Readings for this Sunday: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 | Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 | John 1:43-51
There is a kind of dizziness, I think, that comes with this age of technology. It is something of a new experience for us to have so much information about so many things at our fingertips and in our newspapers and on our screens. And it only seems to be increasing.
I began to think about this in the midst of a conversation this week about the unequal attention that was given to the mass marches in France for the 17 killed[i] in connection to the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, while little was being said about the 2000 civilians Amnesty International estimates were killed in the fishing village of Baga in Nigeria earlier this month—this only the latest in a long string of deliberate attacks on civilians by the Boko Haram militant group.[ii]
Over 3 million people, including heads of state, turned out in France to march, while human rights groups struggle to get any significant attention from the Western world for atrocity after atrocity in Africa. This isn’t new, of course, nor is Africa the only place that we tend to ignore above more familiar locations.
I wonder about this because I suspect we struggle with a sense of guilt over what is important to us and what should be. I’ll admit I’ve probably got more emotion riding on the Seahawks game this afternoon than I do for those victims of the most recent violence in Africa, much less the genocides in just our recent history in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Congo, Iraq. And I haven’t even taken the time to delve deep into Ferguson or look over the tragic tapes that were released this week showing the killing of Tamir Rice[iii] by police in Cleveland and what happened when Tamir’s sister tried to rush to his aid after hearing that he had been shot nearby.
I suspect this is something of an evolutionary moment. We live in a hinge of history. Our minds have not yet caught up to our technology. It is simply not possible to care about everything that we know about. And yet, I am quite certain there is something wrong with my priorities. There is work to do—soul work and book work. It is a problem that I know exponentially more about the Legion of Boom than I do about the northern region of Africa.
So what am I to do? What about you? Forgive me for the irony, but it is a question we should care about, or one that at least I am caring about.
It is natural from an evolutionary standpoint, at least, for me to care more about my own children than others. Similarly, I can point to reasons—like spending a few years studying at a seminary in the south—that have caused me to be more attentive to the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and know more about the Selma marches than I do, say Assad’s crimes in Syria in 2012 or the Siege of Fort Pitt in 1763.[iv] But that’s not the end of it.
I suspect that’s one of the reasons why the story of Eli and Samuel is so interesting. Had we read the next 10 verses in the reading, we would see that the old prophet Eli makes a pretty stunning move to care for what is not natural for him. You see Eli’s kids have been something of a problem. You can read the rest of the story later if you want to see how much of an understatement that is!
And God’s call to Samuel is a death sentence to Eli’s legacy. And yet, in his counsel to the young Samuel he shows a commitment to something bigger than himself and his family. He is willing to “face the music” for the purpose of God’s future and for the well-being of a people less connected to him than his own sons and daughters.
This is a remarkable thing, and yet we see it everywhere we look, don’t we? We see it in ourselves—these ways that our loves are constantly expanding, these ways that we give ourselves to a thing that has no direct link to our own well-being. This too is rooted deeply in our DNA, in our bodies and our spirits—a thing that has been there from the beginning of time, a thing that is simply a reflection of our experience of a God who searches us and knows us, who pays attention to our inmost thoughts, and chooses us as a topic of interest and study and care.
You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
and with love everlasting you besiege me:
in every moment of life or death, you are.
I suppose this capacity for care is all the more poignant on this day that is quieter than normal because our youth are away at a retreat together with some loving sponsors. And yet their absence is also a reminder of the capacity of our spirits, or of the work of the Spirit to stretch our loves beyond what is necessary for our own survival. I suspect it is also present in our dogged determination to pay attention to a growing call within us to serve the least of this community so much so that we have given an astonishing amount of time and energy and money toward the work of REACH and to this call that has finally been realized to Maggie to serve as a pastor ordained to work for this community as well as for our families. It also seems obvious to me in the prayers that we name today and each week for others whose lives have become so interconnected with ours.
You see, the real story is not about how much we don’t care about, but of this astonishing capacity that we do have to care and for our love to grow. This, for me, is good news. It is the capacity of Nathaniel to take a second look at this one who hails from “nowheresville”—Nazareth even though he was certain nothing good could come from there. It is the capacity of Eli to guide Samuel, and for Samuel to stick with Eli even though he was old and irrelevant. It is the capacity of God to continue to blow through our expectations to do the transforming work God is going to do. With God, nothing is pre-determined. Our origins, our stories, our limitations simply do not matter when it comes to the work of God in us to mend the world.
Do you believe this?
So I am going to do my best not to feel guilty that I care about the Seahawks game today more than the Sudan. But that’s not all I’m going to do. I’m also going to take a bite out of this elephant. I’m going to pay attention not to every story, but to one or two more than I might have otherwise, and I’m going to learn about them—guilt free. I’m going to trust that my curiosity might also be a thing of the Spirit leading me to life, to discipleship, to the love of God and neighbor that is my salvation and yours.
Let me be clear. I am under no illusion that me doing this will save the world. But when I do it and you do it and a few others here do it and that gets added to one church and then another and one mosque and another and one hiking club and then another and before you know it God’s kingdom has come in a way it hadn’t before. This, of course, is the promise of ecumenism—of our deep sense of belonging and the absolute belief that one plus one equals way more than two—that drives Maggie’s work. Let me say it a different way. Maggie’s work and the expectation of her ordination to it next month exists because of you and what you’ve done just as much as what she has done. And your work and your purpose has been shaped and supported and enhanced because of the person next to you and across the aisle. And all of it is the result of the one who calls us in baptism to a life of love and of fullness that is found in losing it, and at the table in a life that is found in being broken for one another.
So what’s grabbing your attention these days? I wonder what you might do next in response to the One who knows you, who calls you, and discerns your purpose from afar.
[i] See http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/world/europe/terror-attacks-in-paris-the-victims.html for the list of the dead.
[ii] See http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/world/africa/boko-haram-rampage-in-nigeria-is-shown-in-satellite-images-groups-say.html.
[iii] See http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/us/police-in-cleveland-boys-fatal-shooting-did-not-give-medical-aid.html?ref=us&_r=0 for background.
[iv] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Pitt.
St. Andrew Sermons