The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
It was my first football game as a band director. The students were lined up for uniform inspection, and she had the audacity to show up wearing a pair of purple socks.
Actually the socks weren’t purple, they were purple and orange striped!
Those would sure look great from the bleachers with black band shoes, slacks and a red and gold jacket.
She stood there scowling at me with one hand, sassily resting on her hipped. The other held her piccolo, which she emphatically waving it around as she whined.
“These are my lucky socks! You’re being mean! Our last band director didn’t care!”
I knew the last band director. The packs of black crew socks, which I found in the band room said otherwise, but I wasn’t up for arguinging with her.
Impatiently and angrily I yelled at her. “I don’t care if those are your lucky socks, those will look terrible while you’re marching. You’re not performing in the halftime show with purple socks! It’s not happening. End. of. story.”
I held the standard, stuck to my rules, but this was not my finest moment in teaching.
She chose not to march in the halftime show…
Monday afternoon, 7th bell. High school band class started. I stood up on the podium. Of course she HAD to play flute. Flutes sit right under the conductor, and on this particular Monday she came in with FULL FORCE, teen, angsty sassiness…and those purple socks.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. This student drove me nuts. She was difficult, whined at every opportunity, she skipped rehearsals, and picked on other students.
This student faked ailments at band camp so she could take breaks in the shade while all the other students marched and set drill in the hot sun.
She made rehearsals a challenge. There were days when I’d look out over my class and think things like “Wonder what it would be like if I had a band full of my all star students.” They are so easy to love.
This flute player on the other hand? I couldn’t wait for her to graduate.
Why couldn’t she be in choir or at least play tuba, she certainly had enough wind.
She was also a frequent flier in detention. This usually meant forty minutes of a productive rehearsal.
On days she was in class, I assumed she behaved like this to spite me.
I think Paul would have had some words for me about being more loving, but she was so hard to love.
We all have people like this in our lives.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love is not easy.
When love is NOT easy it certainly breaks this well known passage out of the sweet, flowery wedding context in which we often hear it. Of course we are going to think love is simple and easy when we see it expressed at a wedding.
What about with difficult people?
Love is anything, BUT easy.
Often love is a struggle. If we are being faithful to the Gospel, it should be a struggle, because love calls us call us to step out beyond our ego and actually see others for who they really are- The handiwork of God, created in God’s image.
Each person reflects something unique and creative about the Creator’s nature. Some people make that hard to see, and I’m not talking solely about the other.
I’m also talking about myself. I often fail to see God in me.
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, a third century scholar of the Talmud once said,
‘A band of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, “Make way for the image of God!”
Certainly, we welcome this band of angels with joy when that Holy image aligns with who we want God to be, usually a God who looks, thinks and acts like us.
What about the band of angels and the divine image of God who approaches me with their hand on their hips, angrily waving a band instrument at me and wearing purple and orange striped socks?
What about the band of angels marching before the person who has hurt or harmed us?
The band of angels in front of family members that hurt us?
What about the person created in the image of God, who we know spreads rumors for personal gain or power?
For that matter what about my own reflection of God that hastily yells at students, tends to place myself and my work at the center of the universe.
We make the image of God hard to find and claim in others and in ourselves. We cling to our own notion of what love is, and choose to see error instead of holiness. This gets us stuck.
We get stuck making God in our image and not the other way around. We fail to see how the God is working towards a common good, even transforming brokenness into God’s kingdom.
Albeit a very limited example, one of the most valuable lessons I learned about judgement came from being both a band director and a priest.
Communities are a lot like a puzzle in which each person makes up one of the pieces. When I zoom out on my church or band, I have the opportunity to actually see how the puzzle fits together, I get to see a small part of the picture and how the members fit and all the members do in fact fit in some manner that is quite beyond me – defects and all.
When we choose to see only defects and not the image of God we become incapable of discerning the larger picture. We ourselves cannot fully know what each person is struggling with, facing in their lives or in their hearts. All suffer. All fall short of God’s glory.
Therefore we have to let God be God and we must remain as disciples – students – trusting that God will be able to move us towards goodness.
But that doesn’t mean we sit idly. We can actually help that process along and in fact we should. With grace comes responsibility. Each of us has the capacity to love, to examine ourselves, to repent and to continue the practices that will both bring us peace and form us to be more Christ-like.
Judging is easy because it requires no change within ourselves. Love is harder and therefore requires practice.
How do we practice?
Paul would remind us to practice patience, kindness, compassion, humility. Paul would remind us to rejoice and raise others up. Acting with compassion, makes us more compassionate. Acting with kindness makes us more kind. Practicing patience? You guessed it forms you into a patient person.
Jesus reminds us to find the divine image in others, particularly those on the outside – both in society as a whole – and those through our own judgement we choose to set outside.
How might our perception of “the other” change if we heeded those angelic voices?
“Behold here comes the image of God.”
I look for God wearing purple and orange socks.
That was my very first show with the marching band. As I learned more about this particular student’s life, her community, and her family it became easier to love her.
Our relationship never blossomed into something amazing. She was still a difficult student, and I was still an imperfect teacher. She chose to separate herself from the group, and I chose to view her behavior as a personal attack and didn’t cultivate patience, kindness or humility with her.
Neither of us “won.”
Halftime came. The band marched out onto the field.
Part of the formations were missing. The higher notes of the music arrangements a little thinner. In the middle of a squad of flutes there was a hole.
I shot an angry glance up to the bleachers where she sat with a band chaperone. She watched the performance and discreetly wiped tears from her face.
In front of her, the invisible band of angels, all wearing purple and orange socks continued the heralding.
“Here is the image of God.”