Here I Am

December 23, 2012

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas

Advent 4, Year C – Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Good morning, I’m so excited to be here today. There are so many familiar faces… Not just those I’m related to… it seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in the pews alongside you… In some ways at least. But, I know that can’t be, because there are some unfamiliar faces, too… which is always a good sign for a church!

I remember several years ago, when I was one of those unfamiliar faces at St. Andrews. One Sunday I showed up anticipating Barbara’s sermon, and there was this young guy who got up to preach. I could tell that many in the congregation were excited to see him, but I had no idea who he was… I was a little disappointed I wasn’t getting to hear Barbara, but, that’s the way it goes sometimes…

This guy who was preaching that day was Kevin Schubert. He, like me now, had just returned from seminary, and was newly ordained… I now understand what the fuss was all about! As I stand here with eager faces before me, welcoming me back into the community that has been an important part of my journey.

I came to St. Andrews about seven years ago, while I was on the path to discerning my vocation. I had been in Banking for twenty years, and although I feel that some people are called to a vocation in banking, really I do, I also know very confidently that I am not one of them. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it, it just wasn’t what I thought I was supposed to be doing any longer… And so, I began listening for what was next.

Along that journey, God found me, and in finding me, God gave me the opportunity to say “Here I am.”

These are the same words Mary says to the Angel Gabriel in the passage just before today’s gospel reading from Luke. In response to hearing that she will bring God’s son into the world, as confusing as that was, not knowing how it would play out, completely unaware of what she would have to do and where it would take her, Mary said “Here I am.” We see this a lot in the scriptures.

God finds people, and they respond.

  • God found Abraham and Sarah, and they said, “Here we are.”
  • God found Moses, who had no idea what he was agreeing to at the time… the difficult people he would have to deal with, not to mention 40 years in the wilderness. Like most of us would, he first tried to get out of it, blaming his speech impediment, but God gave him Aaron to help out, and Moses (ultimately) said “Here I am.”
  • When Jesus began his ministry, he went to some fishermen and said follow me, and they dropped their nets, and with that act, they were saying, “Here I am.”

And if you read the stories of the Bible with this in mind, you will see again and again that God finds people to do God’s work… God is in relationship with us, and through that relationship, God is revealed to the world. And even though the individuals that God finds have no idea what they are getting themselves into, they still respond to God with, “Here I Am.”

Yet, it is God who said “Here I am” first. It is comforting to know that God looks for me.

In the aftermath of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some were asking, “Where is God?” Bishop Wright, the bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, speaking in a CNN news segment said that “God finds us amidst brutality and violence and is the resource [for us] in the midst of that.”

I believe that in finding us, God is saying, “Here I Am” like the friend (or stranger, even,) who arrives to help us through difficult times. When we are grief stricken by a loss or horrified by what people can do to one another in this world, God finds us, saying “Here I Am.” When we are lost, confused, distressed or off track, if we listen, we will hear God saying “Here I Am” in the midst of all these things.

During my first year in Atlanta, my first semester at Candler, I experienced this firsthand. The gospel message one Sunday was about the lost sheep. At a time when I was feeling lost, and very alone, it was a comfort to be reminded that the shepherd is willing to keep looking for the one sheep that has wandered off, and when it is found, there is a joyous celebration!

God’s willingness to find us, to be in relationship with us, affirms that we are loved and we have value. Each one of us… Even an anonymous girl named Mary.

Certainly by the social structure of her day, and I would argue even now, this young, poor, un-wed girl is the most unlikely choice to bring God’s son into the world. Yet, God found her, and Gabriel tells her that she will have a child, and he will be Holy. In spite of her confusion as to how this can be, Gabriel assures Mary that “nothing will be impossible with God.” To this, Mary replies, “Here I Am, the servant of the Lord, let it be according to your word.” God’s “Here I am” is matched by Mary’s “Here I am” in response.

Then Luke tells us that Mary went with haste to be with her cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth, in spite of her advanced years…. when you get to be my age, that’s the phrase we use, not Old Age, but “advanced years” – despite Elizabeth’s advanced years, and her previous inability to have a child, she, too, has been found by God, and is now six months pregnant, with John… the one who will prepare the way for Jesus.

So, Mary shows up at Zechariah’s house and a soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and recognizes Mary as blessed. The mere presence of Mary reveals God – Mary is seen in a new way by Elizabeth – no longer a young girl, but now as “the mother my Lord.”

God has shown Mary, this lowly servant, that she is loved…that she is necessary, and through this, that she is blessed. And Mary sings a song of Praise to God.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” My soul magnifies the Lord… – Mary’s very essence makes God conspicuous; shows God in a bigger way.

“And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This is the joy that comes with faith and trust in a God that loves you. Amidst the confusion and the unknowing of how her life will unfold… even so, her spirit rejoices because God has said “Here I am,” and in so doing, assured her that she is not doing this by herself – God is with her.

When God is in us, when we have made room for God in our lives… when we set aside what we want and replace it with what God wills, our soul is transformed and our spirit rejoices! It is through this act of faith that what we considered to be impossible, become possible.

New Testament scholar, Gail O’Day, admits that the notion of “Through God all things are possible” is hard to wrap one’s head around, but she reminds us that without hope, why bother?…If we think change isn’t possible, we declare defeat before we begin. Evidenced by the Annunciation of Mary, [that a fancy way of saying the announcement to Mary that she will bear God’s son] the social order is inverted; the lowly are brought to new heights through their obedience. In it we are witness to the power of God to transform and liberate; One cannot be silent about such a God.”

I cannot be silent about such a God. 

This God of transformation and liberation has found me. My standing before you today as a Transitional Deacon of the Episcopal Church is evidence of that.

And even though I had to leave my home and start anew elsewhere, with God, it is possible. And I rejoice in it!

But it doesn’t just happen. We must be willing to act… to first listen for what God is calling us to do, and then to be obedient in spite of our unsureness – to make changes in our lives, even when what we hope for seems impossible, we must have faith.

In these days following the Sandy Hook tragedy, many are asking “What are we to do?”

I believe we must work to make changes that prevent senseless acts of violence like that seen in Newtown, CT, and elsewhere. We can’t let fear or hopelessness push us aside. But, we must do it in a loving way, not continuing the divisive tactics that have entangled our leadership for years.

We must say, “Here I Am to do my part.”

And when we don’t feel strong enough to say “Here I Am” on our own, we have a community that comes together and supports one another… to lift each other up.

I’ve experienced this kind of community here at St. Andrew’s. It comes together, saying “HERE I AM”… You said it to me four years ago… supporting me on this journey… you say it to every stranger that walks through those doors… and to every person who comes with their joys and their sorrows.

St. Andrew's Episcopal

St. Andrew’s Episcopal

And, we are also called, I believe, to find ways to draw the circle wider, still…

Beyond our church walls, beyond our faith tradition, to include all God’s people.

If we are willing to trust God, we allow God to find us. And, like Mary, we will match God’s “Here I am” with our own joyous refrain of “Here I Am!”

Through it, we become empowered to change the world around us, leading with love and compassion and in doing so, we magnify the Lord!

3 Responses to “Here I Am”

  1. Beautifully written and presented. You are a gifted teacher and everyone who reads or hears your words is better/smarter/wiser for it.

  2. Alicia Gates said

    “Here I am.” !!!!!

  3. Emma Maddox said

    I was blessed to hear this at St. Andrew.s. Thank You for posting this for me to enjoy again! When i entered church Sunday I said “Here I Am” God’s Peace;Emma Maddox

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