Craig Keen shares with us from the lectionary texts (1 Samuel 3:1–10; Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; and John 1:43–51), and leads us into the call to become part of the mutilated body of Christ.
Here is the manuscript:
The four passages that the lectionary tells folks like me to speak on today are these: 1 Samuel 3:1–10; Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; and John 1:43–51. I’m happy these four have been chosen and I’d like to draw attention to a little something in each of them and work on connecting them here tonight hoping and praying that as I do so, all of us will hear the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
From 1 Samuel 3, the phrase, “Here I am!”
From Psalm 139, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.”
From 1 Corinthians 6, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”
And from John 1, Jesus’s words, “‘Follow me.’”
The first phrase, “Here I am!” (contrary to appearances) is an especially powerful phrase. It is used pretty rarely in scripture and way more often than not at crucial moments in some of its most important stories. When God calls upon Abraham to travel to the mountain in Moriah and sacrifice his son Isaac there, Abraham’s response is, “Here I am!” When God calls to Abraham, this time on that mountain, to tell him to slaughter a ram instead of Isaac, he, again, responds with, “Here I am!” When God appears to Moses in a burning bush in the wilderness to tell him to travel to Egypt as God’s agent to liberate the Hebrew children from Pharaoh’s enslaving grip, Moses says, “Here I am!” When Isaiah enters the temple, beholds the hem of God’s robe filling its space, is overwhelmed by God’s holiness and his own uncleanness, is cleansed by a burning coal from the fire in the hands of an angel, and is confronted by God’s declaration, “Whom shall I send and who will go for me?” Isaiah responds with, “Here I am! Send me!” When (in today’s lectionary passage) Samuel was a boy under the tutelage of the prophet Eli and God came confusingly to him at night, while Samuel slept in God’s temple, “where the Ark [of the Covenant] of God was,” to call the little boy to a life of utter devotion to this God of Israel, this God who would not tolerate unfaithfulness, to call the boy to a life of faithful prophecy before the movers and shakers of kingdoms and armies, little Samuel called out in his confusion, “Here I am!” And when Mary was confronted by God through the angel Gabriel and was told that God had chosen her, a peasant child and virgin, to give birth to the Son of God, she was no less surprised than Abraham, Moses, Samuel, or Isaiah, and she no less faithfully responded, “Here I am!”
This “Here I am!” is a very loaded phrase. It is a way of stepping forward, of giving yourself, of surrender and commitment, a kind of intent leaning out into what you are being called to perform.
The second phrase is, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” It appears at the very beginning of Psalm 139, a poem that praises God for the uncanny way that God knows everything about you and me, all that you are and I am, all that you and I have been, and all that you and I will be. Nothing is hidden from God, say, in the lining of your coat or in the deep darkness of my repressed memories—for God is our creator, knowing more of you and me than either of us does of ourselves. God moves and works nearer to you and me than you are to yourself and I am to myself. For, as Psalm 139 sings, “[O God] even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” That is, when God turns to you and says, “Come unto me!” God does so knowing better than you do yourself what is being asked of you. Indeed, what is being asked of you and me is everything, everything! And as the one whom God knows in the most intimate detail, you are being asked to step forth, all of you, with a bold, “Here I am!”
The third and fourth phrases are from John 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, respectively: Jesus’s words, “Follow me!” And Paul’s words, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” These two phrases are, I think, to be thought together and they go together in part, I think, because of what Jesus is calling for, when at the very beginning of his ministry he beckons Nathanael and others to journey with him—Nathanael, who like Donald Trump, believed that nothing good could come out of Nazareth, a toilet of a town if there ever was one. And it is in fact true that Jesus was from such a place. He was raised there, the child of peasants, the brother and neighbor of desperately poor people, people without education, marketable skills, or the power to make broad economic contributions to the Empire. But when Nathanael realized that Jesus, this peasant and child of peasants, is the hope of the world, he changed his tune.
The language in John 1 is not as strong as the language of Mark 8, but in the context of the gospel as a whole, the same point is being made. Here is how Mark puts it: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” When Jesus calls us, he calls us to follow him in such a way that our work is inseparable from his work, that our lives are inseparable from his life, that our bodies are inseparable from his body. To follow Jesus is to become one body with him, as if we died with him and were raised from the dead with him, but now so mingled with him that there is no line of separation between him and us. That is what baptism means, what it performs, what it is about. When we are baptized we enter into his death and open to his resurrection glory. The path we are to follow is the same path that took him to the cross. We, too, are to love as he loved, to give as he gave, to stand and fall where he stood and fell—and do so with and for those with and for whom he stood and fell.
That is why Paul asked the question he asked, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” The word “members” here means “body parts.” Paul uses this image several times in his writings in order to speak of the church. And he seems really to mean it. Hanging on the cross on Good Friday and buried in the tomb on Holy Saturday and bathed in glory on Easter Sunday is the body of Christ, a mutilated body, no longer intact, having no border wall around it to keep anyone or anything out. We are with gratitude to enter that body and join it in its work so intimately that we and he, our bodies and the crucified body of Jesus, make one pulsing, open and inviting organism, one flesh.
Here I am, here you are, poised and ready to do as God bids you and me to do, searched and known by God, called out to follow God’s Son Jesus Christ, to be woven into his body in such a way that there is then no difference between him and us. If God calls me or you, you or me, to follow Jesus, it doesn’t matter where I come from, whether Nazareth, Haiti, El Salvador, or one of the many African nations; whether North America, South America, Europe, Asia, or Australia; whether Barrio Logan, Kensington, National City, Hillcrest, Downtown, Alpine, La Jolla, or Golden Hill; whether from a nice house warm in the winter and cool in the summer or under blankets or in a makeshift tent on the hard sidewalks of this town. It doesn’t matter if my steps are made heavy by the shame and guilt of a life that the fat cats of this world would consider wasted or if they are made light by the love and support of people who are always there for me. It doesn’t matter, because what God sees in me or in you are not demographic data or regional trends or marketable skills or net worth or educational level or skin color or psychological or physiological well being. The question is never, “Who will make our favorite nation or club or ball team great again?” The question rather is, “Who is there to be loved?” The questions is, “What is the future which God sees when God looks at you and me, at him or her or them?” And the good news is that what God sees are the organs and limbs, the muscles, blood, skin, and bones, the feet and the eyes, of his beloved Son Jesus of Nazareth. What God sees are the neighbors and brothers and sisters of his Son Jesus of Nazareth. What God sees are the people Jesus lived and died with—and those people are you and me, him and her and them. What God sees is the way your face and my face will shine, when the glory that saturated the mutilated body of Jesus and raised him from the dead, when the glory of the resurrected Jesus, saturates you and me and him and her and them on the coming Day of the Lord. Even now when God looks at you and me, God sees the glory of that Day shining from your face and mine.
What does that mean for you and me? It means that God loves us. It means that the one who creates universes by an effortless “Let there be!”—this God—loves you and me. It means that in spite of the fact that nothing about you or me is hidden from this God, that in spite of the fact that this God knows my every shameful secret and your every shameful secret, this God, the God who raised the mutilated body of Jesus from the dead, this God says, “Yes!” to you and me. It means that we are set free to live gratefully, to live as a “Thank you!” to this God. It means that we are set free to hope, to step out into tonight and tomorrow confident that no matter what happens, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be more than okay, it’s going to be glorious! Will life get easier? Maybe, but maybe not. Life never got easy for Jesus. Will life get more prosperous? Maybe, but maybe not. Life never got prosperous for Jesus. Will my life or your life become “successful” by Donald Trump’s standards? Maybe, maybe not. But never forget this: the life of Jesus never became what Donald Trump would even in his most generous moment ever call “successful.”
In just a minute we’re going to line up, walk forward, and be offered a little cube of bread and a little plastic cup of very, very sweet wine. Then when instructed we will together eat that little cube of bread and drink that little cup of wine. This corporate act, this act of these people, of us, is called “eucharist.” It’s called other things, too—“communion,” “the Lord’s Supper,” “mass.” But the word “eucharist” strikes me as especially apt. It means, “gratitude.” It is a word that is also in the same family as the Greek words for grace (“charis”) and joy (“chara”). Walking forward, receiving this little cube of bread and this little cup of grape juice, and eating and drinking them, is an act of gratitude. And yet it’s funny that we do this, because what we are doing by eating and drinking is performing the trust that it is in the broken, mutilated body of Jesus and his shed blood that we are nourished. It’s not the protein and other nutrients—recognized by the Food and Drug Administration—it’s not that stuff that makes his body and blood nourishing for us. Against all expectations, it’s the utter and complete failure of his body, the mutilation of his body, the humiliation of his body, the condemnation and execution of his body, that nourish us in this eating and drinking. And it is all that, because in the glorious resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday God says, “Here, above all, I am glorified!” God says, “I am pleased above all to dwell in all my fullness in this defiled body!” God says, “As I raise this defiled body from its humiliated death, I say, ‘Yes!’ to every defiled and humiliated body.” To eat the broken body and shed blood of Jesus is to say, “Thank you!” For this holy deed, this act of mercy, this grace. It is saying, “Thank you!” to the God who embraces you and me, while embracing Jesus.
But what rising to eat this bread and drink this wine also declares is that we rise to put our bodies from this time forward where Jesus put his body, where his body day in and day out lived and then died. In being nourished by Jesus’s solidarity with the poor and outcast persons of this world, we join his embrace of these very poor and outcast people, and we do so whether or not we are told that we are ourselves already poor and outcast people. Being grateful to the grace of God in Jesus, crucified and raised, is living as people who practice for crucifixion with the crucified people of this world, trusting that the “Yes!” of God is not obstructed even by the otherwise deafening “No!” of the Donald Trumps of this world.
The eucharist is a celebration. It is not a time to be sad or timid. It is a very serious celebration, but it is a celebration nonetheless. We invite everyone here in this room to advance to the plates and the generous hands that offer you a nourishment this world cannot give you or rip out of your hands. No one here is unfit to eat and drink. There are no membership requirements, there is no experience that you have to have had, there is no condition at all that must be met. Everyone is welcome. All that is asked of you is what Jesus asks in Mark 8 of the crowd with his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”