Born … to Rise Above

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was growing up, I always hoped that the future path before me would be made unmistakably clear, that I would come to know, understand and accept without any doubt what it was I was supposed to do with my life, that God would tell me in no uncertain terms and in the manner he chose to do so, and that would be the end of all the wondering and guessing. Over the years I have come to know, understand and accept instead that things don’t work that way. And whenever anyone asks me how they could know for themselves what I longed to know for myself, I tell them not to give up … listen. God wants to tell you something important. When God is ready, God will let you know. In the meantime, wait … and listen.

The prophet Samuel was called by God from his youth for a specific purpose in his plan of salvation, to speak on his behalf to his people Israel. Yet despite the obvious clarity of God’s call, even Samuel had to be taught how to listen and how to respond. The priest Eli, who may not have heard the voice of God himself as Samuel was hearing it, had the presence of mind to suspect that God was up to something. He didn’t know what God was trying to say or do, but he knew Samuel had to respond. So he instructed the boy to listen attentively, and when the time was right, to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” In our own experience, other people may have been given that role of the priest Eli, to teach us how to listen and how to respond when God calls. They themselves may not hear God’s voice as clearly, but they are sent to help us listen. They themselves may be uncertain about their own path, but they are sent to help us find ours. The young boy Samuel was inexperienced and naïve, unfamiliar with Israel’s troubled relationship with God, unfamiliar with the priest Eli’s own struggles. But that was not important. If we required all God’s messengers to be perfect before we listened to what they had to tell us, we would not find anyone worthy of our attention.

The two disciples in the gospel story were not waiting for any specific revelation from God. They were followers of John the Baptist because they were attracted by his public stature, his conviction, his enthusiasm and his message. But when John pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God, they just had to find out for themselves what John meant. When God calls, God alone determines how it is done. Sometimes his voice will be loud and clear. Sometimes it will be as subtle as the stirring in the depths of our hearts. But however God chooses to call us for whatever purpose he has in mind, we will only be able to hear it if we are attuned to his voice. And God does not give up so easily. Every parent knows when you call out to your child, it is not enough that you call once, even if you tell them you should only have to call once. God certainly is always calling out to us, and will never tire of calling out to us, to reveal himself to us, to speak of his great mercy and compassion, to invite us to greater intimacy with himself, to share with us the blessings of creation and the grace of his Holy Spirit, to heal our hurts and make whole our brokenness, to forgive our sins and strengthen us for our daily struggle, to transform us into the likeness of his Son, and to affirm us in the service of our neighbor.

But there are forces and influences in the world that will attempt to distract us and insist we listen to what they have to say instead. They will be louder and flashier. They will do their utmost to discredit God, his messengers, and the gospel they preach. They will even try to convince us that their message is fundamentally good. And because the message of the gospel may require greater effort and commitment on our part, and be a lot more challenging because it calls us to live more consistently our dignity as children of God, these worldly forces and influences will insist they have a better message and better values, and that they will bring about a better future if we listen to them.

For instance, there is a growing movement in society that has chosen to proclaim the fundamental truth that whatever God has created is good. God created all that we see in nature and the universe around us, the mountains, the hills, the sky and the sea. It must all be good because God made it. And God also made each of us, as diverse as we come: male and female; short and tall; black, white, brown, orange and green, and every shade in between; smart and athletic; delicate and strong; with all our unique qualities and peculiarities, our inclinations and tendencies, our imperfections and idiosyncrasies. And because God made all these, they must all be good. “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are, because God made you perfect. Hold your head up and you’ll go far. I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way.” That’s from the gospel of Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, this growing movement is working hard to eclipse the message that St. Paul proclaims in his first letter to the Corinthians. Yes, God makes no mistakes. But the work of creation is not yet finished. God is still perfecting what he has created. That is why we have been raised to the dignity of God’s children and our sins have been forgiven through the redemption of Jesus Christ’s saving sacrifice on the cross.

“The body is not for immorality … Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” The worldly forces and influences will attempt to distract us by insisting that we have only to enjoy what we have been given, surrendering to our natural inclinations and tendencies, because God made them and they’re all good. So we don’t need to listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ which invites us to rise above our selfishness and our inordinate pride. It insists our prosperity is ours to keep and use as we please, unmindful of those who struggle to survive and those who have no fighting chance. It insists compassion is for the weak, faith is for the simple-minded, virtue is for the misguided, and hope is for the clueless.

But God will never tire calling out to us to reveal himself, to speak of his great mercy and compassion, to invite us to greater intimacy with himself, to share with us the blessings of creation and the grace of his Holy Spirit, to heal our hurts and make whole our brokenness, to forgive our sins and strengthen us for our daily struggle, to transform us into the likeness of his Son, and to affirm us in the service of our neighbor. Worldly forces and influences do not like the message that God proclaims and will try to distract us. So we need to listen attentively for God’s voice. God affirms what is good in us, but still challenges us to grow in grace.

I’m just a messenger.  Don’t shoot.