Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A little background into the bottom homily

At the end of December, the chaplain at Waldorf College invited me to preach at their weekly chapel service. It took me a while to get back to them but we eventually decided that it should be this week. The text on which I preached was 1 Samuel 3:1-10 but, as you can tell below, I really preached on the first five chapters on 1 Samuel.

I was incredibly nervous, partly because this wasn't the format with which I was most familiar and partly because this wasn't the congregation with which I was most familiar. But, I think things went well as I got a lot of compliments and made a few contacts at the college that I probably wouldn't have had otherwise. And I think it was a good chance for me to learn about the expectations of a pastor.


My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I’d like to begin this reflection by thanking Kelly for inviting me to preach during this week dedicated to Christian Unity. I’ve heard there was a time when there was not a lot of love between St. James Catholic Church and Waldorf College and I, for one, am glad that some of those old feelings of suspicion and fear have disappeared from both sides and we can work together to build up the Kingdom of God. There is much work that still needs to be done to undo the suspicion that our Christian Communities have for each other but it is situations of prayer like this that continue the grace-filled process of healing that is crucial to that ongoing dialogue. Now onto the reflection.

I chose to preach about the story of God’s call of Samuel to continue the reflection on vocation that Kelly began last week. What always strikes me about this story is that Samuel doesn’t know who God is when he calls. Why not? It says in the text that, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; prophecy was not widespread.” We know that Eli, the high priest who is training Samuel, had very corrupt sons who used to steal from the meat of offering and threaten the people who would point out that immorality. Yet, one wonders if they got this way because God didn’t speak to their childhood selves as he did to young Samuel. There’s no record of their mother singing the song of dedication that Hannah sang for Samuel. Was it the love of the mother that opened the silent Word of the Father for her son? We do not know why God chose to speak to Samuel, just that he did.

Samuel hears the call from God clearly enough to believe that Eli was the one who called. Three times he hears the call and three times he innocently asks Eli what he wants until finally Eli recognizes it for what it is: the call of God. Does this mean Eli heard this same voice at one point in his life? Is that why he can help young Samuel respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”? One wonders if part of the reason that it took Eli so long to recognize God’s call was because God never called his own sons who would probably have slept in the same area as young Samuel. And, yet, when Samuel tells Eli all about the revelation God made to him, that God was going to punish Eli’s house for the excesses of those sons and no apologetic act could undo it, Eli accepts the sentence saying merely, “He is the Lord; He will do what he deems right.”

God’s call is often murky and difficult to recognize. We may need the assistance of a mentor, pastor, priest, or professor, even one who is as fallible as Eli. Oftentimes, there are people who we believe would be much more capable of doing what God wants us to do and, yet, if there’s one thing that we can learn from Samuel, it’s that, when God’s will is made clear to us, we must do it regardless of how difficult it is. After all, “He is the Lord.” We must do what he deems right.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is too little

My dear friends in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that we first received from Christ in baptism. As some of you probably know, Fr. Hertges and I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week at our leadership training class. This time we talked about leadership of the entire parish. It incorporated a lot of what we’ve already learned but it also forced us to recognize three different kinds of leadership situations. There are new initiatives, problems, and ongoing improvement. I imagine, if you think about it, you all have these three categories of activities in your life. You have the things that you want to start new, like a project around the house or something that you’ve always wanted to do but just haven’t had the time. You probably also have things that aren’t working in your life, areas that you know need work but you just haven’t got to them yet. And then there’s the stuff that is working right now but that you have ideas of how it can improve. According to the leaders, we should have between three and five new activities going, one to two problems we’re trying to solve, and one to two programs we’re trying to improve. I felt this great sense of relief when I heard those parameters defined. The leader said that, if we get any more than that, we are overloaded and need to admit that we simply cannot take on more. Yet, it also lets me know if I’m just being lazy by saying no or if I’m legitimately too busy to take on another project.

I was really struck this week by one phrase from the first reading in connection to this. The Prophet Isaiah is addressing an Israel that has been taken to exile in Babylon. He is talking to a people who feel demoralized, a people he warned to reform their ways before God got fed up with them and sent them into exile. And, yet, his message isn’t that they are just getting what they deserve. He tells them about a hopeful future. He preaches the Word of God to them that God still cares for them and still wants what’s best for them. In fact, God so cares for them that, not only will their release from exile be a source of salvation for themselves or just their fellow Jews. God says to them, “It is too little…for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel. I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation reach to the ends of the earth.”

What a big job! I’m sure that there had to be at least one person who said that being a light to the nations is just too big, just too difficult. And yet, God called them to not dream too little, to not act too diminutively. And, what’s really amazing is that God is calling them to do this despite the fact that the nations to which they are called to be lights are the very same ones that just invaded their lands, beat them militarily, did bad things to their women and children, and took the best and brightest back with them to be their servants in Babylon. It would be tempting to think that their goal should be just to go back home and reconstitute Israel. But God has bigger plans for them.

The same is true in the gospel today. John the Baptist, who seems to forget that he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when he first met Jesus, claims points out to his followers what it means for Jesus to fulfill and complete his ministry. It won’t be a simple baptism to remove sins any longer. Now it will involve receiving the Holy Spirit. There’s something different with Christian Baptism that other people’s baptism and it involves receiving the Holy Spirit. The people that originated because of John’s ministry but later became Jesus’ follower are given something new, something bigger than a removal of their own personal sins. The Holy Spirit connects us to the life of the trinity and makes us all connected to the life of Christ.

Part of what I love about the formula that our class gave us is that we tend to image the church as an institution that has everything pretty well settled. Go to mass every week. Go to confession once a year. When you’re sick, call a priest. And you’re doing pretty good if that’s what you do. God says to the church, “It is too little…” We must advocate respect for human life from natural conception to natural death. We must be a voice that seeks understanding and tolerance between the members of various religions. We must testify with John the Baptist that the Christ is the Son of God to those who feel lost and alone without God. In some ways, each of these things aren’t new but the way we do them must be continuously renewed to speak to new challenges and new people. It is too little if we just fix problems and try to keep refining what we’ve done in the past. We must keep our ears open to what God is calling us to do that is new.