September 2019

Keep Your Head Down and Go Unnoticed

14th Sunday after Pentecost, September 15, 2019
Luke 15:1-10
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas

The story is told of a mother who called her daughter, but her grandson, Jimmy, answered the phone whispering “Hello.” “Hi, Jimmy, this is grandma. Is your mom home?” Still whispering he replied, “Yes, but she’s very busy right now.” “Okay,” she said, “can I speak to your dad?” “He’s pretty busy too, grandma.” Hearing noise in the background, she asked, “Who else is there?” He paused then answered, “the police.” Now upset and worried, she asked, “What’s going on?” Pausing again, he answered, “They’re looking for me. I guess they think I’m lost.”

In our worship and communal life together, we need to acknowledge the fact that many people, for various unpleasant reasons, are hiding from the church, like Jimmy was hiding from his parents. And if they build up their courage to attend worship, it’s usually to see if anything has changed since their last encounter. So, they would, therefore, prefer to keep their heads down and go unnoticed. These are individuals who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, meaning they are turned off by any organized practice of worship and, if they worship at all, would prefer to do so in their own way and time. Spiritually, they keep their worship personal and private. However, there comes a time when our desire to go unnoticed must give way to God’s desire to be known through us.

I recall, as a youth, being deathly afraid of public speaking preferring to let my written words speak for me, until I met Eva Weiner, my high school English Literature teacher and coach of an award-winning speech and debate team. She drew me out of my shyness convincing me that the written words I hid behind would be more effective if listeners personally knew the person and heart that conveyed them.

She also believed that every child should be fortunate enough to have a Jewish mother, and officially designated herself as mine. She was, in many ways, like a second mother in whom I confided on nearly everything. And when I felt called to explore studies leading to ordained Christian ministry, my official Jewish mother was one of the first whose blessing I sought and cherished. Her blessing came with the words of spiritual advice that I treasure to this day: “Lead with your heart, and the rest will follow.”

There comes a time when our desire to keep our heads down and go unnoticed must give way to the heart and desire of God to be heard and known through us.

We normally associate the parables of Jesus concerning the lost sheep or lost coin to those spiritually separated from God, but they might just as easily apply to those of us who hide from their divine potential, as I hid behind my shyness. God searches for them as well that they might know their full identity and capacity as offspring of their Creator; so that we may together realize that whatever work we do, conscious of our divine lineage, will always be divinely noticed and celebrated as sacred.

On this Sunday following the week we remembered the tragic events surrounding September 11th, 2001, I’m also reminded of the philosophical question that asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” One scientific response would be that sound is vibration transmitted to our senses through the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of a tree or any other disturbance will produce vibrations in the air, but if there are no ears to hear, there is no sound.” (Scientific American, April 5, 1884, p. 218)

However, the growing scientific awareness of sensitivity among plants to their environment causes speculation about this response. Add to this the theological response that considers the dimension of spiritual reality, and this philosophical question assumes sacred proportions.

I pose this question reminded of the most poignant September 11th photo of a man falling to his death from the North Tower whose identity, along with countless other victims, remains unconfirmed. The photo conveys no sound, yet incites the sounds of sadness and rage and loss from all who see it. Still, those who heard and witnessed and experienced the heartfelt loss and heroism of that day from a spiritual dimension will faithfully confirm that no life that fell or survived that moment was left unheard, unnoticed, or unmoved by a compassionate God.

Your life is so precious and priceless that God, without inhibition or hesitation, would search for you and celebrate your redemption. But God’s search is less an outward venture than it is a journey that begins in your soul seeking your true potential, identity and sacred self where God may abide.

We may hide from each other and from the church, but there is no hiding from God. “Where can I go from your Spirit?” says the psalmist, “And where can I flee from your presence? Search me and know my heart…and lead me in the way everlasting.” (139:7,13,14) Amen.