Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Listening with a discerning heart

Here's the text from the homily that I preached at St. Ambrose in Anderson this past weekend (the St. Mary's homily was a cut version). Please feel free to comment!

In the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is a spoof on the medieval “King Arthur” fables, there is a part where the “knights of the round table” have to cross a bridge spanning a deep chasm, a bridge that is guarded by a bridge keeper. The keeper is made out to be a fearsome, intimidating creature and to get by him each person must answer three questions correctly. Sir Lancelot, the brave, is the first to approach. Encountering the keeper and with much bravado, he awaits the questions: “What is your name?” “Sir Lancelot of Camelot.” “What is your quest?” “To find the Holy Grail.” “What is your favorite color?” “Blue.” Stunned at the ease of the questions, Lancelot nonetheless proudly passes onto the bridge. Sir Robin, having seen this, pushes to the front, expecting to pass with similar ease. As he arrogantly approaches the keeper he too is questioned: “What is your name?” “Sir Robin of Camelot.” “What is your quest.” “To seek the Holy Grail.” “What is the capital of Assyria?” “What? I don’t kno… ahhhhh!” Having answered wrong, he is thrown by an invisible force into the chasm. While the rest of the scene is worth recounting, I’ll invite you to go to YouTube or Netflix to see it. The point is that Sir Robin mistakenly assumed that the questions would be the same for each traveler. Instead of listening for the particular way that the keeper would question him, he answered without discernment and so was lost.

In today’s first reading, we hear of a similar encounter. In this case, it is the prophet Elijah who is on a journey and God whom he is encountering. For forty days Elijah journeyed through the desert to Mount Horeb, where he then took shelter in a cave. Perhaps to us, these facts seem simply to be background to the story of God’s encounter with Elijah. Yet for the Hebrew people, each of these details would have had a powerful impact on their interpretation of the story. The forty day journey in the desert would have reminded them of the forty year journey of the Israelites through the desert and into the Promised Land. And, while most of us might not make the connection, the ancient Israelites would know that Mount Horeb, where Elijah ended his journey, is also known as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments and where God formed his covenant with the Israelite people. There, God called Moses up to him on the mountain and spoke to him. When he did, the people heard loud peals of thunder and the earth shook beneath them. Thus, you can imagine that it was quite a shock to the Israelites when they heard that when God called Elijah to come out to meet him that God was not to be found in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Elijah, even though he was intimately aware of the way God had spoken to his people on that very mountain, did not presume that God would speak to him in the same way. Rather he waited with a discerning heart to hear the particular way that God would speak to him and instead found the Lord in a small whispering sound.

In our Gospel reading today, we hear the continuation of the story we began last week. After feeding the five thousand with just five loaves and two fish, Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him, dismisses the crowd to their homes and finally gets the retreat he was looking for. As Jesus spends the night in prayer, Peter and the disciples find themselves fighting against a rough sea. Thus, as Jesus approaches them, the disciples, already stressed out, react as if they are seeing a ghost. To calm their spirits Jesus calls out to them in what must have seemed to be a “tiny whispering sound” amidst the crashing of the waves in the tumultuous waters. Even amidst this chaos, however, Peter, like Elijah, immediately discerned the Lord’s voice and asked that the Lord would call him to him. He could do this because, in times of calm, he spent time with Jesus, building a relationship with him and getting to know his voice. Thus, in times of distress, he could weather the storm and hear the particular way in which God was speaking to him and calling him close.

The challenge of discerning God’s voice in the midst of our noisy world is greater than ever. That is why it is ever more important to build a relationship with God in times of calm, so that in times of storm and distress we will know which voice to listen to. A child lost in a shopping mall is made deaf by his anxiety until the voice of his mother breaks through, calling him to her. God calls us to this kind of relationship, a relationship in which we come to know and trust his voice, so that when we are tossed about by the waves of the world, we will hear him calling to us in order to calm our spirits.

So why is this important? Well, quite frankly, our response to God in times of distress is the measure of how authentically we are living out our faith. When the world seems to be crashing down around us, can we, like Elijah, wait to hear the Lord’s voice? And when we do, can we, like Peter, trust in that voice calling us out into what by all human standards seems to be certain destruction? Finally, can we rely on the Lord so completely, that we cry out only to him when all seems to be lost? If your answer is “yes” to all of those questions, great! You are in a great place and I am sure a witness of faith to others. I suspect that many of us, however, have to answer one or more of those questions with either “no” or at least “I’m not sure.” If so, that’s ok, I assure you that you will not be thrown into a deep chasm! What is most important today is that you leave here realizing that your relationship with God may not be where it ought to be, or perhaps that you have some work to do to make how you live your life in faith line up with the way God has called you to live it. If this encounter with the Word of God—the Living Word contained in these Scriptures—calls you to pursue a deeper relationship with God, then it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was sent. If it hasn’t, I invite you to look again at this Word and to pray for the wisdom to understand the particular way that God is speaking to you through it. Either way, let us recognize that in this church, which is our boat amidst the rough, rude sea of the world, Jesus comes to us in the form of the sacrament offered here on this altar and calls us to him. Trusting in the faith handed down to us from the disciples who were with him on the sea that night, let us come now—unreservedly—to receive him and give him homage.

~ Given at St. Ambrose Church, Anderson, IN – August 6th & 7th, 2011

1 comment:

  1. I Love it. I think we need our annual trip to the state fair.