Homily from the Rev. Deacon Carey Dougherty Carico, Director of Outreach, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | The twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, October 16, 2016
In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. All things came into being through God.
In the beginning when God created … the earth was a formless void. In the beginning God said, God saw, God called.
In the beginning there was only God.
Was God lonely? The child asks
Was God afraid? Another child asks.
In the beginning there was God.
What does it mean to pray? What does it mean to pray to God, God the creator of all, the God of Jesus, the God of David, the God of Mary? What does it mean to pray? One of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century tells us that prayer is something that “exerts an influence upon God’s very existence”–that prayer changes the very nature of God’s existence. So prayer – a conversation – between the one who speaks and the one who listens has the capacity to change God and us.
It seems then that we must see prayer as relationship with the give and take and renegotiation between. God and human, two parties who are intimately and intricately connected. We must begin by talking about relationship. Because we belong to a God who calls, who hears, who seeks, and creates and responds to us in in a dance of love and fidelity.
At 53, I am a veteran in the world of relationships. Some I have done well and some not so well. My son was one of the toughest people I have ever had to be in relationship with. He is and will always be my beloved child, welcomed and nurtured. But it seemed that every step of the way he challenged my people skills. One day when he was 16 years old, I talked to his sister who was away at college on the phone. I told her that I had begun a count of the number of words my son said to me each day – “yes,” “no” “money, keys, I don’t know,” That particular day we were up to three.
She was very concerned to hear I was actually counting and told me that I needed to stop focusing on this new hard place. “Mom, really, this will go away. I am in school with a bunch of 20-year-old guys and they get nice again. They come back!”
As sweet and funny as my daughter’s words were, they reflected something she knew from her core something her life had taught her: that when this day was past, when this bad mood, this angry moment, this illness, this stress was past, we would still be in relationship. We would still be loving each other no matter what. And she was right.
It strikes me how similar this is to our relationship to our God.
The God who throughout the wonderful rich stories of the Hebrew Scriptures creates life and calls us into life, who becomes angry and disappointed, seems to go be done with us and then comes back. It is easy to say that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of Law – distant and demanding. But just as our families understanding of us evolves across time spent together – God’s story, too, is complex and deep and rich.
In Isaiah 49 – when the people of Israel are feeling the most abandoned and are sure their prayers have no impact, no value in God’s eyes, God says to them – I am like a nursing mother whose very body will not let her forget that you and I are one. Like a mother I would not abandon my infant. I may go away for a while God seems to say, but never for long, and never far. Over and over our sacred texts– the very texts that Paul lifts up in his letter to Timothy – as full of truth – reveal to us a God who is in relationship with us.“When Israel was a child I loved him. The more I called them, the more they went from me. Yet I was to them like those who life infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
It is the fragile capacity to be committed to each other that is so incredibly unique and life giving. I will turn to you in prayer even when I hurt, even when I don’t understand, even when I am sure you have your back to me. And you, you will put down what you are doing, you will listen to me and walk with me and you will teach me a new way.
Isn’t this the practice that Jesus is calling us to? To a place where we can grow strong and sure – through the give and take of relationship to a God who speaks into our most hidden corners. Our response is the language of our hearts.
The other day a young person and I spent some time together. He was profoundly depressed, overwhelmed by a short life filled with pain. From the little he would say it was apparent that he had been deeply hurt by his parents in ways that left him alone in the world and feeling worthless. He told me had nothing to say to me. From the little he did say I could guess that he was done, there was nothing ahead, nothing but pain behind. There was no one anywhere who would bring him home. He wouldn’t even tell me his name.
So I sat next to him …..in silence. There was nothing I could do or say. My son had taught me that words at a time like this are not helpful. After a long, long time siting on the steps while he quietly sobbed, he asked me what I thought I was doing. I told him – I am being here with you and I am praying. He told me not to bother. God was only interested in his punishment.
So I shared with him that my experience of love has been different. My experience tells me that there is a chance. There is a chance because you are here and I am here and God is here. In that moment God had presented us with each other. In the air between us was prayer, full of compassion, grief, anger and hope. We can only fail each other if we walk away.
Our Scriptures are full of voices lifting up to God the pain and insanity of their times. And our Scriptures are full of stories of God’s responses – subtle, quiet, loving or angry. But whatever the response, when all else has left, God will be present – perhaps in the guise of someone to sit beside us and silently pray for us. You are mine God seems to say, today, tomorrow and the next day and somehow we will get through.
When the child asked, “Was God lonely?” “Was God afraid?” perhaps our answer should be “I don’t know. Maybe we should ask God.” And we could bow our heads together and say something like, “Hi God, it is me.”
Earlier this month, Gay reminded us that Faith is a verb, physical, muscular act of living and loving God. Relationship can be a verb as well – built over time, through hundreds of thousands of shared moments – some good, some incredibly difficult. Faith lived out in relationship comes through a life lived together, a conversation that begins and stops and begins again, a relationship which will always take you home.
In the words of the beautiful Schema: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one, Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.”