scripture & sermon, erin dunigan
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What an honor it is to be standing here before you today. Thank you.
To those who traveled across the country, across international borders, and across Southern California traffic to be here today, thank you.
Who knew thirty-some years ago as I walked down Snug Harbor Road—right out there—quarter in hand to buy my donut after Sunday school, that we would be gathering here on this day?
This week my mom reminded me of a story. She must have been picking me up from preschool here at St. Andrews and decided to show me the church Sanctuary. That was in the old building, and the chancel area was covered with carpet—a nice 60’s shade of blue. When we walked in the back we saw a man up at the front of the church, vacuuming. I turned to my mom and asked in a hushed, reverent voice, “Is that God?”
Our scripture passage today also takes place in a sanctuary, the temple. Though there’s no vacuuming involved, God does show up in a rather unexpected way.
Listen for the Word of God as found in 1 Samuel 3:1-10.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
In La Mision, a small community of Mexicans and expatriate Americans along the Baja coast, there is always a story to tell.
One particular night about a month ago, over dinner on the patio at La Fonda, it was Molly and Arthur who had the story of the evening.
You see, Arthur had gone up to the States to pick up Molly from the airport. “Molly, before we return to La Mision, can we just swing by and pick up some lumber I found on Craigslist?” Now, anyone who knows the way from the San Diego airport to La Mision knows that Ramona most definitely is not on it!
Seven hours later, with Arthur driving and Molly squeezed into the back seat behind him and with the car listing to one side from the weight of the lumber, they arrive at the border.
By this time it was about midnight. They were relieved to get the green ‘pase’ light signaling their clear passage across the border. As they began to envision getting home to La Mision after a long day, the border guards happened to notice that their small car was nearly bursting.
Motioning to them to pull over the guard said, “You can’t bring lumber into Mexico. You must go back to the United States.” With that he opened up the fence and sent them to the other side, into the line to go back to the US. There they sat, car full of what seemed to be less of a bargain and more like unusable lumber, no longer on the way to La Mision but heading in the opposite direction, in the middle of the night.
It was in the middle of the night—actually not yet quite dawn—Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, wide-awake, for no apparent reason?—It was in the middle of the night when Samuel met God. Technically, when God met Samuel—for Samuel did not yet know the voice of the Lord—he didn’t know how to listen to what he was hearing.
“Samuel, Samuel!” the Lord called.
And Samuel, assuming it must be the old priest Eli calling to him—there was no one else around—ran to find out what was the matter.
“I did not call, return to bed,” responded Eli.
Not just once, but three times this happened.
I wonder if each time Eli got just a bit more exasperated from being woken up by the boy Samuel hearing voices in the middle of the night.
Three times this happened before it occurred to Eli that perhaps it just might be the Lord calling out to the boy.
Eli, the priest, the spiritual leader of the people, took three times before he realized it was the Lord speaking.
Samuel, ministering to the Lord, sleeping in the temple where the ark of God was kept, the most sacred of objects for the People of Israel…Samuel did not yet know God.
In those days the word of the Lord was rare. There was no widespread vision.
In other words, this voice calling out to Samuel in the middle of the night was something quite out of the ordinary.
This…here…all of us gathered together…I hardly think it would be called ‘ordinary.’
I’ve had two friends say to me, “I was telling someone about your potential ordination and they said, “No way, that will never happen. Presbyterians, who are known for doing things “decently and in order,” doing something like that?!
As you heard Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow say in the video earlier, today we of course are celebrating my ordination, but we are also celebrating something bigger than that. We are here today because God’s call kept waking me up in the middle of the night and would not let me sleepwalk away from it. But we are also here because members of this presbytery were willing to take a risk and try something new.
Since many of you have asked, let me tell you a bit about the call. Technically, I will be ordained as a Designated Tentmaking Evangelist of category 301. Good thing I won’t have business cards, because I’m not sure how that would go!
But in reality I am being called to be a sort of ‘pastor to the world at large,’ splitting my time between the Los Ranchos Presbytery, La Mision Mexico, and the rest of the world.
It’s been a long time coming. Over the past five years I’ve preached a number of sermons on waiting. The Shasta Daisies that I planted alongside my mom’s garage, thinking that in the two years they would take to blossom I’d be long gone off into whatever was next for me—those Shasta Daisies have since blossomed, grown out of control, and been torn out of the ground.
At times it was a struggle—feeling as though the waiting would never end, wondering what was next. But the thing is, it was that very waiting and not knowing that has lead me, has lead us, to this place today.
It is in the process of the waiting, in the journey, that we, like Samuel, learn to listen to the voice of the Lord, waking us up in the middle of the night, calling out to us, and beckoning us into what is next.
As Molly and Arthur sat there in line, going in the direction not of La Mision, but back toward the US, a man’s voice called to them out of the darkness.
“Quieres ir a Mexico?”
“Do you want to go to Mexico?”
Turning, they saw him beckoning to them across the lanes of traffic (no easy feat if you’ve ever tried to change lanes at the border!) and into the lane closest to the vendor’s stalls. Wondering how simply changing lanes would get them to Mexico, Molly and Arthur followed, figuring why not, why not try it and see what would happen?
Once they got across the width of the border, still with the car facing toward the US, the man called out to them again. “Back up.”
So, Molly and Arthur, car weighed down with contraband lumber, backed their way into Mexico.
As they recounted the story that night over dinner at La Fonda Arthur said, “If we ever write a book about our experiences here in La Mision I think we might just have to call it ‘Backing into Mexico.’”
You may have wondered why we sang a Christmas carol in October. I’ve always been one to put on the Kenny Roger’s Christmas cd much too early, but I’ve never before had the chance to cause an entire group of people to be lead astray with me!
But I have to confess—I actually snuck in two Christmas songs, O Come All Ye Faithful and the Magnificat, which Kelly sang to open the service and which she will sing again to close it.
The Magnificat is the prayer of Mary—the one to whom the angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus.”
The Magnificat is Mary’s response.
But Mary wasn’t the first woman in the Bible to pray such a prayer…
For the prayer of Mary actually echoes the prayer of another woman, many years before. That woman was barren and out of her bareness cried out to the Lord, who answered her prayer.
That woman, Hannah, conceived and bore a son whom she named Samuel, a son she dedicated to the Lord, a son who the Lord woke in the middle of the night, calling out his name, “Samuel, Samuel.”
We don’t always know the destination when we set out on the journey. JRR Tolkein reminds us that “All who wander are not lost.”
Anne Lammot, one of my favorite authors, tells the story this way:
When I was a young writer I was talking to an old painter one day about how he came to paint his canvases. He said that he never knew what the completed picture would look like, but he could usually see one quadrant. So, he’d make a stab at capturing what he saw on the canvas of his mind, and when it turned out not to be even remotely what he’d imagined, he’d paint it over with white. And each time he figured out what the painting wasn’t, he was one step closer to finding out what it was.
Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun and another of my favorite authors, puts it this way: “The real problem with change is that it means the undoing of what went before it.”
We don’t always know what the final painting will look like. We may begin, erase, and begin again. Sometimes, in the midst of this, it may even feel as though we are languishing in the process. As though the waiting will never end. As though we are surrounded only by a barrenness that we long to have filled.
But it is in the midst of that process that we, like Samuel, learn to hear the voice of the God who calls out to us before we even know how to listen. It is to that voice that we become mindful on the journey.
For the One who called to Samuel, whom Hannah beseeched and Mary praised…it is that One who calls to us all—each and every one of us—in the middle of the night, when we are loaded down, when it may even feel as though we are heading in the wrong direction, with no idea where to go or what to do next…it is that one who beckons to us, sometimes even backing us into who we are called to become.
It is that same Lord who so loved the world and called it into being—the heavens and the earth, and who created us, humanity, male and female, in the Image of God, for relationship with the world around us, with each other, and with God.
The same Lord whose birth we celebrate at Christmas—not the triumphal entry of a King, but the humble birth of a baby in a manger—the God of the universe, backing into our world, taking on flesh and living amongst us.
And it is to that One that we say, Speak Lord, for your servants are listening…