Sermon: Jeremiah 1:4-10, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
February 3, 2013
One of the great genres in literature is the coming of age story. How many of us have been taken into the world of a young person and their journey to maturity as they encounter some of life’s harsh realities? Perhaps one of the classics had you in its grip at some time in your life: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, Little Women, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret to name just a few. This genre continues to engage people of all ages as new stories make their way to the shelves and are swept up by readers and then screenwriters who are eager to depict the unique journey of the hero or heroine. Some of the newer titles include: The Hunger Games, The Harry Potter series, The Secret Life of Bees, Life of Pi, and The Kite Runner. I am barely scratching the surface, but these titles are making their mark on our lives. Later this month, one of New Mexico’s classics will hit national theaters. Bless Me, Ultima shows how seven-year-old Antonio is changed when the curandera Ultima comes into his life. Antonio’s coming of age story is harrowing at times as he witnesses several violent acts and endures threats on his life and those that he loves.
Books have been my beloved companions for as long as I can remember. As a child, I scanned my parents’ bookshelves desperate for something to read one day. I came upon To Kill a Mockingbird and I was hooked. The world of Scout, Jem, and the mysterious Boo Radley helped me to understand assumptions and judgments I made about people and invited me to open my heart to see the goodness I might overlook otherwise. For generations, we have been swept up by stories of children growing up sometimes through a powerful encounter with a mentor and sometimes through painful experiences. These stories lead us into the world through children’s eyes and show us what awaits us on the other side of innocence.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, some children in the land of Narnia are being led to Aslan, Narnia’s great leader. On discovering that Aslan is not a person but a lion, the children feel some apprehension.
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said
anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Part of the delight for us as the reader is that we know that growing pains are natural. It is part of life. Growing up can be painful and scary at times, but it is how we move through our lives. Many of us carry scars marking our own coming of age experiences. No one said that growing up would be safe. It is often when we stand in the gap of risk, that we discover the power of God holding us.
Our texts today have a coming of age reference. God calls Jeremiah when he is “only a boy.” He is being asked to take the big steps in his journey to adulthood and serve as a prophet to the nations. It is a terrifying journey for a young boy to undertake. Paul responds to a divided Corinthian Church with a message about love. We often hear these beautiful words about love in weddings, but Paul has something different in mind. He is calling them to be a people who understand that love isn’t just a feeling. It is a choice that we make daily and it has powerful implications. Paul’s invitation is to grow into mature love rather than hold on to our selfish tendencies. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks in his hometown and amazes everyone with words. He’s clearly growing up and just as the people who watched him grow begin to patronizingly pat him on the head, he reacts by telling them that they are not necessarily God’s chosen. There are others too. Jesus has unmasked their selfish understanding that God is for them alone and they are enraged.
No one said this would be easy. Nor did anyone say we only come of age once. I am coming to understand that coming of age is what we do over and over again. This last year, I experienced a profound coming of age through the Soulcraft program. I stepped into the program eager to take the next steps on my journey and truthfully, I was hoping for transformation. I didn’t know exactly what that might look like, but I knew that I was ready. I arrived at the first session a year ago, and through our work together, it was clear that this was what I needed. As we got ready to leave the first session, they began to talk about homework. That took me off guard. I had just begun working at St. Michael’s. I have another part time job. I have a family with a long list of commitments. I have begun the process to become a priest. I was not counting on homework. I began to think I had made a mistake. How could I pull this off? There simply wasn’t enough of me to go around and I shouldn’t have taken this on right now. There were three more sessions in Utah during the year and a good bit of homework in between. Each of those sessions took me more deeply into my journey. The work got harder and it was exactly what I needed. In a strange way, as I invested in that program, the other parts of my life came together. I did experience transformation by giving myself to the process.
It seems to me that the St. Michael’s community is at a coming of age moment in our journey as well. We don’t know exactly what that will look like or what will be required of us, but we have arrived at this moment of transition and will take the next step together. The invitation is to step in and wholeheartedly invest ourselves in the path in front of us. At the Annual Meeting, I described us as a Pilgrim Community. David Whyte said, “To set out boldly in our work is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity)
In this time of pilgrimage, our focus is not only on the road in front of us, but it is also on who we are as we travel together. We can take our cues from the scriptures and those who have also set out on an unknown road, trusting in the God who called them. Each of the texts calls us to tell the truth even when it is difficult. We can hold the words of Corinthians before us and ground ourselves in love. The pain that we experience on this journey is an opportunity for us to show compassion to one another. People taking care of each other mark stories of pilgrimage. They share their resources with each other and bind each other’s wounds. It is a very tender and beautiful expression of Christ who cared for each person he met on the way.
Jesus walked and he encountered people on the journey. It may be that we can best know Jesus by walking. As we make this journey, if we open our hearts, we will see Christ in those that we meet on the road. St. Augustine said, “It is solved by walking.” We cannot predict all that lies ahead of us, but we can take the next step in front of us. It will be solved as we walk into the church and as we walk back out into the world. These steps will show us where God is on our path and beckon us forward.
I invite you to let this prayer of Thomas Merton be our guide in the coming months. May it shape our understanding of who we are and help us to trust in the one who walks with us on this pilgrim road:
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” - Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
We are on this journey together. God is with us. Our pilgrimage together will be marked by many moments we have yet to imagine. Let us walk together in faith.