August 1, 2021: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sam Magill is a coach and poet. He has served on the Bishop’s Committee at St. Hilda St. Patrick and has chaired the stewardship committee. This sermon was preached as a response to the texts for Proper 13, Track 2, based on the manuscript below.

Leaving home

Tutankhamen wrapped in ancient cloth
Waits patiently inside his pyramid tomb,
Thinking he will not change until his
Journey is complete.
But we know better.
After so many years of staying home
We know he will turn to dust
when he encounters the real world.

It’s hard to leave home
Even though you have done it a hundred times.
To step into the world is to step into a river
That is not the same one you strode in before
Everything and nothing has changed
And all the security of the last voyage
Comes undone with the uncertainty
Of the coming encounter.

It’s hard to leave home
Even though you have done it a hundred times.
The warmth and familiarity of your own hearth
Girds you from the “too rough fingers of the world”
And the security of the front door makes it your castle.

It is harder still to slowly grow into unknowing.
Having ventured forth before
You know there is a world waiting for you
Waiting for you to see what only you can see
Waiting for the conversation only you can have
Waiting, with growing displeasure,
to teach you what only it can teach
This time.

This time will not be the same as before
And so the going is hard.

We must go out again
Lest our homes become our tombs.
We must go out again
To be embraced upon returning home.

Samuel P. Magill 2007
This poem emerged in me one day when I was trying to get out the door for a photography trip to the Methow Valley in snow – may the snow return soon.
In today’s readings, we have a classic travel story and the longing for signs that all is well so typical of every human being.
How many of us who are parents (or who have been children!) have left on a trip, only to hear or say, “Are we there yet? Is everything going to be okay? I’m scared. I don’t know this place.
This longing has been going on for a long time! We may remember Julian of Norwich writing, roughly in 1400: All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Today, Jesus tells us that as well and today’s gospel song reminds us again……but in moments of feeling lost, we either don’t believe it or forget. Or, perhaps we are perpetually children compared to our Triune God.
In another poem, I speculated that:
Loving God moves out a bit,
Knowing that our longing
Keeps us living.

Perhaps the godly plan, if that’s how God works, is to never quite satisfy us. The Israelites got physical food for their complaining. The disciples witnessed loaves and fishes and healing and still said, Give us a sign! Then Jesus switched it up metaphorically– I am the bread; come to me and you will not hunger or thirst. Yikes, no more fast food to easily satisfy our hunger; no more big gulp to quench our thirst. This is a whole new order of sign!
Maybe the longing for assurance is what brings us back to church, to be fed again and again with the bread and wine – with Christ’s Body and Blood.
Surely these are signs enough that, as Julian told us 600 years ago – All shall be well. Even Paul, in Ephesians, tells us to just do what we have been called to do and all shall be well: lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


But there is another level of exploration here.
We also today are confronted with slavery again, and the confusion of leaving familiar surroundings and entering the wilderness of not knowing.
The Israelites complained about the harsh conditions of leaving slavery in Egypt – it’s hard to leave home even if home is awful. The desire to KNOW our way around is so compelling. In my poem, Leaving Home, I pictured Pharaoh Tutankhamun lying in his pyramid, well equipped for his voyage and thinking he would not have to change. But we know better, we know he will turn to dust the moment he encounters the real world. – And the Israelites encounter a lot of dust in the desert. They cry, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord….instead of taking us on this lousy trip!. I hear myself saying to my children – I promise our vacation will be great. They didn’t buy it until the destination was reached. And recently, our grandson – just after a great outing – said, “This place is boring.”
But for those who are truly lost, this sign, these words are hollow.
The Israelites were leaving slavery and wound up in the desert, hungry and thirsty. They chose to leave and still complained.
But what if we are forced to leave home and enter into slavery? What’s it like to be forced from home rather than “getting” to leave home?
How very different it is to not have a choice. Think of the Trail of Tears – 1838. 15,000 people of the Cherokee Nation were marched 1200 miles over rugged land. Over 4,000 of these humans died of disease, famine, and warfare. They became lost in bewilderment and anger. I know a granddaughter of that march.
This is a different wilderness story. This is a different story about leaving home being hard!
The PBS documentary The Black Church gives us another example of leaving home. It tells a story or journeying from slavery toward a life that became wrapped in value, belonging and worthiness. The documentary tells us, “The Black Church and faith in Christ has allowed the people to withstand the slings and arrows hurled at African Americans” over years and years.
They were forced out of their homeland, sold INTO slavery – They didn’t escape from it and yet……the church became a source of strength, courage and identity. A speaker declares: “We serve a Jesus who turned over the tables…” And as Bishop Curry has reminded us, If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God….” Living the life Jesus offers us as a sign: love and belonging….. The church is, “A testament to the goodness of God…. Everything has tried to kill us and we are still here” – talk about a sign!
The Black Church is sign enough that all shall be well….if we do the work we have been given to do.

And what about us? To what are we enslaved? Material wealth? Lifestyle? Climbing the social ladder to affirm our identities? To let us feel safe? As a junior in high school, I was awarded the Harvard Book Club’s award to the “boy of the next to the graduating class who is deemed most likely to succeed.” (No similar award was given to a girl in the next to the graduating class!) The problem was, no body told me what success looked like. Sometimes we hear about someone, “he was successful…note, HE….” and the reference is to wealth or position?
The Black Church seems to have gotten it right….
But few of us here are African American, so what are we looking for? Success, comfort, belonging, identity????
What wilderness are we wandering in? If we have recognized, for example, that we have left the security of automatic white privilege, we have entered into a foreign land. Now what? Now how do we as a people know that we have an identity? I believe, so much of the anger in our society today is fed by fear of this wilderness. What sign will we receive from God that we are ok?
The people said to Jesus: “What sign are you going to give us, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing (i.e., what are you DOING FOR US)? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness…. It is not Moses, not mom and dad who fed them. It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven and gives life to the world…..they said, still wanting a physical sign!: give us this bread always! (Sheesh. Kids.)
In another poem, Strange Creatures, Part 2, I asked: Strange Creatures II
What proof do we need
that we are loved just as we are
and perfectly formed in this moment full and living,
a territory and a miracle no farther off than now?

If only we would turn our heads
toward our hearts
and see each other
already where we long to be,
the kingdom of our heart’s desire
waiting here and now.
I say the signs are all around us:
Here and now in a child’s eyes
in a friend
in a stranger
in our partner long ignored.

What proof do we need
that we are loved just as we are
and perfectly formed in this moment full and living,
a territory and a miracle no farther off than now?

And Jesus offers himself to us as a most profound sign: He who comes to me will never be hungry, never be thirsty….
In the midst of our fears about Covid, about systemic racism, about money, about the future our children will experience, about having to share existence and legitimacy with all God’s people, about leaving home and wandering in the unknown wilderness. Jesus tells us he is the sign. Jesus tells us he is the sign we have been longing for since leaving home – Don’t be afraid!

Leave a Comment