more important to me to be present in their lives than president of some college. I learned firsthand that caregiving is not an easy job. Nor is it easy as they near the end of their journey to affirm to them that they have been a good and faithful servant and it’s okay to let go. But that is why I needed to be present, not out of duty or obligation, but out of love – their love for me and our love for each other. It may not be an alabaster jar of ointment, but what is more priceless than the gift of self to others? It’s about modelling God’s extravagant love in the gift of His son to redeem our lives. It’s what we do for love that matters.
It’s about relationships, about caring for each other in the best and worst of times. Caring when it’s easy and when it’s damn hard. It’s about acknowledging that no matter how alike or different we are, we are shoots from the same tree abiding on the same bank, the bank along which the river of living water flows. Yes, there are the outward facets of the law – honor thy father and thy mother. But that is not why I travelled cross country to abide for a weekend with folks I barely know. For the adult Carol, it was not about what had been done or left undone to Carol, the child of divorced parents. It was about living into God’s love for me. Though I did not have a relationship with my father, I did and do have a relationship with God. Out of that relationship of love, acceptance and grace, I was called to honor my father, to acknowledge his place in my life, and to be open to the gift of life he helped to give me.
God knows what our lives can become. It’s not about the law or others’ judgements or expectations of us – it’s about what we do for love. God’s intention is to heal life and restore relationships. A life so restored is focused not on hedging our bets, but focusing on what we do out of love (not duty). The lesson of today’s gospel is that if Christ has taken up residence in our lives, we can’t have it both ways. God’s reign is about love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children. It’s about allowing God to do in and through us what only He can do – love extravagantly.