Recently I came across these words from the novelist Frederick Buechner:
“Every once in a while, life can be very eloquent. You go along from day to day not noticing very much, not seeing or hearing very much, and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, very often something speaks to you with such power that it catches you off guard, makes you listen whether you want to or not.” [Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, p. 65.]
“Every once in a while, life can be very eloquent.”
Some people would apply that observation to the moment they met the person they would marry, or to the moment when they first realized they would marry that person.
Some people would apply it to holding in their arms for the first time their newborn child or grandchild.
Some would say that life can be very eloquent when they visit the funeral home and look upon the body of someone they’ve known for ten or twenty or fifty years.
In each instance, what happens is that we are caught off guard, made to listen to something that speaks to us with power.
But if life is eloquent, at least every once in a while, what is it eloquent about? What does life tell us in those moments?
The message, many times at least, sounds like the message Jesus announces at the start of his ministry, when he goes around proclaiming that God’s kingdom is at hand, God’s reign has come.
This is what Jesus announces, and this may be what life tells us in its moments of great eloquence, that God does not stay at a distance, but is closer to us than we are to ourselves. God draws near—in mercy, in judgment, in abundant generosity, bestowing gifts that startle us and leave even the most vocal people without a word left to say. When this message heads in our direction, then sometimes at least we listen, whether we want to or not, whether or not we can get any grasp on what is happening.
That the reign of God confronts us is a pretty unsettling proposition. If there is no distance between now and the reign of God, then our human schemes and plans and hopes stand out awkwardly for what they are: purely provisional. The reign of God may well call forth something entirely different than what we had in mind.
On the other hand, if despite appearances to the contrary, God’s reign has arrived already, then that is as promising as promises can get. It means that our little efforts, the improv act that each of us engages in, may become loaded with grace and mercy and splendor more than any of us can stand. God can mess with our plans, not only by dashing them, but by fulfilling them in ways that challenge our ability to imagine.
“Every once in a while, life can be eloquent.’ So says Frederick Buechner.
The reign of God is here right now—lock, stock, and barrel. So says Jesus Christ.
What life is eloquent about—often if not always—is that God’s reign is here already. So then—maybe, just maybe, a large chunk of what we are here to do—LiAnne and Lawrence, you, me, everybody—a large part of what we must do is listen intently to life’s eloquence and hear what it is saying about how in all moments of our lives, despite appearances to the contrary, the Lord God reigns.
Lawrence and LiAnne, the new relationship you start with each other today brings with it a wealth of meaning and many opportunities. I will remind you now of only one of these opportunities, but it is something that can bring new life to you and your marriage and your family and your community time and again; it is a fountain of eternal refreshment.
LiAnne and Lawrence, I invite you to listen together to life’s eloquence, and recognize in that eloquence how despite appearances, the reign of God has arrived already for you and for all people. Enjoy that. Delight in it. Live in awe of that. Find strength in how the reign of God is here. It is at hand with the promise of infinitely more to come. This is grace. This is the gospel. This is the peace that surpasses understanding.
And recognize, each of you, that today you are consecrated to serve as an eloquent sign of God’s reign to the person you are marrying, and that as well you are given the gift of that other person who will be for you an eloquent sign of God’s reign here and now. The reality of God’s reign manifest in the two of you today brings joy to all of us gathered here, yet it is only a beginning. The reign of God among us is one that never ends.
• Copyright for this sermon 2008, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications).