Weasels are wild. As wild creatures, weasels do what nature has designed them to do–they hunt prey. Here’s how they do it. Disclaimer–this will be momentarily icky, but stay with me. The point will be well-made. I promise. Here’s how nature has designed weasels to kill their prey–they bite them (rabbits, mice, birds) on the neck and don’t let go until they’ve dragged the carcass back to their nest.
In an essay titled, “Living Like Weasels,” Annie Dillard tells of a man “who shot an eagle out of the sky. The man examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won.” There’s no telling how long that skull had been dangling from the eagle’s throat.
Dillard finds in the weasel’s single-minded focus inspiration for her own life. “We can live any way we want,” she writes. “People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.”
“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure,” she says, “to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part.” (Dillard, Annie. “Living Like Weasels,” Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, 65-70.)
Stalk our calling…now there’s an image. What in your life have you dug your teeth into completely, single-mindedly? Into what have we as a community dug our metaphorical teeth?
This summer, we’re looking at ways to build a stronger community here at Pilgrimage in four areas of our community’s life: spiritual, vocational, financial, and facility. Today, we begin our reflections on our vocational life.
We don’t often talk about a community’s vocation, at least not among Protestant churches. Catholic religious communities do, though. Monks in those communities have their own individual vocations or callings. But the communities also have vocations. For Jesuits, it’s scholarship. For Benedictines, it’s hospitality. For other orders it’s hospital ministries, or ministries with the poor. The order of Fr. Gabe at St. Anne’s Church is committed to ecumenism… which is why he welcomed me, a Protestant clergywoman, to receive communion at Bob Donahue’s memorial service. A community’s vocation gives it focus. The community then uses that focus to guide its efforts to act the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name.
So. What is our community’s vocation? On what one thing are we focused? What one “necessity” guides us as we seek to act the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name? To what mission have we grabbed on so tightly that even death cannot part us from it?
I invite you to write down your answer to that question. This is a gut-reaction kind of thing. What is our Pilgrimage community’s one-thing? To what one thing are we called as a community of Jesus’ followers? Don’t think about it. Just write. As soon as you’re done, pass it to the center aisles and the ushers will take them up. Then I’ll read them. [2 min. of silence]
Are you ready to hear the responses? If they’re all the same, then good news! The sermon will be done! If they’re not all the same, we’ll need to spend a little more time with it. Ready? (Read responses.) Hmm. No early lunch for us, I’m afraid. 🙂
How do we figure this out? How do we become clearer about our community’s vocation? What will it take to “stalk our calling?”
Today’s Gospel lesson might help us. Or not. This is one of those passages that gives you whiplash on the first reading. Don’t fear those who can destroy the body; do fear the one who can destroy body and soul–that’s God, right? But then it says NOT to be afraid, that God knows intimately every sparrow that falls to the ground. God knows the number of hairs on every person’s head—a count that changes daily for some of us. Others of us, I see, have graciously given God a rest from all that counting. I’m sure God thanks you.
We’re way more valuable than sparrows, Jesus tells us. Then immediately, Jesus says if we acknowledge him on earth, God will acknowledge us in heaven. What joy! On the other hand, if we don’t acknowledge Jesus on earth, God won’t acknowledge us in heaven. Gulp. Jesus hasn’t come to bring peace on earth? Really? And what about this hating the family business? Was that a real thing, or was Jesus just projecting his own family issues onto the disciples? (It happens. ) We’re of more value than sparrows and yet, if we don’t take up the cross, we aren’t worthy of Jesus? And the most confusing part–how can we lose our lives by finding them or find them by losing them?
See what I mean by “whiplash?” Is this passage supposed to comfort us, challenge us, or confuse us? What insight, if any, might it lend our work of stalking our community’s calling?
This passage raises enough questions for us to be answering them until the cows come home. Why must we love God more than family? If God is a God of grace and love, what is all this talk of unworthiness? And the most pressing question of all: Did the heavenly accounting department have to restructure after Propecia came on the market? J
In the few minutes we have left, I invite us to focus on only one line from this passage, the one that talks about taking up our cross and following Jesus…
Was Jesus calling on his disciples to take up literal crosses? Was he calling them to live in such a way that the powers that be would take action to silence them? Does taking up our cross mean to become literal martyrs, to give our flesh-and-blood lives for the sake of the Gospel? Some certainly have taken this verse to mean exactly that. Books are filled with stories of people who gave their lives for the sake of others in Jesus’ name—Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Are we all called to put our literal lives on the line like these people did?
If we focus only on the flesh-and-blood of this passage, I fear we’ll miss the larger point Jesus is trying to make. Like he says earlier in the passage—don’t fear those who can destroy your body. Rather fear the one who has dominion over both body and soul. God isn’t concerned only with physical reality. God is interested in the entire package—body and soul. It’s true that others have the power to destroy our bodies, but no one can take our spirits without us handing them over.
So when Jesus implores us to “take up our cross,” he’s telling us to “stalk our calling,” to latch onto it with such ferocity that not even death can separate us from it.
Why take up our cross? Why stalk our calling? Because living out our calling, our vocation, clinging to it with a weasel’s intensity, is the best means we have of finding our lives. Martin Luther King, Jr.—who knew early on that his calling likely would get him killed—said this: “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer died fully alive. A doctor at Flossenburg, where Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in a plot to kill Adolph Hitler wrote this about Dietrich’s final minutes.
“On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners…were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through a half-open door … I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, K10076)
I’m not suggesting by telling Bonhoeffer’s story—or the weasel’s—that we are called to actual martyrdom. I do think, though, that we have much to learn from their examples, especially from their single-minded commitment to their callings, callings from which even death could not part them.
To what one thing is this community called? Of what one mission are we so certain, we’ll sink our teeth into it and not let go? What one thing will guide us as we seek to act the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017