I want to continue to consider the question posed last week: What does God ask of us?
In recent days, our Prayer Book has led us in daily readings to the book of Genesis and the story of Abraham. He's one of my favorites, flawed in profound ways, yet compelling because scripture tells us that he heard God's call and left his comfort zone, not knowing where he was going. Have you ever had that experience?
Among the many stories about Abraham, last week we read the chilling account of God's request for Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. We read that story on Good Friday each year. I'm not sure what to make of it. Best spin I can put on it is that it was God's dramatic way of saying that child sacrifice was not to be practiced anymore. I'll let more learned folks figure out its meaning.
But last week, as I read that story in Genesis 22, with all its complications, I was struck with the repetition of the phrase: Here I am. The story begins as God calls to Abraham. Abraham says: Here I am. Later on, Isaac, Abraham's son, addresses his father, asking how this will all work out. Abraham responds: Here I am. At the pivotal moment, God intervenes to stop the sacrifice. Hearing God's voice, Abraham answers: Here I am.
It's not the only time in the Bible that the phrase comes up. Samuel gets repeated calls from God, not sure whose voice he's really hearing. In response, Samuel says: Speak Lord, your servant is listening, a variation on the phrase: Here I am. Isaiah, the prophet is called by God, and says: Here I am, a person of unclean lips. Mary receives perhaps the most significant call in all of scripture. As Gabriel announces the advent of the Christ child, Mary says: Here am I. The servant of the Lord.
So what's behind that persistent phrase? What does God ask of us? Perhaps all that God wants is for us to say I'm here.
Here I am. It says take me as I am. What you see is what you get. It's like the old Baptist hymn: Just as I am. Implicit in those three words? The profound theological claim that we don't have to prove ourselves or earn God's love or reach a certain level of religiosity or holiness for God to love us and put us to work. Said another way, God meets us where we are.
Here I am. It says I am living in the moment. Have I mentioned that my wife has me doing yoga? The idea of stepping on the mat has come to mean a lot to this person who can obsess about mistakes of the past (mine and others) and can battle anxiety about the future. Recent encounters with mortality make me aware that life is indeed short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. It's a call to live in the moment.
Here I am. It says I am open to what God is calling me to do. I may, like Abraham, not know what that entails or where it's headed. I may, like Mary, have no idea how any of this can work. I may, like Isaiah, feel ill equipped. But on some level, it's about saying yes to God, regardless of where we've been or what we've done or how adequate we feel.
There's a lot in those three words.
Which brings me to Moses. He'd been out in the desert for 40 years, watching sheep, a demotion from life as prince of Egypt. Minding his own business, Moses turned aside to check out a bush that seemed to be burning but was not consumed. Weird. Hold on. It gets weirder. God speaks out of that bush. On hearing the voice, Moses says: Here I am. God tells Moses about the job before him: Go face down Pharaoh. Moses then says: Who am I? Who am I to do this job? God's answer: I will be with you.
As you find a way to say: Here I am, to the Holy One, maybe today or this week, or some time in
days ahead, take comfort from the promise that wherever that response leads, you won't go it alone.