St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
Diocese of New Westminster
Anglican Church of Canada
Wednesday 7:00 pm
Thursday 2:00 pm
June 3rd Pentecost 2, 2018 John Marsh
Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18;
Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6
When I studied homiletics in seminary, a frequent critique of our homilies was that there was more than one homily contained within. In other words, we put too much in one sermon.
Perhaps I should have listened as I present two lines of thought, perhaps two homilies…
Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son…" The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" (Samuel 3:4-6,8-9)
The Samuel passage is enormously suggestive with an unpredictability lurking within…
Truth to tell, as with Samuel, our response to calls, especially ‘divine’ calls, is often a mishearing, a misunderstanding, which suggests – perhaps demands - that we need to check it out with others…
And yet, when we check it out, we sometimes hear that which we would rather not, answers perhaps bothersome and troubling, answers leading to inconvenience, the overturning of the usual, answers requiring the setting aside of our plans and hopes…
Then the LORD said to Samuel…’I am about to punish [Eli’s] house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.’ (Samuel 3:11a, 13)
Is it possible, given the complexities of call, the difficulties in hearing and understanding calls, that we need to remember that ‘we do not proclaim ourselves’? (2 Corinthians 4:5a)
Is it possible that we are lured to embrace a humility, a necessary uncertainty, an admission of ultimately not knowing?
Is it possible that we are lured to embrace an unknowability requiring discernment, requiring conversations, conversations leading to actions, actions revisited again and again, renewing, refocusing our understandings of unconditional lures, lures of justice, compassion and freedom?
Is it possible, to reiterate, we often mishear, misunderstand calls, our hearing requiring discernment, discernment involving others?
Is it possible?
(It would seem that not only are there two lines of thought, there is a variety of readings as I reference the alternative Hebrew bible passage)
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work--you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns… (Deuteronomy 5:12-14)
The law concerning the sabbath seems clear, unequivocal, yet is the next verse a fault line threatening a seismic occurrence?
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Is it possible that the memory of enslavement, the story of abuse and dehumanization, is that which grounds sabbath? (If so, how wonderfully troublesome!)
Is the sabbath a humanizing event in which, despite the complexities and confusions of life, all may rest and restore simply because they are human? (If so, how inconveniently inviting!)
Is this humanizing memory a crack by ‘which the light gets in’? (If so, how wonderfully revealing!)
Is the humanizing promise of Shabbat that which haunts Jesus’ statement, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…” (see Mark 2:27)
(If so, how wonderfully subversive!)
Does the humanizing memory and promise of Sabbath – dare I say all law - suggest that sometimes we must betray the law to honour the law? (If so, how irritatingly faithful!)
Is the memory, the story of human suffering that which destabilizes the absolutizing tendency of religion? (So, I hope and pray!)
Is it possible that we may need to deny god to honour god, deny god to honour faith, hope and love? (If so, will we perhaps risk saying ‘Amen, Alleluia, Amen’?)
Robert was a friend of mine in seminary. He was popular, smart and, if any were certain of ordination, it was Robert. Robert was ordained deacon and latterly priest; all seemed to be unfolding according to conventional plans. The news that Robert was going to enter the novitiate of St Gregory’s Abbey came as a shock to some, a scandal to others. As Robert explained to me, he had ‘a call’ to monasticism. He entered, and I visited.
After a few years, before he was to take permanent vows, Robert visited me with something on his mind. Nervous, he said he had come to realize that his ‘monastic call’ was more a denial of life pushing in, that he was going to leave the monastery. Pausing, he said that he had realized that he was gay, that he had been frightened to accept the complexity of his sexual identity. (Remember this was the late 70’s and early 80’s with neither church nor culture willing to address the issue.)
As he spoke, it was clear that he was accepting his identity as a gay man, that he was accepting his ‘call’ as a gay priest, as one faithful yet desirous of human intimacy. Previously, Robert had misdirected, perhaps misheard his call.
Is it possible that Robert needed to find courage enough ‘to betray’ conventional understandings of sexual identity (again it was the late 70’s and early 80’s) to honour sexual identity, to honour what would become his calling?¹
Is it possible that a willingness to betray call to honour call stirs within a hearing of call, within discerning a call?
Is it possible that this homily was more unified than suspected?
¹ Robert works as a priest and a pastoral counsellor in Chicago, working with many struggling with faith and sexual identity issues.