Sunday, June 10, 2012

10 June 2012 Sermon - The Rev. Peter M. Carey - Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, VA

10 June 2012 Sermon
The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Emmanuel Episcopal Church

In the 1st Book of Samuel we are given a snapshot of a moment in the life of the nation of Israel.  The elders of Israel approached the prophet Samuel to demand a king.  To understand this moment, one has to scan back a few chapters in the narrative of Israel, and then also scan ahead a few chapters.  Samuel himself is a transition figure, he arrives on the scene as a young boy who is called to speak on behalf of God, to be “God’s mouthpiece.”  Before Samuel, the leaders of Israel were the judges, and despite the modern sense of a judge having a deep sense of gravitas and wisdom, the judges of Israel were a wild bunch.  At times they ruled with discretion and patience, but also ruled with passion and fury.  Do you remember Samson?  Samson, the warrior akin to Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo movies, going into battle and slaying thousands with the jawbone of a donkey?  He is but one of these charismatic leaders, known as the judges.

So, we can forgive the elders of Israel a bit for asking for a king.  They ask for a king so that they can “be like other nations,” which for a chosen people was a cop out.  However, considering the somewhat unruly style of leadership of the judges, having a king chosen by God looks like a good idea. 

Turning the pages ahead a few chapters, we know that Saul becomes king, and though things start off well, but he himself is a tragic figure, ultimately losing favor with God.  Also, King David’s rule starts out well – this ruddy young boy who starts out a hero as he defeats the Philistine Goliath.  However, the greatness of David is tempered by his own failings.  King David is remembered as a model king, even though his mistakes and sins are many, and they darken his reputation.

So, we turn back to the story at hand.  We have the sense that the leaders before Samuel’s time were unruly and passionate, prone to unpredictability and chaos.   We also have a clear sense that kingship is not necessarily the panacea that the elders crave, having a king won’t really “solve” the problem of unpredictability and impermanence.

The leaders were impatient, and their impatience led to a narrowing of their vision.  At the moment when they needed a wide angle lens, they zoomed in to an overly quick “solution”.  This impatience was based in forgetfulness that they themselves were not the ones doing the work, that they themselves were not the primary actor in the drama.  The impatience was based in “God-forgetfulness” – forgetting that God is at the heart of any discernment process.  Schleiermacher used the term “God-forgetfulness” to describe sin.  Parker Palmer wrote that when we believe that everything really depends on us, we are practicing a kind of “functional atheism,” and moments of transition are times when we need to turn to God more, not less, when we need to remember, rather than forget God in our very lives.

And so, here we are.  We are all in a time of transition.  Chuck, me, my family, you all.  Here in the narrative of this church indeed this is a time of transition, but also, in our lives more generally.  I would argue that much of life is transition – school year is ending, we are moving into summer, the political campaigns are heating up, our lives are dynamic and moving.  This moment is a time of transition, much like every moment in our lives.  How will you handle the moment?  With a rush to a “static” solution?  By burying your figurative heads in the sand?  By clinging to the past?  By clinging to some new and shiny future? 

Or, in this time, will you turn to God, to trust God, even as God is often slow to speak, and even slower to act?  Will we have the courage to get out of the way so that God and enter the scene, and direct us on our way?

I pray that we might trust in the slow work of God, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote.

Let us pray:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually–let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

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