Dog Days of Summer #3 – David: Called for the common good

This blog post is featured in a chronological series “The Dog Days of Summer – Biblical Figures Feel the Heat.”  Blogs are intended to offer an outlet for reflection beyond Sunday morning.

Camille Cook Murray                              June 28th, 2015

1 Samuel 16:1-13                                      David: Called for the common good

Georgetown Presbyterian Church        Dog Days of Summer Series #3

 

American journalist Lionel Shriver was quoted in the Atlantic saying that there is a transformation taking place in Western culture where we have changed in our collective consensus as to our beliefs about what life is for. Shriver believes we have changed our understanding as to the purpose of life on this earth.  She says the shift has come from thinking less about preparation for the future and more about the present – thinking less about the other and more about the self.  “As we age,” she writes, “we are apt to look back on our pasts and question, not, did I serve family, country, and God, but did I ever get to Cuba, or run a marathon? Did I take up landscape painting? Was I fat? We will assess the success of our lives in accordance not with whether they were righteous, but whether they were interesting and fun.”

 

I found this a troubling and an un-Christian approach to life.  I think the first set of questions – did I serve family, country, and God – is the right set of questions for us to reflect upon as we ponder our lives.  These questions connect us to a higher calling, a purpose for our days rather than a shallow pursuit of that which is fun and interesting.

 

David’s call story is fairly well known.  God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to find a new king for the people.  He arrives at Jesse’s house and sizes up his son’s.  The first one, the eldest, Eliab, is a strapping lad.  Kingly.  But he is not the one.  One by one, six more sons are trotted out for Samuel to assess.  No. No. Nein. No. Not that one. Nuh-uh. Samuel asks, “Are all your sons here?”  And Jesse replies, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping sheep.”  Finally young David is retrieved from the fields and Samuel proclaims, “This is the one.”  So begins David’s service to family, country, and God.  Just like that a shepherd boy receives his calling.

 

A colleague of mine is a professor of ethics at Harvard and he says his students tell him they have been raised to believe they have four career options: they can be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, or a loser.  Now I have met bankers and lawyers and doctors who have truly found their callings.  I have met teachers, scientists, stay-at-home parents, politicians, marines, and engineers who have truly found their callings.  In the priesthood of all believers we are called to remarkably varied vocations, but as long as God is the caller, there is no calling higher than another.

 

So then, maybe we need to change the way we ask the age old question, what are you going to be when you grow up?  Maybe a better question would be: what gifts has God given you to serve in this world?  What needs do you see around you that compel you to act?  How do you think you are being called to spend your life?

 

Perhaps the tragedy of modern life is not in our failures but in failing to find our calling, in not living into our God given capacities.  It would have been a tragedy if David did not leave behind his shepherds crook in order to become a military figure, a public official, a poet and musician. Christian lives are about more than finding jobs and occupying seats.  Christian lives are about finding vocations in order to promote the common good.

 

So ask yourself: I always felt called to serve the poor in Cuba, did I ever make that trip?  I felt called to raise money for M.S. research, did I ever run a marathon to do so?  I always wanted to paint as an expression of my love for the beauty of God’s creation, did I ever take those lessons?  When we connect our passions and gifts to needs we see around us then we can fulfill our callings.  And in these ways, we will be able to positively answer the question as to whether or not we served family, country and God.  Service to family, country and God are not antiquated lifestyle choices for our forefathers and mothers.  These are common callings for all who strive to live in accordance with Christ’s example.

 

David showed us that it is never too early to find your calling.  Christ taught us that it is also never too late.

 

Amen.

Dog Days of Summer #2 – Nehemiah: It’s Who You Know

This blog post is featured in a chronological series “The Dog Days of Summer – Biblical Figures Feel the Heat.”  Blogs are intended to offer an outlet for reflection beyond Sunday morning.

June 21st, 2015

Nehemiah: It’s Who You Know

Delivered by Rev. Christopher Chatelaine-Samsen

(Nehemiah 2:1-8)

It’s often said that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s true. Whoever and wherever you are, relationships with others matter. And it’s what you do with connections and influence makes all the difference.

Nehemiah was well-connected. In the Persian Empire, Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king, a man with royal influence. Nehemiah was also a Jew, so when Nehemiah heard that the city of his people was in ruins, he was heartbroken, so he turned to God in prayer. And in his prayers, it came to him what he had to do.

He knew he had to use his position of influence and go to the king and ask him for help. But asking for help was risky, and could have been seen as an act of treason against the empire. Nonetheless, he prayed and then asked.

Nehemiah had a good life in a religiously tolerant empire, far away from Jerusalem. He had no reason to speak up for the inhabitants of Jerusalem – it offered him no benefit – but he did it anyway. What caused him to put everything on the line for people far away? Perhaps there’s something about hearing God’s call that makes a person reckon with their own privilege. Nehemiah realized that he was in a unique position to do something, and that his gifts were for the benefit not of himself, but for people who need those resources but had no access.

Although the word “privilege” is often used with a negative connotation, it doesn’t have to be. Nehemiah’s story shows us that it’s what you do with privilege that counts. He could have ignored the people in Jerusalem and served himself. Instead, he chose to face the heat and act. He believed that it was unjust that he should live in wealth in the capital city and others should fear for their lives in a city without protection when he could do something.

We find out from Nehemiah’s story that privilege comes with responsibility and consequences. Both our privilege and responsibility are magnified in light of the act of terrorism committed at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC on June 17th, 2015.

Members of Mother Emanuel are grieving the loss of their sisters, brothers, and their pastor to the violence of hatred, exhausted, and heartbroken. Too often, White churches have responded with silence to violence against Black Americans. We could choose to stay silent, but we have the responsibility to say “no more.” No more should Black women and men live in fear, and no more can White churches pretend like it’s not our problem. Nehemiah, with a trembling voice, opened his mouth to speak on behalf of those who lived in fear, and so must we. We can not be silent when there are still those who perpetrate crimes of racial hatred, for we are members of the One Church of Jesus Christ, and this very week a gaping wound has been opened on our own body.

Perhaps it’s risky to speak and advocate on behalf of another, but thank God that Jesus chose to advocate for us. Thank God that Jesus risked everything for us, even unto death, so we too can take step out and use what God has given us, that we may speak with boldness and be our sister’s and our brother’s keeper.

Amen.

Reflection:

-What types of privilege have you experienced in your own life?
-When is an instance when you’ve spoken up for somebody else? Do you have an opportunity to do so now?
-What sorts of consequences might you face for speaking up?

Charleston shooting

Georgetown Presbyterian Church stands in solidarity and grief with our brothers and sisters of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Lord, the sin we live in is deep. It goes all the way down. Help us to see it. Open our eyes. We pray for our brothers and sisters who live in fear. We pray for the families of the dead. We pray for us all. Lord, hear our prayers. Amen.

Dog Days of Summer #1 Moses

Today, we begin our sermon series titled, The Dog Days of Summer – Biblical Figures Feel the Heat.  Over eight Sundays, we will see men and women of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures facing challenges, where their faith and character are tested.  Hopefully, their responses will give us insight in what to do and not to do when we find ourselves in heated situations.  

Camille Cook Murray                                                 June 14th, 2015
Dog Days of Summer Sermon Series                      Exodus 32:1-14
Biblical Figures Feel the Heat #1                             Moses – How the Mighty Fall

We begin with Moses, who has recently led the people out of slavery through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.  Moses climbs Mount Sinai to talk with God and receive the Ten Commandments. For forty days and forty nights, Moses makes the mountain his home.   But at the base camp everything is going adrift.  The people thought Moses was taking too long on the mountain, so they told Aaron, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

When God saw what the people were doing God was furious.  God said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

The lesson comes in what happens next: after God declares his anger and threatens to destroy the people, Moses begins to talk to God in an open and candid way.  This is a very early example of intercessory prayer.  Moses is talking to God, pleading with God, reasoning with God not to rain down destruction on the Israelites but to show mercy to them.

Recently I completed my doctoral work on the subject of prayer as a leadership tool. I have been converted over the years to believe that prayer is one of the most important skills we can cultivate, personally but also professionally.  Prayer is like a muscle: it needs to be developed. What is clear in the golden calf story is that Moses had a well-developed muscle for prayer.   Moses had much practice talking to God and so prayer came to him as the obvious and immediate reaction to the crisis at hand.

For many of us, prayer comes more like a last ditch effort, a Hail Mary pass when nothing else we have tried has worked.  We do not even think to pray until hours, days, or weeks into our own crisis situations.  Maybe our muscles are just out of shape or underdeveloped.

The person in my own life who had the strongest practice of prayer was my Catholic grandmother.  She went to mass every day of her life until she was physically no longer able to do so.  When she said she was going to pray for you it was never a throw away line.  It meant her ninety-pound frame would be on her knees clutching her rosary beads with you on her heart.  Prayer was always her first resort when there was need.  But as a child, I just thought that was because she was too old to do anything else.  I thought prayer was for people who had too much time on their hands.  I thought prayer was for people who did not have the ability to accomplish much else.  I was wrong.

Martin Luther, when asked of his plans for the coming week, mentioned that he spent two hours a day in prayer, but the coming week was extra busy.  Therefore, he said, “Work, work from early till late.  In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

Prayer was not an extra thing on his to-do list but something, which made the long list of tasks achievable.  This is the kind of reversal we need – to see prayer as a first resort rather than the last.  Prayer opens us up to receive God’s graces for the day and wisdom for the situations at hand.  The gift of God’s grace makes us feel gratitude, and gratitude gives us a desire to give back.  It is hard not to feel compelled towards action when you are filled with gratitude.  The more open we are to God in prayer the more we become dependent on God we become, the more we are inspired to love and serve our God.  Our dependency breeds energy and fortitude for the tasks at hand.  Prayer is not what we do at the end of the day as our energy wanes and we drift off to sleep.  Prayer is how we begin the day in order to drive us forward in love and action to our God.

Moses knew how to commune with his Creator. King knew how to commune with his Creator.  My grandmother knew how to commune with her Creator.  Whether we are world leaders or someone’s grandma, all of us find ourselves, or those we love, in hot water from time to time.  And when we do, our first, our very first reaction should be that of communicating with our Creator.  A loved one being deployed -prayer.  Bad news on the television set – prayer.  An argument with a friend – prayer.  A difficult conversation at work – prayer.  A concern for a child – prayer.  A hope for the future – prayer.

Moses gave us an example for how to talk to God first and then respond to the situations at hand.  In times of joy, sorrow, anxiety, confusion, and need – God stands ready to hear our prayers.  If only we will remember that prayer is a Christian’s secret weapon.

 

Reflection:

-What are your usual “first resorts”? Who do you call? A friend? A parent?
-How would your day be different if it started in prayer? Could you challenge yourself to start every Monday in prayer for the Summer?
-Read/sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and reflect on prayer as a joyful gift rather than an extra obligation.