The Twelve Pencil Sermon

It's a rare Saturday night when I'm not getting anxious about the sermon I haven't written yet. I don't have to write one this weekend, so here I am ... writing.

Mostly I'm just avoiding packing. I hate packing. I always bring the wrong things: too many useless t-shirts and not enough sweaters. Sneakers when I need boots and never enough socks. 

A couple of weeks ago Coco and I stayed at my friend, Lauren's house for the weekend while she and her family were at a wedding in Maine. We took care of the chickens and the horses and the dog and cats. While I was there I grew attached to her daughter, Hannah's, white fleece jacket. It fit perfectly and it was worn-in really well and nice and dirty. That kind of been used outside and for good reason dirty. I told Lauren to tell Hannah I would buy the jacket from her when she was tired of it. No one ever gets tired of a perfect Patagonia jacket, though. Still, a few weeks later I couldn't stop dreaming of that coat. Pathetic, I know.

So I sent Hannah a text ... when you're done with that jacket, I'd love to buy it from you. 

It's yours, she wrote back. Just like that, Hannah gave me something of hers that I was coveting. Though I give things away all the time, I am still feeling a sense of awe and wonder about this. 

I haven't taken it off since. In fact, I slept in it several nights recently. Partly because it's getting cold here in Vermont and partly because I can feel Hannah's love when I wear it. It feels really good.

The year is coming to a close; I can feel it winding down. The holiday funnel is about to kick in ... food and travel and everyone in the family, gifts, more food, snow, final exams, decorations, fatigue, delight. And then, just like that ... another year put to bed. 2018.

I can still remember, with uncharacteristic clarity, the day I sat in the auditorium for my junior high school orientation. "Welcome to the Class of 1983," the speaker said from the podium. There were gasps. At the time 1983 seemed so ... futuristic. So weird. Now the only weird part about it is that it was 34 years ago. 

Honestly, I didn't see that coming, the 34 years.

I didn't see a lot of things coming. Preaching, a third kid, all of the suffering, how hard it is to love. How at home I am in the company of the dying and the sick and the lonely. 

Here is the thing I love about getting older, though: everything gets more fascinating with each passing year. Everything is more Wow, all the time. Who are you? What is that? How do you do that? How does this work? What does that feel like? It's like kindergarten all over again, every day. 

There is something about the circles of life. There really is. I got a funny and unexpected message yesterday from someone asking me if I might be interested in revisiting a position I had many years ago. It was a pleasant surprise and it made me think a lot about second chances. Does everything in life have meaning and purpose? Is timing as big a deal as we like to think it is? Why do we meet the people we meet when we meet them? Why is life sometimes the desert and sometimes a tsunami? The mystery burrows deeper each year.

The pencils.

When I write a sermon I have a mug full of sharpened pencils and lined notepaper. I write until the pencil becomes dull, then I put it down and take a sharpened one. It takes about 12 pencils to write a sermon. My pencils are here beside my laptop looking a little forlorn tonight.


Hannah is a generous one. Joy is, too. She is taking my place at the pulpit tomorrow morning. The pencils will stay put, the coat will go with me to the west to see the boys and the trees and the snow. We'll come back in a week or so and start the whole thing over again. And some will be sick and some will die; there is a wedding in early December, a class I have to take in New York. We will raise the tree at church and eat together afterwards. We will hug and sing and pray. What will the new year bring? I don't know. Maybe 24-pencil sermons. Maybe 6-pencil sermons! I have no idea, which is good. In fact, it's great. Amen.