In the months leading up to the birth of my first grandchild, I was like most about to be grandparents, trying on different grandmother names. We had never been allowed to address our grandparents as anything other than “Grandmother” and “Grandfather”. I so envied my friends whose grandparents had clever names like “Peaches” or “Skippy”. I had the sense that those grandparents must have been more approachable than mine.
As I stood in the corridor outside the birthing suite along with my son in law’s parents while behind a discreet curtain my daughter gave birth, I was still working on the final short list of possibilities when I heard the doctor say, “Congratulations! You’ve got a beautiful little girl.” Then my daughter, knowing we were all standing out there, said “Alright guys, call it!” Before I could speak up, my son-in-law’s mother claimed “Mimsy”, which secretly was one of my top names. I think Rebekah knew that. I heard her kind of choke up when she said, “Alright mom, who do you want to be?”
Hmmm, good question. Last week, when preaching about Zacchaeus who climbed-up-in-the-Sycamore-tree-for-the-Lord-he-wanted-to-see, the question was “Who was Jesus?” And what we learned is that while we are straining from whatever vantage point we can maneuver to see Jesus, Jesus is seeing us; seeing us as we have been since God imagined us before the foundation of the world was laid; seeing as we are in the present moment, perhaps “up a tree” like Zacchaeus, and seeing us as we will be when we have learned the lesson we now struggle to understand. So, when Jesus sees us, he sees all this. But what would we like for him to see? Who do we want to be?
Today we are baptizing two beautiful babies who take their place at Grace in the third generation of their families present here among us. That means that sitting right here are some folks with some interesting monikers that only make sense to their grandchildren. I imagine that the stories behind their grandparent names have something to do with how their grandchildren “experience” them, more than they have to do with deliberate choices on their parts.
In this way, grandparent names end up being more like Old Testament names where they describe the person’s personality; like when Abraham’s wife Sarah laughed at the idea of giving birth at 99, then later named her child a name that sounds very much like the Hebrew word meaning “laughter.” So, somewhere between “who you want to be” and “who you actually are” – and nearer the one end than the other, is your grandparent name and the sound of that name is sweeter than any other music to your ears.
It is meet and right that we talk about grandparent names and babies’ baptisms on All Saints Day. As you can see from the lectionary notes inside your service leaflet today, a “saint” is someone filled with the Spirit of God, which Spirit leads them into holiness. And holy is aptly described as a thing belonging entirely to God with mysterious power. We mere mortals may, in fact, only ever reach this level of “holiness” in the eyes of our grandchildren. Everyone else knows that our allegiance to God can be episodic and that the sleight of hand that can make a button nose disappear and reappear does not actually involve mysterious power.
So, on this holy day, this day when we remember all those on whose shoulders we stand, and in whose footsteps we follow — those who we meet “in trains or in shops or at tea” — we also ask God’s blessing on these two children who will follow in our footsteps and stand on our shoulders, and consider together what is this holy inheritance about which St. Paul speaks that is passed from one generation of us to the next. What is the spiritual and ethical legacy that we are creating today to be inherited by our children and grandchildren? In short, who do we want to be?
Part of the answer for me lies in the promises of the baptismal covenant. My grandchildren may not remember me as someone who was always successful at continuing in the apostles’ teachings or in resisting evil. What I hope they will remember about me is that when I failed to do the right thing, I apologized and tried again. They may not always remember me as generous of spirit and kind-hearted toward others who are different from me. What I hope they will remember are the occasions when I went back to them and asked them to forgive me for the unkind comments I made concerning someone about whom I knew absolutely nothing and who was undeserving of my short-sighted and narrow-minded judgment. What I hope is that they will always feel affirmed as beloved children of God, not just when I praise them for their accomplishments but when I hold a cold cloth to their heads in the aftermath of a night of really poor decisions about alcohol.
Another part of the answer for me lies in the story behind the name my grandchildren have ended up calling me. I was still thinking over my options when my daughter heard me telling my granddaughter a story. “Aw” she sighed, “you’re just like Mother Goose” which was shortened in time to simply “Goose” because my grandchildren have no idea who Mother Goose is. What I have learned about geese is that they are “frequently messy, surprisingly resilient, and wildly faithful creatures. In a wedge of flying geese, the customary V-formation actually allows each goose to fly for longer than would be possible if flying alone. When one goose tires, it falls back in formation and is pulled along by the drag of the V. If one goose is injured three will follow it down to land, surrounding it for protection against predators and then escorting it in V-formation back to the wedge.”
Now, I don’t think my grandchildren know any of these fun facts about geese. I think “Goose” is just a name for them that differentiates me from “Mimsy.” But the facts help me focus on who I want to be to them, how I want to be remembered. The Jones baby, Harrison Moss, has older siblings and so will learn about his “Nana” and “Papa” from them. But, little Averitt Mae Henderson is the first grandchild. So, who knows who George and Patti will end up being? But like every grandparent here today, they will all be grateful to God for this parental “do-over”, a chance to make a name for themselves on no other basis than that they will be remembered by these children as the ones who loved them no matter what. And if, perchance, their grandparent names don’t come with a list of characteristics like I was fortunate to have with Goose, they can always fall back on the beatitudes.
They can be the ones to assure their grandchildren that some of the hardest times in life may actually yield some of the greatest blessings; that the sooner they let go of anger or grudges, the better they’ll feel; that “stuff” is just “stuff” and that, at the end of the day, if they can just remember to treat others the way they want to be treated, they’ll sleep well at night.
If they can do this, they will be called “Blessed” in the kingdom of heaven, regardless of what they’re called here on earth.
The Rev. Cynthia Park
November 6, 2016