One summer day many years ago, when our son Will was little, five or six I guess, I took him fishing. We went to a small river about half an hour from home; a stream where dark water swirled around granite rocks, a place I’d caught fish before. Before leaving, we gathered our gear, and packed some snacks, and then we headed out. It was midsummer and hot, but I figured it would be cooler in the woods and by the water. On the way, we were both excited. “We ought to be able to catch some trout,” I said, imagining myself, the proud father, taking a picture of my son holding up a big and beautiful rainbow trout.
There’s a prayer for evening, which like the hymn “Abide with Me,” asks the Holy for presence and help through the night: “so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness.” We could have a theological conversation about whether the Holy changes or not. My hunch is that the Holy is changing too. But especially this day, I take refuge in what we just sang about, “the earth, forever turning” and I take refuge in the fact of this forever tuning, and how it brings times of light and dark, seasons that come and go; and this helps me, amidst all the changes and chances of this life, to remember that even with its struggles, life is good, and life is a gift.
Something I’ve noticed, in myself and in others, is how easy it can be to spend time and energy thinking about and worrying about and getting anxious about things that I can’t control, and that you can’t control. In our connected world, we’re aware when a tragedy happens somewhere in our country or on the other side of the world. The news these days is increasingly breathless and anxious, like the weather report when a big storm is coming! There’s a lot to worry about!
There’s at least one way that religious communities are different from the other ways people gather together. People tend to be drawn those who are like themselves; in tribes and clans, associations of like-minded people. But faith communities are meant to be a “y’all come,” kind of association, a diverse community of all souls who desire to be in community together. That the hope anyway. Martin Luther King observed that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Our gathering today is meant to be a taste of that time to come, when as the prophet said, “the lion will lay down with the lamb,” when we will see that our difference need not divide us. That we are all in this together.
May I just start by saying that it is such an honor to be here with you today. This is no small thing that we do when we gather together and for at time, try with everything we have, to cultivate a community of meaning. A place where we get to light candles for our sorrows and joys–speak them to each other, even when we are afraid to. I mean, this is what it’s all about, am I right? There is a lot that I love about church, but this really is the burning coal at the center of it all for me: a place for us to gather as our whole selves: broken selves, grieving selves, celebratory selves, anxious, exhausted, ridiculous selves. A place where we get to be all of this, sometimes in the span of a few minutes. I would say that all of this is what makes this place a “sanctuary” and a holy place. Because this is sacred and holy work. Being our whole selves with one another is sacred and holy work. It is a privilege to enter this sanctuary, your sanctuary today and share in this with you.
This month we’ve been reflecting on vocation and calling. And let’s not stop when the month ends! Let’s keep asking questions like “Who am I?, What is my purpose? What brings me joy? Where am I called to stand? And with whom?”
Listening for you call, clearing out the time and space where you can hear the longings of your own soul and the leadings of the Spirit, this can seem like an individual pursuit. To open yourself to these mysteries requires some space for silence and stillness.
But any call worthy of the name does not draw us into isolation, it inevitably calls us out of our individual selves and into wider and deeper experiences, into connection with others
The two texts we heard this morning, both speak about vocation and calling. And the choir just sang “Here I Am, Lord,” an anthem inspired by Isaiah’s call. If you compare Isaiah to other prophets in the Hebrew Bible, you’ll find that his response is different from most. There’s a pattern in these call narratives that goes like this: God appears or speaks, like from the burning bush to Moses. Then God issues the call, as in “Go see Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go.” And the response is, “Who, me? You must be mistaken. I could never…” Moses says he’s a poor choice because he stutters. At the end, he pleads, “Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13).
How do you start off your day? In your waking moments, when you come out of that deep and mysterious place that we inhabit while sleeping, what do you do? On the spectrum between “my waking moments are spiritually rich and satisfying and set the tone for the entire day” to “when my feet hit the floor I put my head down and just power though,” where do you fall? I ask, because I’m convinced that how we begin our day has power to shape how that day goes. And as Annie Dillard reminds us, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
I’ve been struck lately by the lovely pictures I’ve seen of children heading off to their first day of school. Whether it’s preschool or kindergarten or first grade, or middle school or high school or college, these pictures of smiling faces, of brave and wistful and hopeful faces, they move me so much. This time of year brings these threshold moments. This shift from summer to fall brings this big transition time, new beginnings, and endings too. A time of holding on, and of letting go.
Sermon given by Joshua Goulet on September 2, 2018.