You know how when you sit down to write a sermon, you get up for a break to feed peacocks?
Yeah, I thought so. My friend, Lauren, had asked me if I wanted to go to this state park that had free range peacocks. She was going to bring raisins to feed them. I had never heard of such a thing. And I’ve always thought peacocks were kinda strange. But, we unloaded from the car and it was only about a hundred nine out, so we started walking down these shaded trails. Peacocks were standing on rock walls and poking around in the pathways and natural shade gardens. Their feathers were the usual brilliant iridescent displays of blues and greens giving their already stately stature this feeling that one should bow down before them. I was making conversation with Lauren quietly while something overhead nearly clipped my my hair and landed on a thick branch of a nearby live oak and it startled me. I realized though, as it came into focus that it was a mourning dove. It was actually the first mourning dove I have actually during our time in Texas. Mourning doves are my favorite. They remind me of taking naps as a child and hearing their soothing wake up call. Mourning doves blend in. They are mild. They sing a quiet song. That mourning dove, that day, was more comforting to me than any peacock could ever attempt to be. Just a simple mourning dove.
You can listen to the 10:45 AM service for The Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 3, by clicking the play button (arrow) at the link below. Our seminarian, Laura Masterson, delivered the homily, which begins at about 17:15.
Today we heard that great story from the Old Testament about Samuel. This pericope is a turning point in Samuel’s narrative, when he leaves his boyhood and is pointed toward his future as Yahweh’s prophetic leader. It is the birth of his fulfillment of God’s will for his life. He would later anoint Israel’s first king and guide him in moral decisions for their people. I’ve always thought of Samuel as an unsung hero that way.
Young Samuel has little status. He sleeps near the ark of the covenant, in the inner sanctuary at the back of the nave tired out from the day, a usual day when he would perform cultic duties in the Temple. On this day, it is young Samuel that is called by God, not Eli the high priest. Samuel answers the voice, unassumingly, not recognizing the voice, but being attentive to it. Even the lamps in this story, customarily burned in the sanctuary from evening until morning, serve to illuminate not just the ark, but the lowly servant of Samuel, laying there sleeping, unaware, called by God. Samuel answers, “heneni.” “Here am I!”
The conjugated Hebrew phrase appears fourteen times in the Old Testament, but mostly in a dialogue between God and Moses, God and Jacob, and this one by Samuel. The discernment here between Eli, Samuel, and Yahweh shows the beginnings of similar stories of saying yes. And it shows that the COMMUNITY affirms his call. He would be a leader. But young Samuel is no king nor is he technically even a priest. He is not a Levite. It begs the question then and now, “who are the real leaders of God’s people?”
How could something or someone so ordinary be so effective in answering God? How could a common morning dove evoke more nostalgia and feeling than a beautiful peacock?
Samuel is a categorized prophet. See, we like to group. Prophet, high priest, laity, trans, queer, women in ministry, left leaner, mean girl, blue collar. We group parts of the Bible, civic departments, and eras in history. We like to group. But I’m wondering about how our human labels and separation might cause us to block the true Godliness in something unforeseen like a morning dove, or a young boy filled with the Spirit.
But we know now that this story about the unlikely being called, keeps going.
It keeps going all the way to dark skinned Jesus, born of an unassuming morning dove mother. In today’s gospel, yet again he reminds his disciples that these labels and boundaries we put up, our own rules, like not being able to harvest on the sabbath or who should be eating it on the sabbath are sometimes these same blockers.
Jesus’ way is when we proclaim Heneni-“here I am” for the sake of unity, for the real root sake of love. It says it in the Psalm today. “For we do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ…who has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God.”
This habit of glorifying a title, revering the iridescent colors, gets in the way of glorifying Jesus, Lord over the sabbath, the boundaries and the pyramid scheme. It’s for us to see past labels or hierarchy. Jesus asks us to say Hineni- each one of us though broken and in clay jars and vying for control and power like Jacob or maybe reticent like Moses. Not really up for the task of saving a people from foreign oppression and navigating the terrain of the desert, only to be in transit so long, they lose sight of the literal and spiritual path before them. Or like Samuel, young and without a title.
The real leaders are those who love. Who unify instead of separate. Who rally for a bus to pick people up to take them on their journey instead of taking them away from it. Who invite the one indicted of a crime but working on himself, to have lunch, instead of merely passing a lunch to them. Who wash feet…and hands, too, and then cling to the hands in prayer. Who are willing to say “me, too” and “here I am.” See, because Hineni is more than a simple southern polite, “yes, ma’am.” Hineni calls us to difficult and vulnerable places where we must examine our own trepidation, either about being with some of these “types” or about spending time in silence. Whether Hineni is about breaking through to a point of realizing that there are few differences between us and our friends in Family Promise, or if it’s really about answering a call to be quiet and listen, to lay prostrate in front of the most holy and be silent in emptying oneself for the faint call of the one who sees no labels, I think it’s about God desiring this kind of intimacy with each other and with God. Maybe we do need a contemplative reform to acknowledge that voice. It might be a poke in your side in an unexpected way, or it might come to you in the night, easily passed off as a dream, or it might skim the top of your hair. Even if we don’t recognize it, we must acknowledge it. The purpose is the love we’ve heard about so much about in the news lately, spoken by our own presiding bishop. This is a love, though, that religion does not own. it is one characterized by Steven Charleston as one that is for all the world, but felt most deeply by the soul, whoever that should be, longing to share it. This is transcendent love.” The same lover that awakened Samuel. It is waking you, too. It is shining that same illuminating light on some whisper inside of you, urging you to respond.
It’s a bold and presumptuous statement, I know- “Here I am…” It trusts that all will be well. And it hardly ever feels that way. But, our group is one in Christ. Our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. It’s the one label that counts. This means we must answer together. It’s not a job to do alone, nor is it really even a job. The peacocks and the morning doves must reside in harmony for the greater good, each sharing and partaking as if the community would not be sustained without one single being. And so the point of our gathering, then, is not to just sit and hear an uplifting message each week. The body of Christ must be on the move to break through labels with that transcendent love.
And in this season of Pentecost we’re reminded that the separating and unifying acts of God in creation stand in extreme contrast to the boxes, labels, and separating we ourselves do to each other, the body of Christ. We must answer together in our own voice. As those who are willing, no matter who you are, to say Hineni. The Spirit moves where it will. Be prepared to be shocked and astonished by who is called. Because it is you. Be baffled. And then take up your cross and follow it.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Laura Masterson will begin her Middler year at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, this fall. Grace Church is honored to support Laura as she studies for Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church.