Acceptance—homily for 3 June 2018
June 3, Proper 4
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
Our Children, Youth, and Family Minister, Kathy O’Donoghue and I have been listening to a new podcast recently.
It’s called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. They go chapter by chapter through all the Harry Potter books reading them not just as novels but “but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.” They do this by focusing on major themes like: commitment, love, loneliness, fear, generosity, betrayal, etc.
I want to stop right here, because I’m sure I’ve lost many of you. Some of you have never read Harry Potter, never want to read Harry Potter, and so you maybe silently rolled your eyes and started thinking about something else.
I’ve lost others of you because you’re already trying to surreptitiously check your podcast lists and making sure you’re subscribing to this, and just want me to stop talking so you can start listening to it…
I invite you all to come back…
What hooked me was in the first episode, when one of the hosts (who did go to divinity school) said. “I [grew] up in a non-religious household and never thought I would be sitting in a Bible study class learning how to understand this ancient text. [The bible] was interesting, but it never felt like it was mine. I didn’t love it.”
I’m going to stop there again…how many of you have had a similar experience with the Bible… interesting but not loving it…the bible is a difficult text. It’s not even a single text…it’s more like an entire library. [For a fun, and helpful guide, check out The Overview Bible]
“It never felt like it was mine.” I bet that resonates with a lot of us. The bible feels very distant a lot of times…thousands of years ago…contexts we don’t really understand….”The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” What does that mean?
Jesus makes this reference to something David did (he sort of gets it wrong by the way), and are we supposed to know what that’s all about?
It’s a difficult set of texts.
So the podcast host discovers in re-reading Harry Potter, that, “The same questions of love and fear and death and even resurrection that were showing up in the Bible class were showing up in the Harry Potter text. And the difference was that the Harry Potter books felt like they were mine. I could claim them in a way that I never feel like I could claim the Bible, because this was a text I had grown up with.”
Now I don’t know if we can make the bible feel like its ours in the same way that Harry Potter might be, or the Star Wars movies, or whatever your go to thing is (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that really helps you make sense of the world.
We all have sacred/secular texts…our beloved books, and movies and TV shows…the albums…the songs…the plays…all of those words…the narratives that we go back to time and time again to help us make sense of a world that really doesn’t make sense.
And one of the wonderful things about this podcast is they show us how to take these secular texts seriously as more than just a great story, but as a kind of mythology that helps us learn what kind of people we want to be…what kind of people we’re being asked to be…how to respond to the really desperate needs of the world.
“Treating a text as sacred,” says one of the hosts, “is […] giving ourselves permission through rigorous practice to really see ourselves through the text,” and therefore it become intentionally instructive.
And it does require some rigorous practice…it requires some curiosity…and some willingness to be open to change. Part of the challenge and the fun of treating any text as sacred and applying a rigorous practice to the reading of it is learning new things.
So we have these readings this week. The story of Samuel’s call. Portions of this Psalm. Part of the second letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. And these episodes in the Gospels of Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that some people are not sure he should be doing.
What themes stand out?
The theme that really stood out for me this week was “acceptance,” particularly in the character of Eli. Every time I read this passage in Samuel, I often imagine the first part of it as sort of a Monty Python routine…”you called.” “No, go back to sleep.” I love how Eli, gradually comes to this awareness…after the third time “he perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.” Eli is perceptive…sometimes. He’s the one who hears Hannah, Samuel’s mother, praying for a child (Hannah is barren). Eli hears this prayer and perceives that God will fulfill it. He’s not, however, able to control his two sons. And God warns him that both of his sons will die, and his house will be cut off. Eli knows this, which makes his final conversation with Samuel so poignant.
First, he has to help Samuel have the courage to reveal what God said to him. Remember, Eli is essentially the only father Samuel has ever known. Hannah had no children before Samuel. And in her prayer to God she swears that if God gives her a son, she will dedicate him as a Nazarite (a specially dedicated class of priests), and sure enough, almost immediately after Samuel is born she gives him to Eli to raise. Which is an incredible act of acceptance on Hannah’s part.
So God tells Samuel that, “Eli and his family are done.” But it is through Eli that Samuel learns not hide anything God has said, even when it’s bad news. Eli is teaching Samuel how to speak truth to power…truth to power in love…which he will continue to do for the rest of his life. It’s an important lesson for Samuel…it’s how he learns to be a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
And then there’s Eli’s final response: Imagine that you’ve just heard what Eli hears: “God is about to punish the house of Eli for ever.” I would probably immediately start bargaining….what about this…what if I did that…couldn’t we arrange…
But no. Even the first time Eli hears this, he remains silent, and with Samuel…having confirmed that it was God who spoke to him, Eli simply says, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
Every week we pray the Lord’s prayer here. And we say the words: Your kingdom come…your will be done.”
We pray that so easily…so nonchalantly…each week. How often do we let what that really means sink in? That’s what Eli says here. It’s what Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane… “take this cup away from me.” “I don’t want to do this… “yet not my will but yours be done.”
Wayne Muller, in his book on the Lord’s Prayer says, “This is the essence of prayer. The first part of prayer is the work we do each and every day, work with our hands and hearts to make the world safe and good, to heal those who are sick, to feed those who are hungry, to comfort those who are lonely, to create justice, to preserve the earth. Then, having brought our heart’s desire and our offerings to the table, we prepare ourselves to gratefully receive WHATEVER is given as a gift…The spiritual life is a life of surprises. We never get just the parts we want. When we are asked to accept something unexpected, when we are given something we had not sought or wanted, how do we meet it? Do we greet it with anger, frustration, impatience, (why are you doing those things on the Sabbath?) or do we welcome it as a gift, an opportunity to become more spacious, a dancing lesson from God?” (Muller, Wayne, The Lord’s Prayer: How We Find Heaven On Earth loc. 756, Kindle).
What are your sacred texts? The ones that teach you how to live and love, and be generous? And how can you apply some rigorous practice to them? So that God’s will might be done?