Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Memory of Andy Griffith - A Sermon About Answering Our Call.

Epiphany 2B
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51
Rev. Kathy Kelly Dunagan
January 15, 2012

I love the old Andy Griffith comedy routines, the ones he put out on vinyl years before The Andy Griffith Show came to black and white TV.  You may not be old enough to remember those, but you can find them on YouTube and if you go back and listen you’ll find a true old-fashioned comedian.  One YouTube comment under my favorite recording said with surprise, “That was truly funny and he didn’t even use profanity!”  Of course, this comment came after some acronym that I think included some profanity and something about rolling on the floor laughing.
Our world has changed so much in the past 50 or so years.  There seems to be so much confusion and division and everywhere you turn there is conflict, derision and erosion in our society and culture, in our schools and communities.  I get fed up and exhausted with the loss of homogeny and the loss of mere civility in our lives today.  It seems that commercialism rules and materialism feeds the whims of that kingdom.  It seems to me that the phrase “it’s a dog eat dog world” has become more and more true. We have become profane.
I guess that’s why I long for the fantasy of living in Mayberry, the little town that was so free from crime that the sheriff didn’t even need to carry a gun.  I want to go back in time and live in a place where there is no profanity.
The readings this morning are about turning away from the profane world and following our call.  Jesus calls Andrew, Peter and in today’s lesson from John, Philip and Nathaneal.  He calls them to turn around and see the good news of God incarnate.  This is the very essence of repentance, to turn away from the profanity of the world.  In following Jesus, we have to turn and recognize him.
We may feel that we have already done that.  We have recognized Jesus as God incarnate and we have repented, we have turned from the profane to the sacred.  But we could be missing the forest for the trees.
I think that in our time, this time of profanity, this time of struggle, that we need to step back from those things that divide us, we need to step back from the profane and take a good long look at the sacred.  I think that in our time what most people long for is significance. We wonder, “What is the purpose in my life? Why am I here?” These are the ponderings that can nag for a lifetime. No one wants to live with regrets about a life given to the wrong cause. No one desires to journey through this world with a sense of purposelessness.
Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life opens with the sentence, "It's not about you." Warren reminds us that the ultimate purpose in life is to discover that there is something bigger than ourselves that is worth living for. The Gospel begins with this encounter. We encounter something worth living for. 
We began our new year on the first Sunday of Advent by beginning to retell the birth narratives we have been celebrating these past few weeks.
The Incarnation is our Encounter with God.
Encountering God is the only way to fill the void that we all have and about which Augustine penned his memorable words in his Confessions, when he wrote, “for you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
But we would be mistaken if we reduced the Gospel to only an individual encounter.  Church-planting consultant Alex McManus often says, "The Gospel comes to us on its way to someone else." This is the bedrock principle of following Jesus. God calls us as a means to impact others with his love. An encounter with the living God serves as a commission to introduce others to God's love and kindness.
Which brings me back Andy Griffith and to Samuel.  The reason I make this strange connection is not only because of my observation that we have lost the ideal of Mayberry where there is no profanity, but also because of my favorite story that Andy Griffith used to tell.  He used to take classics and tell them with a southern twist.  He did this with Romeo and Juliet and it is worth a listen on YouTube.  In his telling of the classic story of the famous star-crossed lovers, he uses phrases like, “Romeo fell for Miss Juliet right then and there.  He did.  And, “He was so taken by her when she walked down them stairs that he gave a soliloquy right then!” Griffith continues the story to culminate with the famous balcony scene, which he tells this way:

Romeo         Hark.  What light by yonder winder shines?
Juliet         (stepped out of her bedroom window onto this stoop she gave a soliloquy too, she did and she said)  Romeo, Romeo where for art thou Romeo?

And he popped up and said, “Well I’m right chere!”  He did.

I would love to hear Andy Griffith tell the story of young Samuel who kept going to Eli with his “here I am” line until Eli explained to him that that line was for the Lord.
Ironically, Samuel is not just answering the call from God to become a prophet, he is answering the call from God to a specific assignment that will lead to the fall of Eli.
As the first prophet of ancient Israel in the period of the monarchy, Samuel exposes the threat of monarchs who are concerned with their own security and wealth rather than the well being of their people. He calls out against ruling families throughout his career, foretelling not only the end of the leadership of Eli and his sons but also the end of Saul's kingship (in 1 Samuel 13:13-15).
Samuel thinks the voice calling him in the night belongs to Eli, but the voice belongs to YHWH, and the message is against Eli and his house. The oracle of doom for the house of Eli foreshadows the oracles Samuel delivers over the course of his life. 

In light of the very positive relationship that Samuel and Eli share, it is interesting that the reason for the judgment of Eli's house is the relationship between Eli and his own sons. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, are blaspheming by eating the choicest parts of the sacrificial animals, the parts that are to be given to God (1 Samuel 2:12-17), and Eli has failed to restrain them.  Their appetites lead them to abuse their power, give insult to YHWH and put their own desires above the needs of the people they serve.
The tendency of the powerful to take advantage of the vulnerable is a chief concern of Samuel. When the people cry out for a king (in 1 Samuel 8) Samuel warns them against kings who seek after their own good more than the good of their people. A king "will take the best" from his people and use it for his own betterment , he said. (1 Samuel 8:11-18). The ideal ruler of the people seeks only the good of the people and reflects the concern of YHWH for the poor and powerless. 

While Samuel preached against a form of government that is less common in our day, his message is still, sadly, pertinent. The poor and powerless are still at the mercy of the strong.  Human appetite still destroys lives and livelihood.[1]
As Jesus began his ministry about a thousand years after Samuel’s call, the ways of the world were just as profane, just as they are today.  Our call is not to change to world but to tell of the Gospel fact that God has changed the world through becoming flesh and living among us.  Our call is to follow him and tell the good news, the Gospel story and in this following the Gospel will work in us, through us, in spite of us.
I want to tell you another story this morning that exemplifies an answer to God’s call.  Here is a story of a young man just entering his calling, finding himself and finding God working through him.  This story is of a new father.  I share it with you by quoting this young man’s own words directly and letting him tell you how it went.
“I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute.  And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep . . . and I got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was weak . . .
“And I discovered then that religion had to be real to me, and I had to know God for myself.  And I bowed down over that cup of coffee.  I never will forget it.   . . . I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night.  I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right.  I think I’m right.  I think the cause that we represent is right.  But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now.  I’m faltering.  I’m losing my courage.’”
“. . . And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me,  “. . . stand up for righteousness.  Stand up for justice.  Stand up for truth.  And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” . . . I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.  He promised never to leave, me, never to leave me alone. No never alone.”
Three nights later as promised by the threats that caused him to feel this desperate, a bomb exploded on the porch of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home filling the house with smoke and broken glass but injuring no one.  King took it calmly, saying, “My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.”[2] 
It takes courage to follow Jesus.  It takes courage to stand up to your mentors, as Samuel did.  It takes courage to step back from the ways of the world and seek justice.  It takes courage to be continuously open to your calling, to be willing to “pray unceasingly” in humility before God.
We are at that point in the story, through our lectionary readings in which the Christmas child has grown up and he is calling us to grow up too.  Now is the season when the work of Christmas begins.  How will we follow him?  We can’t go back in time.  We can’t live in some fantasy world like Mayberry.  We can’t escape the reality of this world.  We are called to carry the Gospel into the world.  But we are following God.  We don’t have to figure it all out ourselves.
While you take a moment to reflect on your call, this parish’s call, I leave you with this poem.

The Call

I have heard it all my life,
A voice calling a name I recognized as my own.

Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper,
Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency.

But always it says:  Wake up, my love.  You are walking asleep.
There’s no safety in that!

Remember what you are, and let this knowing
take you home to the Beloved with every breath.

Hold tenderly who you are, and let a deeper knowing
color the shape of your humanness.

There is nowhere to go.  What you are looking for is right here.
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already
hold in your hand.

There is no waiting for something to happen,
no point in the future to get to.
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment, right now.

You are wearing yourself out with all this searching.
Come home and rest.

How much longer can you live like this?
Your hungry spirit is gaunt, your heart stumbles.  All this trying.
Give it up!

Let yourself be one of the God-mad,
faithful only to the Beauty you are.

Let the Lover pull you to your feet and hold you close,
dancing even when fear urges you to sit this one out.

Remember, there is one word you are here to say with your whole being.
When it finds you, give your life to it.  Don’t be tight-lipped and stingy.

Spend yourself completely on the saying.
Be one word in the great love poem we are writing together.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

[1] Excerpt paraphrase of Callie Plunket-Brewton’s commentary on the passage found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&alt=1
[2] Excerpt paraphrased from Yancey, Philip, Soul Survivor, p. 20-21.

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