St. Michael and All Angels
January 15, 2012
What is it about nighttime? Things we manage to avoid in daylight come to life and demand our attention. We hear noises. We see shadows. We encounter our fears face to face. We find ourselves on edge. We go through periods of time where we lie awake night after night at the same hour. We don’t see this as a gift; instead we are annoyed by the inconvenience. We drink tea or milk, we visualize peaceful things, and if we get desperate enough we count sheep hoping we will go back to sleep. But what if it is the only time God can get through to us? Years ago I heard a sermon suggest that God wakes us up night after night to spend time with us, but we just get up and go to the bathroom and go back to bed.
We fill our days with appointments, lists, and electronics. At the end of the day, we come home to more electronics – television, computers, phones. Is there any space for God to connect with us? When I stand in line at the bank or grocery store, I look around at folks buried in their phones, not wanting to miss the latest facebook post. Our culture is fixated with connecting electronically every waking hour to the point that we are worn out and we don’t have the energy to receive God.
We are three weeks away from the miraculous story of God coming in the form of a child to bring hope and healing to our world. All the remnants of Christmas have been put away for another year when we are confronted again with God coming to us through a child. Hannah longs for a child. She prays for a child and bargains with God. She promises to give the child back to God if she is fortunate enough to get pregnant. Hannah becomes pregnant and as soon as her son Samuel is weaned, she returns him to God. She takes him to Eli the priest along with a bull, some flour and wine. She leaves Samuel and gifts at the temple and she prays…
My heart exults in the Lord;
My strength is exalted in my God…
There is no Holy One like the Lord,
No one besides you;
There is no Rock like our God…
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry are fat with spoil…
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
He lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor… (from I Samuel 2:1-10)
Does this song sound familiar?? Mary discovered that God was sending a child in what seemed like impossible circumstances and she too sang a song of God turning the world upside down to bring justice and hope.
This raises all kinds of questions for me. Where is God found today? Are we listening to our children? We tend to wait for the wisdom of grown ups when we are dealing with the important issues. But God keeps choosing the young ones to lead in difficult situations. We need to pay attention to God’s way of doing things. One of the best parts of my day is sitting down at the dinner table with my family. I learn to see the world differently as I listen to Max and Maya offer their viewpoint.
Samuel’s story continues. He grows up serving in the temple with Eli as his mentor. One evening Samuel is awakened from a deep sleep to the sound of his name. Thinking Eli is calling him, Samuel runs to see what Eli wants. This happens three times. Eli can no longer see, but he has spent his life listening for God. It is Eli who realizes what is happening and instructs Samuel to wait for God to call him again. We are told that God’s word was rare in those days and visions were not widespread. Samuel has grown up in the temple, but he needs Eli’s help to discern God’s call. Barbara Brown Taylor says “there’s more to knowing God than being in church.” (Mixed Blessings, p. 15) It takes both Samuel’s youthful attentiveness and Eli’s wisdom to bring God’s call into being.
We tell ourselves that this faith thing is a solo enterprise when in fact we are created for relationship. We discover God together. It may look like we did it alone, but if we look back we may recognize how many people paved the way for us, how many surrounded us as we encountered God, and how many are waiting to take the next steps of our journey with us. God comes to us in community.
It is a sad commentary that no one expected to find God in the temple. It may be that no one wanted to find God in the temple. God tends to shake things up. Humans like to think of church as the place where things are predictable. Those of us in more liturgical traditions can assume that we will say the creed and after the peace comes communion. We may forget that God comes to us in our familiar liturgy. Several years ago, I read a sermon called “The Dangers of Going to Church”. The author told about waiting in the airport while a four year old demolished a good portion of the area by turning over trash cans, stepping on an ice cream cone and tracking it all over the seats. His helpless, terrified parents sat by and watched the devastation. Just in the nick of time, their flight was called. The boy’s father leaned over to the mother and said, “Dear, perhaps we ought to consider taking Thomas to Sunday School; maybe that would help.”
Ah. So church is where we come to be tamed, civilized, subdued? I’m not buying that. There was nothing easy about God’s message for Samuel. Here is a twelve-year-old boy given the message of destruction as a result of Eli’s sons’ corrupt leadership. Encounters with God take us beyond places of ease and often make us uncomfortable.
I’ve been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. this week. One day in seminary, I turned in class to discover that I was sitting next to Bernice, his youngest daughter. I wondered what it was like for Bernice to grow up with a father whose call cost him his life. Martin didn’t want to be a civil rights leader. He wanted to have a quiet life as a professor. Through a strange turn of events, he found himself in the forefront of the Montgomery bus boycott. He came home late one night, tired, frightened. The phone rang. An angry voice on the other end said, “We’re gonna get you!” He stood in his kitchen frozen with fear. Then he heard a voice, “Martin, you do what’s right. You stand up for justice. You be my drum major for righteousness. I’ll be with you.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. listened to God and the world is forever changed because of that. God comes to us in the night and calls us to the difficult work of transformation. God promises to be with us. All of this is scary, but I look around at each of you and realize that I am not in this alone. We are in it together.
God is in our midst. The Psalm reminds us that God knows each of us intimately. We cannot escape God’s love and care no matter where we are or what situation we find ourselves.
When you are lying awake in the middle of the night, remember that God is with you. The reading from Samuel says that the “lamp of God had not yet gone out”. It may seem that God is far away some days, but God is carefully weaving our lives together and preparing us to be disciples. This isn’t about who we are or what we know. It’s about how open we are to God who shapes us into a people of love and hope. It is happening as we sit here this morning. It is happening when we doze off in front of the tv. It is happening when we are awake in the middle of the night believing that we should be asleep.
God is not finished with you or me. God is not finished with St. Michael’s. We are embarking on an adventure together and God calls each of us by name to be part of the new thing God is doing.