As long as I know how someone is coming, I can be ready for them. I can recognize them. I can receive them.
If God were coming to All Souls for a special visit, it would be the same.
I would probably inquire which entrance would be most convenient. I would want to be ready. I would want to be prepared, and I would especially want to recognize – to see, hear, and apprehend God—upon God’s arrival. But, as Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess Violet puts it, quoting the old hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” (Season Two, Episode 1, quoting William Cowper’s hymn.)
God moves in a mysterious way. God approaches in a mysterious way. God appears in mysterious ways, and today’s scriptures show us several.
In our first reading, the boy Samuel is sleeping in the hallway of the temple. He’s an apprentice there, so he must have been familiar with the sounds of the place at night. And so when he hears a voice, he assumes it’s the voice of Eli, the old priest whose service he is in. Samuel is probably 11 or 12 years old and, as an apprentice at the temple knows about God, even if scripture says “he did not yet know the Lord.” He must have known all the great stories of the faith, something of the prophets and priests and characters. But he did not yet know God well enough to recognize God’s voice when he heard it. Or, even at a young age, Samuel might not have seen or heard God coming. Samuel might have expected God to come from a different direction, with a different voice, in some different guise. He would have had certain impressions and ideas about who God might be, and how God might work—he doesn’t seem to have been ready for God to rouse people out of bed in the middle of the night. Samuel’s expectations, at first, don’t allow him to hear God. But old Eli helps Samuel to realize God in the vision. He helps Samuel realize God in the nighttime, in a vision, in prayer, and in the silence.
And so, Paul is probably the perfect person to preach to the church in Corinth—a worldly, sophisticated congregation. The Corinthians liked to enjoy life, and didn’t always know where to draw the line, and so they were constantly getting distracted by things that would take the place of God for them. But Paul encourages them to look no further than their own two feet. Start with your own body, Paul says. Give thanks for the body—even as it ages, get creaky and worn, stops working correctly and often misbehaves. He says, Stop looking elsewhere for joy or gratification or affirmation—give thanks for the miracle that is each one of us. God has raised and blessed and hallowed the Body. Therefore respect it, give thanks for it, take care of it. Look at your hand in front of your eyes and realize God even in the body.
Or are we busy preparing in the wrong place. Is it like when we’re expecting a delivery at church, and so we’ve unlocked doors, moved things around, turned on lights, and are ready— only to realize that the person making the delivery is standing patiently on the other side of the building, in a place that is better for them to enter? Do we ever do this kind of thing spiritually?
God might meet us in church or in a vision or in silent prayer, like it was for Samuel. Or God mightoccur to us in our thinking and or in our conversation, like with Paul. God mighteven come through a friend who point us in the way, who says “Come and see,” and so we go and see, and we meet the Risen Christ.
But God also might come in a hospital waiting room, in a fast food restaurant, in a board meeting or an AA meeting, in a family gathering or on a first date. God enters our world not so much when and where we think we’re most ready. But rather, God comes where God wills. “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”
“ . . . little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” A dream that, with Isaiah, “one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” [“I have a dream,” delivered August 28, 1963]
And so, in concrete, particular, everyday ways, God has come and keeps coming as we live into the dream for civil rights, for human rights, and for all of God’s dreams to be realized.
The Good News of our scriptures today and the Good News of the faith that is in us is that God comes. God visits. God surprises. God startles. God sweeps us off our feet. God picks us up and draws us close. God comes—not always when we’re most prepared, but God comes always when we are most in need.
Thanks be to God for the power of his visitation, the power to knock down doors and fill our lives with love and with hope. May we realize God’s presence and share God’s power.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.