2 Epiphany 2017: Did you hear it?

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Did you hear it?
I did.
Some of you did too.

This is our second anniversary, you and I.
I began at Trinity last year
on the second Sunday of Epiphany,
Martin Luther King weekend.

Whether you think that was a good thing
or rue the day –
and I know that it is always true
both perspectives are represented –
it happened because we heard it.

What we hear
isn’t always the beautiful music we like,
and it surely isn’t always what we want to hear.
That makes listening for it risky.
It’s pretty obvious
that all three readings this morning
are about hearing it.

Isaiah, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Andrew and Peter…
each one listening,
each one hearing,
each one changed.

This sermon today,
these words over the next few minutes,
are about…hearing it.
I want to suggest that it is just possible
there is a word tucked in here today
with your name on it.
It may not be embedded in my words, just now.
It may be in the music,
or one of the prayers,
or in a moment of silence between the prayers…
even on the lips of someone else.
But I would not be at all surprised
if you were to hear a word with your name on it
somewhere within this thing we do today.

We’ve heard it before, you and I –
a word with our name on it.

Walking the dog along the lake,
in the field,
the cemetery,
or even on the sidewalk.

Walking to our favorite little spot,
on our favorite trail,
on one of those spectacularly cloudless days
when the vault above
is bluer than the water below.

But it can also be heard
while hunkered down
under an umbrella,
stung by tiny pelts of water or ice.

We’ve heard it before
just sitting on the back deck thinking about nothing,
or on the dock looking out at the pure horizon.
But we’ve also heard it
doing something so humble as
looking down while cutting the grass!

We have all heard it.

Ironing clothes,
scraping cookie dough into dollops,
vacuuming dust bunnies and grit off the floor,
punching the calculator and scribbling numerals,
sorting papers and putting our house in order –
in the midst of mind-numbing little things we do
over the course of a day
that are ordinary, routine, humdrum things –
even in this we can hear it.

In fact, we have all heard it.

It arrives a scrap of thought
landing from out of nowhere
apropos of nothing
we are doing or thinking.

A random spec of thought
floats by on its way to being lost
in the layers of silt
settled in the creases of our brain.
We see it
or hear it
or think it
or feel it – and then…well then,
nine times out of ten
we pay no attention to it.
Heck, we’ve been known to intentionally deflect it.
If you close your eyes,
I bet you can see yourself
knocking it away as just some stray,
absurd thought.
It didn’t belong to the reasonable world
of ordered and conforming notions
that have been pre-approved for appearance in our thoughts.
So we swatted it
and off it drifted like a dust fairy in sunlight.

Still, I know in my bones,
we have all heard it.

Our problem, of course, is we don’t believe it.
We do not welcome it.
We are not open to it.
We don’t really even want to think about it.

But still, we have all heard it.

It may have called us by name.
It may have stabbed like a shard of glass.
It may have felt so foreign
we spit it out even before we could taste it.
And it’s likely that more than once,
it struck us as so absurd we laughed it away.

It could have whispered to us;
cooed into the fold of our heart
a loving little affirmation
at the very moment
we felt most ashamed,
or worthless.

We have all heard it.

You may be a hardened old skeptic about this,
and doubt it has ever come close to you,
but giggling in some back corner of your thoughts
is an impish little quirk that knows
a word with your name on it
has come close.

I dare say most of us,
regardless of our level of faith and doubt,
disbelieve its presence most of the time.
We do not imagine we have heard it
and the reason we have such difficulty embracing it,
is that it has not been pre-approved
by the gatekeeper in our brain.
In fact, the very idea that we could hear
a word with our name on it,
even if it existed,
has less approval than those credit card offers
we receive almost daily in the mail.

But without pre-approval from the cranial gatekeeper,
the word with out name on it
will remain a dust mite of thought;
a mere random
and bizarre miss-fire in our brain
that could never be real,
never be authentic,
never be a word for us.

The sad truth is,
that not only must we pre-approve it
to truly hear it
and take it in
and resonate with it;
but when we hear it
we must also, eventually, talk out loud about it
before we can actually confirm it.

It is a double-whammy.

Before it arrives we have to pre-approve it
and once it does arrive,
we have to take the risk to articulate it
out loud to someone else.

That is why hearing it is so rare:
No one
in his or her right mind
talks out loud
about what we cannot even accept
in the privacy of our own brain.

a word with our name on it
has an exceedingly long shelf life.

It can be something we ponder in our heart
for many years,
but if it is something to be actualized
in the hardened and dirty soil of daily routine,
then we have to talk out loud about it
with other people
who can help us decipher it
and confirm its meaning.

That is the nature of IT –
the word with our name on it.
It is how we come to hear it
and then how,
with the help of others,
it gets opened up.

It may begin as a word we receive
in the privacy of our own heart,
but it will not become incarnate –
embodied in our body or anyone else’s –
until and unless
others hear it from us,
recognize it,
and then confirm it.
That is the nature of a spirituality,
which is, at its core, communal.

And this thing we do,
that we are a part of by virtue of baptism,
is communal.
Christianity, like our mother Judaism and cousin Islam,
is communal at its core and not individualistic.

The other thing about the word with our name on it:
it has a mission.
It is not just for us,
or for our own little purpose and pleasure.

It is aimed like a missile outward
into the messy mall of people living around us.

There is a word given to you and me
that needs to be said and done
among the people we live with,
and among the folks we work with,
and even with those people we play with.
There is something
WE have been given
that we need to embody by word and deed,
that we have not already done.

But the word we have been given
is not just a simple sound,
or utterance,
or formation of letters;
it is something that needs to be done.

The word with our name on it
has a mission
in this church,
in this neighborhood,
in this town,
in this area,
and you and I are the ones
who know it
because it has been give to us.

But most likely,
we have also resisted working towards it.

The word with your name on it
is agitating like a stone in your shoe
about something we need to do
or change
or make
or develop
if we are going to be what we need to be.
We have all heard it.
A word
a whisper
a thought
an insight
that comes to us from beyond –
from a power greater than ourselves
even if it seems to come
from within ourselves.

And for whatever reasons
we do not want to believe it
or accept it
or hear it
or even acknowledge it.

It is such a twisted contradiction,
this word with our name on it;
an attraction-repulsion without end.

As attractive
as the idea of a word with our name on it is,
we resist for a reason.

For example, I heard it
standing right here in this sanctuary one day,
on a hot August afternoon,
with no one from the church
even knowing I was here,
walking around aimlessly with my son
on our way to Ohio.
I didn’t expect to hear it,
I wasn’t listening for it,
and actually, I didn’t want to hear it.

The last thing I wanted to do
was be part of a congregation with a hulking,
deteriorating historic building.
Been there, done that, so over it.
In fact, I went out and found myself
a very attractive alternative job
before anything could get serious about this one.

And there is the problem
with pre-approval
and listening.
We do not want to hear
these words with our names on them
because we know they will get us in trouble.
We know up front,
without even thinking much about it,
it’s going to be trouble
or painful
or include a risk
without any clear pay-off.

These words with our names on them
look for the whole world
to be harebrained,
and not something
we want to even think about for ourselves
let alone talk out loud about with other people.
So you see,
we have very good reasons
for not hearing it
and not engaging it
and not doing it.
Don’t feel bad about any resistance you put up
because it is much better not to pre-approve the word
in advance of its arrival.
If we don’t believe it
we don’t have to go near it.
And that is a very good strategy
we should all remember; I employ myself all the time.
It works:
Require that dang word
to be signed for on delivery,
but disbelieve it’s coming
and therefore never get it.

Whatever you do,
DO NOT pre-approve the sender
or the offer
or the idea
or the message.
If we do not pre-approve it
we can keep it at bay
and not take it seriously.

But there is a fly in the ointment of that strategy.

For some ridiculous reason,
we come to a place like this
and week after week,
the knock is on the door.
We hear it in Isaiah and the prophets
over and over and over again.
We hear it in the gospels
over and over and over again.
Mostly we hear it in absurd,
distant, long-ago stories
that don’t seem to have much to do with us.
But they do,
and those stories agitate us.

These things we listen to week after week,
or the rituals we do again and again,
soften us up,
weaken our resistance,
and worst of all,
become a brain-worm
that wriggles through our sleep,
drills beneath our random thoughts,
and while we are fishing
or ironing
or relaxing with a cup of tea
in the late afternoon,
they surface when we least expect.

Doggone that word with our name on it.
Listen at your own risk.