Homily from service on February 6, 2022 – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden // The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
If “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” – a sentiment often attributed to Albert Einstein – if that is the case, it would seem that God is at work today. We didn’t review the lectionary before scheduling our Rite-13 events this weekend. Even so, in today’s readings we find not one but two call narratives.
Isaiah is called to help the nation of Israel lament and make sense of the devastation of Assyrian, and later, Babylonian occupation and exile. In the selection immediately following what we read here today, Isaiah hears that Israel’s desolation will continue “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate” (Isaiah 6:11). But, Isaiah also hears that, like “an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled” (Isaiah 6:13), the seeds of the future remain within the stump – in the end, God promises to deliver God’s people.
In the Gospel of Luke, Peter and then James and John are called to share in Jesus’ news of God’s salvation, to follow Jesus in discipleship so that they could continue to spread the word of God when Jesus was no longer able to do so himself
In a way, over this weekend, this group of fifteen All Saints young people…we could say that they came together to consider their calling.
Over the years, the wisdom has emerged from this community that it is important at this point in the life of a young person and their family to recognize the changes that are happening. To name the happy reality that these young people are moving from childhood toward adulthood. To recognize, with their parents, how parental roles will adapt. And for all of us in community to come together to ask for God’s blessing for them and to bless each other as they move into this new time.
So, yesterday these young people spent the afternoon here together. Their day was organized around three questions: Who am I? Who is God to me? Who are we together?
And let me tell you, it was a privilege to be part of that conversation with them. Our young people are remarkable. They are artists and performers; athletes and dancers; budding theologians and comedians – lots of comedians…. ///
Almost every one of them agreed that – yes – they could, in fact, survive two whole days without their phones. And almost everyone disagreed with the suggestion that the NY Yankees are the best baseball team in America.
Yes, these young people are remarkable. And though we think of them as “the future,” they are also a critical part of the church today. They bring life, and freshness, and challenging thought. Their reflections will send me back to my books – “Who made up the word God, anyway?” asked one. As often as not, they use “they” pronouns for the divine – which, actually, makes a lot of sense. On the one hand they say, “it’s too hard to come up with words that describe God,” very wise – words can’t capture God… And when facing a wall full of images that was put up to prompt a response to this question “Who is God?” the words flow:
“God is in all of these images,” one says.
While another responds “I wouldn’t use any of these images to describe God – I would have a big blank white wall that just said G-O-D in large letters.”
One says “God isn’t a being like we think of that word – God is too big for our thoughts – God is nothing we can understand,”
And then, from another teen “I can feel God – God is life.”
This is important work, important reflection. Unlike Isaiah, who was called by God in a moment and cleansed with a coal touched to his mouth… Or Peter, who in a moment of recognition fell down at Jesus’ feet… They started working with this kind of question long ago, and they didn’t finish finding their answer yesterday. This is a lifelong journey. But this weekend, we pause to honor them and to bless that journey.
/// As we’ve been preparing for yesterday and today, thinking about the young people and their parents, I’ve had a melody ringing in my head all week. Fortunately, it’s one I like. It’s an a capella rendition of Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” [Source, p. 17; music link]:
“Your children are not your children [he says].
They are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but they are not from you,
And though they are with you they belong not to you.
You can give them your love but not your thoughts, they have their own thoughts.
You can house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.”
Today, we come together to honor who they are, who they are growing into. They are not ours, but they are ours to bless.
Several weeks back, during Advent, Michael led a class with some of the middle school students on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s welcoming of her, a response that has come down through the ages to us, known as the Magnificat. And these teens talked about what they noticed in the text. They noticed many things, but one thing seemed very strange to them – something that didn’t fit with their understanding of expected human behavior, or with how a narrative typically develops. “Isn’t it strange,” they said, “that when Mary hears Elizabeth’s greeting, she just breaks out in song. She just starts singing. And goes on for quite some time. Isn’t that weird?”
As you look at this exchange, though, something interesting is going on. Mary is young, she’s not yet married, and faces at the very least becoming an outcast and at the worst, maybe great danger because of her pregnancy. Elizabeth may have been the first person Mary shared her news with. She could have responded in any number of ways – she could have shamed Mary, or shunned her; she could have been fearful on Mary’s behalf. Instead, Elizabeth recognized the hand of God at work, and in the words of one author, “her heart open[ed] wide to her cousin, completely empty of judgment.” How unexpected is that? Elizabeth is confronted by her teenage niece, unmarried and pregnant, 2000 years ago in the Palestinian countryside, and her reaction…is to bless Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” she says (Luke 1:42).
And in response to the gift of this blessing, as the middle school students noted, Mary broke out in song. With Elizabeth’s affirmation, Mary found her voice, expressing the words of the tradition she carried within herself, and taking it to very new places.
So, following Elizabeth and her blessing of Mary, today, we bless these young people and their parents. In the words of the poet, John O’Donohue, our blessing draws “a circle of light” around them to “protect, heal, and strengthen.” [Source, p. 198]. May our blessing, in some mysterious way that happens in Christ, help them continue to find their voice, help them lead all of us into the place of tomorrow, a place we can’t even imagine but can only glimpse through them.