Sunday, January 14, 2018

Year B Epiphany 2 2018 On Pixar and the Voice of God

Year B Epiphany 2, 14 January 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“On Pixar and the Voice of God” 
Based on John 1:43-51 and I Samuel 3:1-20 

“Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *  you know my sitting down and my rising up;  
you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places *  and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *  but you, O Lord, know it altogether. You press upon me behind and before *  and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *  it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 

For you yourself created my inmost parts; *  you knit me together in my mother's womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *  your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” 

Psalm 139 puts it so well. God knows us better than we know ourselves. And one of the great goals of life is to discern our place in this great and grand world, and how we might respond to the call of God. And as we grow, we find that God is not calling us to Other, another place or another identity, but is in fact calling us to Ourselves, our truest selves, that imago Dei, that Divine Image in each and every one of us. 

One of my great joys is getting to lead the Discernment Retreats for the Diocese as people process their calling to the priesthood or diaconate. It is an honor to be in a room of people asking the same question at the same time, and to help them confront whether this Calling Voice is theirs, or their mother’s or grandmother’s, or might it truly be from God. 

I led the most recent one just before Advent with my partner, Liz Ward a spiritual director from Northern Virginia. Through about 48 hours we ask hard questions, give room to listen and share, and do our best to get out of the way. At the lunch at our closing, I had two people come up to me, separately mind you, jubilant, actually bouncing up and down as they spoke. They thanked Liz and me for the weekend, and then shared that they had a clear answer from God. “NO!” They were both ecstatic, not that they did not feel called, but that they had clearly heard, “NO! I am not calling you into the ordained ministry.” They were joyful because they sure. So thanks be to God!  

When I begin this certain retreat, I often share the three answers to prayer. And I believe there are only three.  
  • “Yes!”  
  • “No.”  
  • And, “Not now.” 
They were happy because of clarity. They were happy because in God’s No, God showed them the way for them. Thanks be to God! There are a lot of unhappy, unfulfilled ministers who followed the call of mama instead of God the Father. 

“Yes,” “No,” and “Not now.” Remember, I said those are answers, but the problem is that often we ask something of God without giving God the time to speak. Like with my daughters when there are excited or troubled and barraging me with questions, I cannot get a word in edgewise. How often do we do that with God? 

God speaks, all the time. God may be using a megaphone trying to wake up a world that has put its head in the sand. Or more often, God may be waiting for us to get still and quiet, so that we know for sure it is from God. That is what happened at the Discernment Retreat, and it is what happened with Samuel and God’s Calling of him. Like with Elijah in the cave, Samuel heard that still small voice in the deep of the night, that rumble in the soul that won’t let us go. The subwoofer of the Divine, it rattles and hums till we get in sync with its rhythms and nuances.  

We tell this story still because we know it so well. God finds a way to get our attention. We may try to run like Jonah, and God finds a way, or a whale rather. We may run to it like Philip when Jesus said, “Come, follow me,” this morning. 

Or more likely we are like Nathanael, jaded by the world and busied by the task at hand. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Fill in that last bit and it could come out of any of our mouths. “Can anything good come out of the Democrats? Or, the Republicans? Or, out of Richmond? Or, out of West Virginia? Or whatever country we dislike. [I am avoiding any reference to recent derogatory statements to other countries because it was too easy to do.] 

Our petty prejudices and closing of the mind keeps us from hearing (from God) as well as loving our neighbor as much as ourselves. We never know how or when God will speak, how God will break through the get our attention. 

I once met a woman who was telling me about a troubling situation. She honestly sought God’s will, and was praying about it while she was washing the dishes. It was her thinking space every day. While she was praying, the sun was setting, and in the sky were two jet contrails. As she was watching, the two intersected, and formed the shape of the cross. She told me how that was the answer to her prayer. She knew then what she had to do, the thing she was afraid of doing. My first thought was that she was joking. She wasn’t. She was dead serious. I will admit there was judgment that day on my part. I kept a pastoral poker face, but inside I was thinking, “Wow, really? That’s how you hear God?” Jet contrails? 

That was many years ago. Since then I have thought back to that story. Maybe God was speaking to her through the jet contrails. Now do not start judging me. Let me finish. Maybe God was speaking to her through jet contrails because that is what she would have heard. God does not speak to me in jet contrails because I do not hear in jet contrails. God speaks to me in other ways, ways that I will hear, and I will get to that in a second. Moses had his burning bush [Exodus 3 & 4]. Abraham had his smoking fire pot and torch. [Genesis 15, one of the least told and one of my favorite stories in the Bible] How does God get your attention? 

God broke through with me the other day. And when God breaks out the 2” by 4” (2x4) to get our attention, we best pay attention.  

Like I shared a few weeks ago, one of my favorite things in the world to do is snuggle on the couch with my family, PJs on, blanket across our laps, and watching a fun movie. Over the last snow days, we put in a movie we had gotten at Christmas and had not watched yet. Cars 3 by Pixar/Disney. Now, I really liked it, and it closed off the trilogy in a great way. SOOOO much better than Cars 2. But that is not where the 2x4 broke in. It was almost bedtime, but the Short Feature Pixar often includes just before the movie we had not watched yet. It was called LOU, and no offense Mr. Flanagan, I had no expectations from a movie called LOU. But in those six minutes I saw the Gospel story come to life. It was joyful, redemptive, and transformative. A modern miracle happens in the life of a boy who once was lost, but by the end is found. It showed Grace in its highest and best form. It showed the Gospel. 

Pixar does this again and again, because they know how to tell stories, and the story of Western literature is the searching for, or the embracing of, or the rejection of Grace. We are fixated by this, and this old, old story snuck into the pixels of Pixar, and God spoke to me. God knows what I need to hear and when I need to hear it. There have been times in my life when my dreams redirected my path, a compliment from a stranger made me rethink how I saw things, or a beloved mentor entrusted me with something precious and I heard a call to deeper service. 

Now God may not speak to you in burning bushes or digital images, but God is speaking in a way that you will hear. Let all of us who have ears, listen. 

We have to be ready when we hear God’s call. We have to pack light in this sojourn on earth. We have to love first, and be willing to be hurt. We have to take up our cross, and when called upon to have it used. Near impossible, unless God is in the equation. Like Nathanael was surprised by anything good out of Nazareth, I was blindsided by a cartoon that without words showed me the Pearl of Great Price, and how to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” [Philippians 2:12] 

How does God speak to you? When was it you last heard the voice of God?Maybe it was a verse that jumped off the page. Maybe it was in an earnest and honest prayer and you got an answer to a question you had been asking for years. God knows, and my prayer for you is that you will, too! 

God is still speaking. [Thanks UCC friends.] And it is our job to hear, and respond to those words, “Come, follow me.” If we abide in God and God in us, then we are always at Home with God. You see, God will never call us to place where God has not gone before us and prepared the way. Because of that, no matter where God is calling us, no matter how dark the path, the destination is Home because God is already there. 

Be still and know. Amen 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! Thanks for wanting to comment. Please add it here, and after a moderator reviews it, it will be posted if appropriate. Look forward to hearing your opinion.
Blessings, Rock