Naming God for Ourselves

Note: This sermon was preached for Queer Grace Community’s Sunday evening worship.

3-24-19

Genesis 21:8-21

8 The child [Isaac] grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.10So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son [Ishmael].12But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you.13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ 14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

I have many names for God: dear friend, older brother, creator of galaxies, one who mourns the world’s pain, joyful trickster, divine mystery.

            But there was a time when I let others name God for me. Especially when I was younger and someone seemed confident that they knew God’s name, I didn’t think to question them. Sometimes those names were harmful to me: judge, father, king. It’s not that they were wrong exactly, but they were not names that reflected my experience of God which was one of a divine being of infinite love, and grief and joy, and a really weird sense of humor, both dear and mysterious.

            It didn’t occur to me that, out of my own experience, I could name who God was to me, and that that was a completely valid and valuable way to address the divine. After all, who was I to name God? I was a girl, young (now young-ish), queer and far from the type of power and certainty that the people who used those names possessed.

            But then who was Hagar to name God? She was a woman, a slave, a foreigner, a runaway, an outcast, and she is the first individual in the Bible to give God a name: El-Roi.

            Now you’ve probably noticed that she does not actually give God the name El-Roi in the passage we read today and it probably seems weird that I’m preaching on naming God when we don’t hear about that. I’ll explain: the story of God’s appearance to Hagar in the wilderness is one of the double stories of Genesis, similar stories that are told twice and slightly differently by different author traditions. In this case those stories are in Genesis 16 and 21. In both, Hagar is the Egyptian slave of Sarah and Abraham. When Sarah cannot get pregnant, she makes Hagar sleep with Abraham so he can still have a son. But when Hagar actually does get pregnant with her and Abraham’s son, Ishmael, Sarah become violently jealous. In the first story she mistreats Hagar so badly that she runs away, in the second that we read today, she convinces Abraham to kick Hagar out because she doesn’t want Hagar’s son to inherit the promise of a great nation of descendants instead of her own son Isaac.

The reason we read 21 today though is because in Chapter 16, God tells Hagar to go back to that mess of a home life, and I didn’t want anyone here tonight to hear that God always blesses going back. If you’ve ever been in a situation as toxic as Hagar’s, I want you to hear that there are two stories: in one yes, Hagar goes back, and she and Ishmael take God’s promise into a very difficult situation, but in this other story she finds water in the wilderness and makes a home for herself, and Ishmael grows up strong. Hagar reconnects with her people, and Ishmael marries someone from his mother’s own homeland and they still receive the promises that God made to them.

            After God has appeared and reiterated those promises in the first story is when Hagar “named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-Roi” (God of seeing) for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” [Genesis 16:13]

            In Hagar’s day, to name God was a momentous task because people believed that knowing a God’s name gave you the power to summon the divine. We may not think knowing God’s name is a type of metaphysical power any more, but what we call God matters. The names and images we use to talk about and to God show, and also often restrict, our understanding of who God is. Always call God a king and you will eventually relate to the divine as if they are a male person with a crown on their head and the power to judge or decree. Always call God a mother and you will eventually relate to the divine as if they are a female person gathering the world in their arms and tending to life and care. There are times for both, but neither is the whole truth of God, and no matter how many images and names and metaphors we use, we can never name all of who God is, and, with apologies to the ancient people of the Middle East, we can definitely never summon and control God’s blessings.

            Sarah thought she could control God’s blessing by sending Hagar away. She thought it took a certain type of person with a certain type of access to power for God to pay attention. But she was wrong. When Sarah and Abraham forced Hagar into the wilderness, God went right along with her. The truth is that God is kind of feral, no one controls their blessings. The joke on Sarah, and everyone who seeks to control God, is something us queer folk already know: God is just as powerful in the wilderness, just as ready to listen, and speak, and save, and bless. It doesn’t take a church, or the right answers, or respectability for God to show up.

I know because I’ve been in some wildernesses myself: of family estrangement, of alienation from religion and church, of mental illness. I’d imagine you’ve been in some wildernesses too. Those places are tough, but God has never abandoned me to them. God has heard my tears. God has shown me water. God has kept their promises. Because God is just as powerful in the wilderness, and sometimes even more visible. Those experiences are what taught me to name God. Because names don’t just come out of thin air, they come from experience. And no matter how some people twist it, giving names is not really about power, it’s about relationship. You name someone because you know them. Think of nicknames you have for your favorite people. They’re sweet and personal, and about something unique between the two of you.

            So we name God, not because we can know all about God, but to say that we know God and what God has done for us. For Hagar God protected her and her child, showed them water in the wilderness and promised a future of strength and longevity. For me, God also showed me water in the wilderness, gave me healing and community, and the promise of a future more whole and joyful than my past.

            I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not about finding the wackiest name you can for God and insisting on only using that (though you could). I’m saying to trust your own experience of the divine and what God has done for you, even if that’s far from the places God is “supposed” to be. Name God and claim God, who has been with you in the easier times, but especially in the hard times.

            You and I, who have at times been our own sort of outcasts and runaways, we give God names out of what God has done for us, because we too have seen God in the wilderness. God’s blessings are not controlled by the people who believe they can limit who God loves and where God goes. God has always been with you in the wilderness, and I bet that you know their name.

The Things that Last

12-2-18

Luke 21:25-36

25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I love apocalyptic movies and books. Throw me a premise of what life will be like after the end of the world as we know it and I’m in. Zombies are not my thing so much, but plagues, natural disasters, societal collapse, I’m here for it. And I’m not the only one! Apocalyptic and post-Apocalyptic movies are a big draw, in spite of the fact that they depict the destruction of most of the things we hold dear. There’s something about us that likes to see the status quo get smashed to bits and wait in suspense to see what remains standing when the dust settles. Part of the fun is watching unjust, or just plain stupid, parts of our current world collapse, and part of what’s compelling is seeing what takes their place. In Mad Max-Fury Road the most precious thing becomes water, in Children of Men it’s fertility and babies, in Oryx and Crake it’s human connection and community, and in a beautiful novel I just finished about a post pandemic Shakespeare troupe called Station Eleven, it’s art, music, ingenuity and all the things that make us human.

            So here we are in Advent, the beginning of the church’s story, starting at the end, at the apocalypse. It’s a harsh juxtaposition that just as we begin to prepare for Christmas and surround ourselves with all sorts of cozy and shiny things, we hear “People will faint with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”

            Some of this juxtaposition highlighted by when Christians have chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Of course we don’t know Jesus’ actual birthdate, but sometime in the 4th century people started celebrating it on December 25th. We don’t know why for sure, but the likeliest theory is that Christmas was created as a Christian alternative and rival to the Roman holiday “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti,” the birthday of the unconquerable sun (S-U-N). It’s easy to see how this could be translated in Christian imagery into the birthday of Christ, the light whom darkness could not overcome. What this did was to make the birth of Jesus coincide, very intentionally, with the solstice as the Romans calculated it. Waiting for Jesus’ birth they, and we, encounter the darkest nights of the year and our nowadays mostly rationalized away but still subconscious fear that the darkness will keep coming, the cold will last forever, and life as we know it will end.

We are surrounded with so much paradox during this season: Apocalypse and hope, past and future, sacred and secular, joy and sorrow, cosmic and humble, temporary and eternal, all swirling through these stories that lead toward both a baby in a manger and the end of time. Yet we tend to focus on what appears at least to be the more tame side of the season, nobody decorates their Christmas tree with the roaring of the sea and the waves, more’s the pity. But in the lectionary texts for today we are asked to pause with the wilder side of Advent, and before we get to the baby Jesus, to spend some time with the apocalypse.

There’s two ways to look at the destruction and shake-up we hear about in Luke. One is to say that when it feels like our world is ending, God is near. The other is to say that when God is near, it often feels like our world is ending. Both are true in different ways, but I want to focus on the second interpretation: that it’s because the kingdom of God and Jesus himself are getting closer that the heavens are shaken. What we are shown is that divinity showing up in the world destroys some things, even as it creates others. Us humans can’t be in close proximity to God without our lives changing radically. This is why the Magnificat/Mary’s song while she’s pregnant, talks not only about lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry, but throwing down tyrants and sending the rich away without food. The truth is that some of the things that crumble as the kingdom of God approaches are things we really like, and that the danger is if we look for Jesus we might actually find him, and find that the places he enters demand more from us than the comfortable lives we would choose.

            Being open to, even looking for upheaval is really scary, especially if we feel like things in our lives are just about as good as we can arrange them to be. We might be happy for upheaval for other people, as long as it doesn’t touch us too much, as long as our own priorities and securities can remain the same. But the message of Advent is that when God gets near, they can’t and we are asked to not just accept this, but to raise our heads and look for the changes God brings! That is what is both scary and hopeful about this season, the chance that if we raise our heads and look, really look, we might see something that changes us. We might recognize in ourselves a way of living that makes no sense when confronted with the stars falling, waves crashing, and a woman who is carrying the son of God approaching her due date.

In the midst of this Jesus assures us that one thing will not pass away: his words. That may seem like vague and rather cold comfort, but let’s look at what his words in the Gospel of Luke actually say. They say that Jesus cares for people who are sick, are grieving, are hungry, are seeking justice. They say that Jesus blesses people, feeds them, connects them to their communities. Jesus’ words that will not pass away say that God cares for the least of these, and that God cares for you. What Jesus is promising will still be standing is not merely laws or quotations, but God’s commitment to blessing and caring for the people who need it most.

But when what is strange and awe-inspiring and divine bursts into the room, we wake up, shake off the sleepiness of assumption and routine, and begin to look for what truly matters, what in our own lives will be precious on the other side of an apocalypse. Because, you know this, the things that will be precious then are the things that are truly precious now: The nearness of God. The love of someone you care deeply for. The ability to help another gain justice or healing. The beauty of human and divine creation. God draws near in an apocalypse because in God’s presence so many other things that seemed important turn to dust. In this particular apocalypse of God getting close enough to touch, many things will be destroyed, but like the movies, the compelling part is seeing what is unjust and frivolous come tumbling down, and seeing what will still be standing when the dust settles. What Jesus promises is that what God holds as precious will survive. So amid destruction, stand up and raise your heads. Look for God, and look at the radical disruption of life’s priorities. Look for the precious things that will last. The truly precious things are enfolded in God’s promises, and what is truly precious will not pass away. 

Reflections on "The Rich Young Man"

10-14-18 

Mark 10:17-31

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

            This is an anxiety producing text. Everyone is always trying to get around what Jesus said to the rich man, by interpreting it as being somehow different than what he said. In the Middle Ages there even got to be a legend, that is still repeated today, that “the eye of the needle” was the name for a gate in Jerusalem: a small gate, but not one so small that maybe an unloaded and relatively small camel couldn’t go through. But Jesus was talking about regular size camels and regular old needles. The impossibility is the whole point. And that, along with selling our possessions and giving the money away, makes us uncomfortable. So as I now go on to interpret this text in various ways, I hope you’ll also just let it sit as the impossible, difficult, and face value story that it is.

 ———

            Voluntary poverty is radical, and it always has been. Throughout church history there have been people who have taken up this call to give away all their worldly possessions. In early and medieval times there was Anthony of Egypt who sold his family’s property after hearing this story, and Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi who were born wealthy and chose radical poverty, and closer to our own time St. Teresa of Calcutta known as Mother Teresa, and the as of today officially canonized St. Oscar Romero who very publicly advocated for the poor in El Salvador and was martyred by a sniper while saying mass in 1980, as well as many more who have not received as much recognition. Choosing poverty and to advocate for people who have little money and power is so against human inclination that we look at it with astonishment, just as the rich man and the disciples reacted with shock to Jesus’ instructions. Of all the things people do because of their faith, this is one of the rarest.

 ———

If you know someone who hoards then you’ve seen the other extreme. For the family and friends of a hoarder, there is no question as to whether possessions get in the way of relationships and health. Possessions literally become an addiction. The hold that possessions have over a hoarder’s life, psyche and relationships though is not completely different than the hold that possessions have over all of us. It’s just amplified. Giving up all worldly goods may not be the only way to follow Jesus, but the Bible is clear that what we own can become a danger to our very spirits, as well as hurtful to the people around us. Being a Christian absolutely calls us to reckon with our money and our stuff, and to take seriously what our material situation reflects and impacts about our values, relationships and trust in God.

 ——-

            We here are materially rich in the grand scope of the world, many of us even by the scope of our country. And I think most of us recognize that. Though maybe not everyone of us has had what we needed at every time in our lives, we also know what it is to have more than we need. Maybe we know the freedom of giving or even throwing possessions away, and that is some of the lightness referenced here, but the rich man is not asked to just have less, he’s asked to have less specifically to benefit others. Poverty in itself is not a moral good and shouldn’t be romanticized. It takes a huge toll on people in mind, body and spirit. The kingdom of God is not a place where everyone is poor, but a place where everyone has enough, and the last become first. For those of us who are closer to the “first” side of things right now, that is a difficult thing to hear. What Jesus is doing in this text is inviting the man to begin that process of no longer being first so someone else can be. And he went away sad because he knew he would be giving up a great deal.

 ——-

            The rich man in the text was probably born rich (social mobility wasn’t much of a thing in the 1st Century). There’s no indication that he was lying when he says he kept all the commands that Jesus listed so he did his best to be a good person. He was born though, with wealth and privilege that was getting in the way of his relationships with God and other people. I think it’s fair to say that all of us in this room were born with different types of privilege, wealth of power if you will, that get in the way of our relationships with God and one another. Us white people always carry the power of our whiteness with us, often oblivious to the literal and figurative wealth it grants us that is unearned and by its very nature taken from someone else. We may be personally horrified by our “wealth” of white privilege, but to actively seek to give it up or at least use it to the advantage of people of color is much, much more difficult. First it involves seeing the ill-gotten power that whiteness grants, then learning to recognize it in our own lives and relationships, considering how to truly give it away in various situations, and finally having the will and the prayerful consideration to push it away at a cost to ourselves. This is difficult for us white folks, but it’s not only a Godly practice, it is one that brings us back into community.

 ——-

            Jesus’s answer to the question what we must do to enter the kingdom of God is to give up wealth and possessions, but that’s not the whole answer. He doesn’t ask the man to go live a lonely life of need, but instead invites him to follow and promises “a hundredfold now in this age-houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions-and in the age to come eternal life.” If we look at any of the lives of the saints I mentioned earlier we can see the truth of this statement. They were far from alone and often had many places in which they lived and worked, but those places were more difficult and more complex than the comfort they left behind. Jesus is describing what he sees as a win win situation for both rich man and the people who could benefit from his wealth, albeit a very difficult one for the rich man to enter into.

 ———

            All of this, in the end, is about possibility: what is possible for us and what is possible for God. We don’t like acknowledging the limits of our self-made possibilities, and we like even less to be told that we are incapable of saving ourselves from the internal and external things that torment us. As Jesus says, no one is good, not altogether. We can do good things and make meaningful choices, but we cannot fundamentally change the hurt that we have received and given in relationships, or wholly deconstruct the unjust systems we are a part of. No one is good. This is the fundamental impossibility that we, along with the rich man, the disciples and the camel, all face. But we cling to our ideas of self perfectibility so closely that it’s hard for us to hear Jesus’ invitation to let go of the way we would re-make the world and ourselves and instead look to God’s. Unfortunately we tend to hear our own impossibilities much more loudly than God’s possibilities. We do not need to give up on justice, healing and forgiveness and our participation in them, nor should we. Instead Jesus looks at us with love and asks us to follow a more gentle and more radical way, with the assurance that rather than carrying the weight of the restorer, we are just one of the things being restored. This is the final thing this story asks us to give up: the belief that we’re capable of achieving perfection and fixing it all on our own, so that we can be invited, like the rich young man, to leave the hurt and anger and self-righteousness, and yes the money and possessions, that we’re clinging to and follow Jesus to a place where the first become last and the last become first, and all of us have enough.

God knows your name.

6-3-18

 

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

 

This sermon is not just a chance to talk about my dog but I’m going to start by talking about my dog. As many of you know, Maggie and I adopted a German Shepherd named Abe about six weeks ago, but that wasn’t his name when we got him. Abe came with the name Sarge, because the people at the rescue didn’t like Baruka, which was his original family’s name for him. So the rescue put a picture of him on facebook and essentially had a caption contest to determine his new name: the winner was Sarge. Now what you have to understand is that Abe looks terrifying. People cross the street when they see us coming. He’s a Western Lines German Shepherd and bred for police work, so the name Sarge LOOKS like it fits. It doesn’t. This dog was scared by a rabbit the other night. I’ve never heard him bark, except when he’s dreaming. All he wants is to hold hands, or sit on your feet and lean against you. He loves children, but is not great with shadows and loud noises. In short, he’s a lovable dweeb. An Abe, not a Sarge.

But the people who just saw his picture online couldn’t know that. They couldn’t really give him a name because they didn’t know him. Name, identity and relationship are all connected, and in this story today of God calling Samuel by his name we can see some of those same connections.

We all really like our names and care when people get them wrong. Savvy marketers and waiters try to manipulate us by auto-populating our names or reading our name off our credit cards and saying them back to us when they bring the bill. Manipulation aside though, one of the first things we learn about someone is their name, and if we don’t know their name it’s clear we don’t really know them.

In the Old Testament names were even more intimate and powerful than they are today. When something important happens to someone in the Old Testament they often get a new name: Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, Naomi says to call her Mara after her sons die, Jacob becomes Israel.

But we never really know God’s name. There’s a sense that to know God’s name would be to get too cozy, like an extreme version of calling your professor by their first name. The closest we have, YHWH, is simply an approximation pronunciation-wise, and even so many Jews say “ha Shem” which means “the name” because YHWH is too holy. All the things we call God, with the exception of Jesus as part of the Trinity and perhaps YHWH, are titles or metaphors, not names. We don’t really know God like that.

But God does know us. It says here in 1st Samuel that Samuel didn’t know God yet, but God knew Samuel. And in the Psalm that goes with this reading for today it says,

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.”

These are meant to be comforting things. I think sometimes God’s knowledge of us has been used as a threat, and there is some caution in that, but that’s not the context of these scriptures: God knows us from our names to our thoughts to the tips of our ears, and knowing all of that does not give up on us.

God calls to Samuel four different times in this story, patiently waiting for him to realize it’s not Eli’s voice. And I think it’s important that God calls Samuel by his name, unlike from the whirlwind or earthquake or fire that marks the appearance God other places in the Old Testament. Instead God called Samuel’s name in a voice that sounded so familiar, Samuel was positive it was Eli in the next room. And of course it was Eli that figured out who the voice was.

It’s often the Elis in our lives who point out the things that aren’t clear to us about ourselves and where God may be calling us. We all need people we trust who can see and hear the things about ourselves that we get confused. Sometimes it’s our Elis more than anything else that point to where God is calling us. Sometimes we hear the voice of God more directly in prayer or meditation, or indirectly in a series of strange coincidences or an idea that just won’t leave us alone. But we know a call by what Howard Thurman calls “the sound of the genuine” that echoes with something deep in ourselves. We might not know why exactly but just that this thing is real and right for us. Almost as if someone had called your name and said “Pay attention to this!” As if someone who knows you is persistently directing you back to where you should engage right now.

But it’s okay if it takes a while. If you’re unclear or if you head off in another direction, God isn’t going anywhere. God knows your name and God knows you.

Sometimes we hear the voice of God ourselves, sometimes we need the Elis in our lives to let us know what they perceive about us, and sometimes it feels like we’re just kind of like Samuel lying on the floor in the dark, wondering if the voice will call our names again. But God always does. Knowing you and knowing your name, God is not going to give up on you.

The things that you are called to do are often not easy. Samuel became a beloved and powerful prophet, but his very first job was to go and tell Eli that Eli’s own biological sons, who were horribly corrupt priests, were going to die. God rarely pushes people towards a super easy life. Instead God calls our names and points us to engage with what is complex and sometimes painful in ourselves and the world around us.

In the Lutheran ordination rite, after the new pastor has made lots of impossible promises about following God’s call, the bishop says to them, “May God who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and power to attain them.” The promise that comes with all difficult calls is that we are not alone, we will have both God and a community beside us, and we will be given strength.

God knows your name, and God knows and cares for you. Wherever you are in your own heart and your own life, God is not going to give up on you.