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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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7 Comments

  1. Ruth West on November 30, 2018 at 02:18

    Thank you for this good sermon. I think of two things in this regard: the passage in Isaiah 6:8 “Whom shall I send?” I said, “Here am I. Send me.” And a song which is quite modern but so beautiful: “Here I am, Lord” written by Daniel L. Schutte. The refrain says “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, If You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.” I am sure you monks have followed this message. Thank you for listening to His call and inspiring us to listen, too.

  2. Edward Franks on November 29, 2018 at 10:46

    Can you give examples of “unthinkable suffering?” Not sure what it means attached to calls us by name. “impossible joy.” What could this be if not possible? ‘unimaginable?’

  3. CR on November 29, 2018 at 08:29

    So beautiful. Thank you.

    PS Abraham’s “Here I am” is echoed in Mary’s “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.”

  4. SusanMarie on November 29, 2018 at 06:34

    Beautifully written!
    I am struck by these words at the beginning of your sermon: “‘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.”
    And I am inspired by the words of your last sentence: “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.”
    Thank you!

    • Brenda Griffing on November 29, 2018 at 08:27

      Agree with Br. Keith’s observation that replying “Here I am” is the work of a lifetime and with SusanMarie that it’s inspirational to be reminded that the performing simplest task can be a step in this work.

      Several years ago, coincidentally, and without any thought of Abraham, Samuel, or others who’ve followed through heroically on that response, I bagen answering the phone with “Here I am.” This phrase doesn’t seem appropriate in every case, but when a friend or acquaintance calls, it’s a way of conveying “Glad to hear from you, . . . I’ll listen . . . and help if I can.” The response seems to put people at ease, especially people who’ve called to ask a favor, apologize for something, or touch base after a long hiatus in our conversations. It’s only a baby step for someone pushing 80, But now I, too, am inspired to continue in that direction.

    • Rhode on November 29, 2018 at 08:53

      I am as moved by your reply as I am by the message…Thank you.

      • SusanMarie on November 29, 2018 at 09:22

        As I move into — am called into — a new chapter of my life (which part of life is not “new” in some way??), I needed to hear these words from Brother Keith. I am responding to some needs and some commands in my life to which I need to be fully present with my whole heart. I cannot possibly know what it will bring or what it will bring forth in me (change), but it is a challenge and they are possibilities. I absolutely must be able to respond in freedom and obedience: “Here I am.” And I also know that it is the work of a lifetime. I heard someone say not too long ago, “A comfort zone is a nice place to be, but nothing grows there.” I think about that almost every day as I try to move out of my comfort zone and allow God to stretch me and grace me with wisdom, love, and growth.
        I am moved and inspired by all of the brothers’ sermons. I am moved and inspired also by all the comments of others working hard on the journey of life with God, even as we struggle at times. It helps me to remember that I am not alone. We are all blessed.

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