Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Here am I Lord – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

At the Sports Centre where I used to belong, the first week of January was always the peak time for new membership.  After several weeks of overeating and drinking, January 1st – with its spur to new year’s resolutions – saw dozens of people lining up to work off this guilt by pounding the running machines.

Well, this is the first week of Lent, and in several ways many of us feel a renewed impetus to do something about our flabby spirituality.  And there are plenty of opportunities to do just this.  Some time ago the Boston Globe Magazine had an article about an unprecedented burgeoning of spirituality in this country – a real boom! Boeing and Xerox are among the growing number of Fortune 500 companies that have hired consultants to cultivate the spiritual energies of their work force.

The choice of religious experience now facing the consumer is phenomenal.  Every kind of religious/spiritual experience is represented on the internet, with over 80,000 sites for spirituality offered by Google. Why this boom?  Analyzers believe that it is a genuine increase in spiritual yearning among Americans; a reaction to blind ambition, workaholism and consumerism.  But it is also because its marketers of products and services have capitalized on that yearning.

The renowned church historian Martin Marty writes, “There is a spiritual hunger today, but that spirituality is being detached from its traditional moorings in religious communities.  It is more a salad bar religion: mix and match, pick and choose.”  He says that while mere materialism is not satisfying people are not about to give it up. They want religion but most people do not want the discipline, expectations, and commitments that go with it.  They want what Marty calls “secular spirituality” – religion with all the parts you don’t like taken out!

Theologian Marcus Borg writes that this approach can produce a spirituality mainly associated with the needs and satisfaction of the individual.  The importance of the self is the dominant force in the spirituality boom.  He writes that a spiritual director can be the religious equivalent of your personal trainer at the gym. Always a certain level of spiritual awareness becomes a kind of consumer item. “I’ve got what I want materially – a BMW or whatever – and spirituality too!”

“Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Incline your ear and come to me: listen so that you may live.”
Powerful words of the prophet Isaiah from chapter 55.  He will have none of this designer, “pick and choose” religious life.  Isaiah’s life was shattered and transformed when in an extraordinary vision he saw the LORD God Almighty sitting on a throne with Seraph in attendance, crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole world is full of his glory.” And Isaiah in fear and trembling in the presence of the Holy One can only fall down and say, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

The LORD God Almighty , Yahweh, Creator of the heavens and earth will not be coaxed down like some dumb idiot, to be part of a designer religion to make us feel better, and fulfilled.  God will not be the object of our controlling ego, nor the substance of a spiritual wash out to get us through another day.

The pages of the Bible tell us quite the opposite.  That it is God who came looking for us. Our longings, our yearnings, our emptiness, our jaded palettes and boredom with more and more are a response to the call of God.  “You called,” wrote St. Augustine, “You cried, you shattered my deafness. You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness.  You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you.  I tasted and now I hunger and thirst.  You touched me and now I burn for longing for your peace.”

God so loves us – and the world – that he comes looking for us, like the shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go find the one who has gone astray.  And this is grace: God’s gift of himself to us: and it has nothing to do with our efforts, nothing to do with pumping iron or spiritual gymnastics. As John tells us, “We love because he first loved us.”  God longs to restore us to relationship with him, but that is only the beginning.

When God broke into Isaiah’s life and called him into a relationship with him, he had a purpose!  The LORD God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me.”  God first calls us to know and love him but then he calls us to mission.  He chooses us and commissions us.  St. John, in chapter 15 of his gospel, writes, “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  We are called, we are chosen – to bear fruit!

In our reading today for Isaiah 55 we hear this famous image: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.  It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God’s purpose is to produce fruit.  God calls us, chooses us, restarts his relationship with us, not just to make us feel good or be fulfilled, but in order to bear fruit, fruit that will last.  “Just as the rain is sent to go deep into the earth, to nourish it and to bring forth fruit, so God’s word is sent to us to penetrate our mind and hearts and souls, and produce fruit.  And we read, “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

And so it seems to me that Lent is a very appropriate time for each of us to ask ourselves, “What fruit am I bearing in my life?  How is God working out his purposes in my life? How do I cooperate with God in this?  And how am I blocking or thwarting God’s purposes?

When we stop to consider our spiritual lives, and take stock, as we traditionally do in Lent, it is better, I think, not to focus on ourselves but on God.  Who is God for you?  What image do you have when you think of God?

If we focus too much on ourselves and our needs, we can sometimes domesticate God – and even create a god in our own image, someone to comfort and console us.  Perhaps Lent is a time to let God be God.  Perhaps a chance for a little iconoclasm – to smash my too small image of God.  So, dare to ask in your prayers that God be God – but only if you mean it, only if you are prepared for the consequences!  When Isaiah encountered the living God, he fell down on his face.  “I am lost, a man of unclean lips!”

Ask God to be God.  Ask God to work out his purpose in your life – but be prepared for the consequences!  They could turn your life upside down.  For if you want to know what God is truly like, turn to the image of the crucified Christ on the wall behind the altar.  Who would ever choose a God who reveals his power in weakness?  Who would ever choose a God whose glory is most perfectly revealed in a broken, bleeding man, dying on a cross.  But “you did not choose me; I chose you.”

The God whose name is LOVE chooses you and me. And calls us now, on this day in Lent, to so live our lives that they may bear fruit – fruit that will last.

Keep the cross before your eyes when you come to receive the bread and wine.  Take the risk of letting God be God in your life – and offer your life anew to be used in God’s service.  “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

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12 Comments

  1. Lauren on September 14, 2016 at 11:14

    I was feeling like my life was falling apart. With the help of faith filled friends and your inspiring words..I realize my life was falling into place. I wasn’t prepared for the consequences but letting God be God I now accept what comes my way with gratitude and a loving light that shines out and bears fruit with God’s intended purpose.

  2. Elizabeth Hardy on September 13, 2016 at 09:31

    Such a timely message. Everyone says they don’t go to church or pray but they are “spiritual”. The action missing in all of that – and one that gave me a reminder today is “discipline”. I need to realize that discipleship makes demands – that require discipline. Need a little work there! Thanx Br. Geoffrey.

  3. Linda on September 13, 2016 at 08:18

    Since the death of my husband I have no idea what my purpose is. And there has been no answer . Willing to let go of everything I have only comes back as instructions to stay put. What meaning is there in that?

    • Joe Stroud on September 14, 2016 at 10:41

      Linda, you do not say how long ago your husband died, so, obviously, I cannot know how long you have grieved, but your post touched me. I wish I had some magic words or formula to answer your question, but all I can offer is that I hope your letting go can be rewarded with patience to see what is at the end of the “staying put,” and that you find the meaning there. My guess is that you will. Peace. Joe

  4. barbara frazer lowe on June 17, 2013 at 19:54

    Br. Tristram – As always, you are deeply touching and teaching, and comforting,as we struggle , are we ‘bearing fruit’, is it God’s purpose, a long lifetime of one’s own ego, or even a moment of
    God;s grace. thank you.
    g

  5. DLa Rue on June 6, 2013 at 08:37

    I’m smiling at the choice of a sermon–now, as we are, in this season of Pentecost–that suggested as far back as Lent that we let God be God, and be prepared for the whirlwind God that Annie Dillon talked about in “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” (http://throughaglass.net/archives/2004/10/17/an-annie-dillard-sunday/).

    In suggesting that churches should issue crash helmets, because we have no idea of the power we so blithely play with, she similarly revoked the urge to domesticate God, to reverse the self-imagined size and capacity for control of the universe that our egos keep trying to evoke.

    The image of the Little Prince, having to find the exactly right place to be taken back to his asteroid, comes to mind..it’s hard to find, that place on this lovely earth from which we re-enter the heavens…

  6. Anders on June 6, 2013 at 07:22

    As a church and as individuals we do focus too much on ourselves and our needs and domesticate God. We do create a god in our own image to comfort and console us within the bucolic white picket fences and megamall titillation of our our churches. We are guilty of building our comfort brand and resources in spiritual materialism.

    How to meet people and God where they and God are at? How to encounter God out in the real world, the God off our radar screens? We must show up to be vulnerable outside of our comfort zones, at times in direct opposition to the dogma of consumerism which drives our world. This feels dangerous and life threatening. It is also where we are more likely to encounter God.

  7. Ruth West on February 24, 2013 at 20:40

    Our lesson in today’s Bible Study @ St. James Anglican in OK Cty was
    on this very theme. Not such a coincidence, but perhaps a special message.
    What an example was Isaiah in humility, complete surrender and commitment! Thanks for this good Lenten homily. May I allow God to open my ears and my mouth to hear and obey.

  8. Laura Krustchinsky on February 21, 2013 at 16:29

    God chose me; I did not chose God first. I just previewed Marcus Borg’s “Embracing An Adult Faith.” I also feel like a God “Theme” is hitting me.
    I’m hearing and reading about a mature faith that is so different from my faith from my past. It has such a familiar ring to it. It reminds me of my marriage of 41 years in that the love is so different, but in a very inviting way. Thanks for your words.

  9. jane goldring on March 3, 2012 at 13:30

    i think we are here for a purpose. with Gods help i will try and help john all i can and try and have more patience with him. also i wonder if young people do not think they will be old some day, it doesn’t hurt to be friendly and courtesy to older people and help them out when we can, as we might be in the same boat some day. what your give of yourself you receive back two fold. jane

  10. Annika on March 2, 2012 at 07:42

    That’s funny. This morning the first words out of my mouth were “Here I am God”. And it has meant for a really pleasant morning of just being grateful for the gift of being. Though I do wonder where I am being sent? Perhaps I am just being sent to live gratefully?

  11. Maureen Doyle on February 3, 2012 at 22:52

    I’ve heard this message from a number of places today, but it is a true call. And I must heed it.

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