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Here I am – Br. Keith Nelson

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Br. Keith NelsonGenesis 22:1-14
Matthew 9:1-8

“Here I am.” Hineini in Hebrew. A phrase used three times by Abraham in this relatively short passage. A phrase that acts in the Torah as a narrative pivot, a turning point, as the one who utters it responds to God – or another person − in readiness, vulnerability, and expectation. “Here I am” – as if to say:  I am present with my whole heart to the need or command before me. I do not know what it will demand of me, nor do I know how it may change me. I am present to this encounter. I am present to this challenge. I am present to this possibility. 

Abraham responds, “Here I am” to the God who calls him by name. He replies, “Here I am” to his son Isaac, who asks innocently “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And he utters, “Here I am” to the Angel of the Lord, who intervenes at the final moment, revealing God’s true intention.

This is a difficult passage. It is an ancient text with an interior logic and imagery that seem primal, even primordial, to contemporary ears. Here, violence and protection, knowledge and innocence, covenant and seeming betrayal and blind faith meet and mingle with pungent, disturbing force. It is a story dense with layers of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interpretation. Some of these interpretations dance in graceful complementarity, signs of hope in the Abrahamic family. Others defy and contradict each other. All are beyond the scope of my capacity to elucidate, and beyond the scope of our time here.

I can say, of course, only what I hear. In this triple hineini of Abraham, I hear words spoken in profound obedience, and within that obedience I hear an inner authority.  This inner authority – the sure sign of genuine spiritual freedom – is now in Abraham a pure reflection of God’s divine authority. These are words of whole-hearted consent, whether proclaimed or whispered or choked through tears. Words of consent to an intimacy initiated by God, on the day God said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham has counted the cost and held nothing back. Abraham has become a co-creator in a covenant rippling through time and space.

Perhaps this species of inner authority can blossom in our lives only through this deepest obedience to God. The Jesus I love and follow as Lord shows me what that authority looks like, in an obedience emerging from a total and selfless love. All his lovers and friends, the saints, show it to me. My brothers show it to me, with words and without them. This inner authority awakens for us Christians at the cool scent of Baptismal water and it buds when it knows the warm soil of community, necessary for its conversion. In full leaf, it breathes healing and hope to all around it. Of it, the words of Matthew’s gospel ring true: “When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.” Words spoken of Jesus, and words spoken of all his Friends.

God calls us each by name: in impossible joy and unthinkable suffering; in the need of another, communicated clearly or barely recognized; in the revelation of tasks that seem beyond our capacity; in the love of those who share our table.  The simplest task, and the work of a lifetime, is the reply – in free and loving obedience – Here I am. Here I am. Here I am.

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