Tailoring the message
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January 18, Second Sunday after Epiphany:
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
A voice in the dark calls your name.
A stranger on the road says, “follow me.”
A friend asks you to “come and see.”
Even a snarky comment—a joke—can lead you into a world that you can hardly fathom.
A place where you will be transformed.
It could be through music, or nature, or some visual image…
Could be any of those ways.
How does God reach you?
How does God call you?
He calls Samuel at night, almost in a dream, in confusion, “Here I am, Eli.”
“I didn’t call you, my son.”
Then almost in code:You must say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
For Nathanael God first reaches out through a friend…Phillip.
“We’ve found him…
“The one we’ve been studying scriptures trying to find…”
And then through Jesus responding to Nathanael’s snark, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” with his own barb: “Here truly is an Israelite in which there is no deceit.” A pun on Jacob, the deceiver who becomes Israel.
It completely fails in translation, but I gather it’s a biting rejoinder.
God reaches us where we are.
Calls us in ways that are meaningful to us.
Through fear, confusion, even biting humor…
Because God knows us.
Knows us better than we know ourselves, as the Psalm reminds us.
How is God tailoring the message for you?
God reaches out to us in ways that are appropriate to who we are…
Who we really are…
And maybe we don’t hear God’s call because we’re not so clear on who we really are…
Or maybe we don’t recognize God’s call—don’t want to recognize it—
because it would mean too much of a radical shift in who we think we are.
I spent a long time ignoring what I was hearing.
Because it felt like responding to what God wanted me to be was giving up on who I thought I was.
Monica and I returned from a year in China in 2002 and we were working on finishing up our separate dissertations…
when I told people at church that I was in graduate school, they would almost invariably say, “And which seminary are you attending?”
I was as confused by their assumption that I was in seminary as they were by my revelation that I was studying East Asian History.
I was one of the last to know that I was supposed to go to seminary and be a priest.
When I finally started working through my own fear and confusion, and telling people that I thought I was supposed to be ordained…a few were surprised, and most of the people who knew me well said some variation of “I can see that.”
“That makes sense.”
I remember that telling people made me feel incredibly vulnerable, and yet also like I was standing on firm ground for the first time.
I felt the same way when you called me here: simultaneously vulnerable and grounded.
I still feel that way a year later.
Oh there are still days when I wonder: “Me, a priest? what were you thinking, God?”
But God reached out to me through the voices and lives of people I know and respect, and love.
And God keeps reaching out to me through my relationship with others—through you, through colleagues and family and friends.
How is God reaching out to you?
Tailoring the message for you?
It’s a huge mistake to read the call narrative of Samuel, for instance, and then to wait for God to speak to you in the dead of night just like Samuel…
Or to listen to how I or any other priest received a call and think, “that must be how it works,” I’d better wait for that.
You’re not Samuel.
You’re not me.
And God is reaching out to you.
Calling you deeper into the fullness of life, the fullness of love, and deeper into heart of God.
So why is it often so hard to hear that message?
Receive that vision?
I wonder if it’s because we don’t really know ourselves all that well…
Almost all of us spend a lot of our lives creating the container of our lives…
this is who I am…
I do this for a living…
Trying to create our self.
And that’s good and necessary and vital work…
AND a lot of that—if we’re honest—comes from trying to be what others…
say we should be.
Maybe we miss God reaching out to us because we don’t really know ourselves all that well.
I think I have a slightly better handle on my self than I did 10 years ago, but…
When I stand before God…
no matter how well I think I know my self…
more is revealed…
My faults don’t look as terrible as I imagine them to be…
And my virtues look a lot less…well…virtuous…
We have trouble seeing ourselves as God sees us…
We need times and spaces where we can catch a glimpse of ourselves reflected in God’s eyes.
That’s in large part what worship is about.
That’s what this place is…a place of connection, and growth, and doing the work of discerning what God is calling each of us individually and all of us collectively to.
God calls us because God knows us.
God reaches us in various ways because God knows us as individuals…
Knows to reach Nathanael through humor.
Knows to reach Samuel through confusion.
And always, always through other people…
When God reaches out it makes you feel revealed, vulnerable…and known.
Deeply and profoundly known.
Which is both wonderful, and really uncomfortable.
So don’t wait for a voice in the night…
or a bolt from blue…
Be here and listen for that still small voice…
Try to catch sight of yourself reflected in the warmth and love of this community—the heart of God’s eyes.
Seek out those times and places where you might feel vulnerable, unsure,
that are out of your comfort zone.
That is where you will meet God.
Practice catching glimpses of yourself as God sees you, because when you do…very truly I tell you, you will see the heavens opened and even greater things than these.