January 18, 2015
by Louise Browner Blanchard, Interim Associate Rector
LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
Good morning. First of all, thank you all for welcoming me so warmly to St. Mary’s. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here over the next several months and what an honor it is to work with John and Eleanor and all of you. I look forward to getting to know you all better.
And there are a few things that you should probably know about me. You may have heard that I’m married to a great guy named Buck. He’s the Director of Mission and Outreach for the Diocese of Virginia, and we have four children who are in college or beyond. In addition to being a priest, I’m a former lawyer and even know a few of you from that time. Let’s see…years ago, I was a docent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and it’s still one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. And there are a couple of other things that I might as well admit to you up front: I’m an avid reader of People magazine AND my ideal Sunday afternoon includes reading the Styles section of the New York Times.
Now that I’ve admitted that, let me tell you a bit about an essay in last Sunday’s Style section. It was entitled “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” and it recounted two people’s experience of asking each other 36 questions that a psychologist had designed to make people fall in love. All of the questions were relatively straightforward; the first one was “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” But they were organized in increasing order of intimacy, sometimes disarmingly so. For example, one of the last questions was “If you were to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
Well, clearly this column struck a chord with more people than me because it’s been on the New York Times list of most emailed articles all week and remains there today. Articles on the economy, global warming, the Supreme Court, and terrorism have come and gone, but this essay about how we might fall in love continues to pique the interest of a lot of people. And why not? Nearly all of us yearn for love. As the author herself concludes, the story is about “what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.” In other words, when two people make the choice to love one another by knowing one another, by being vulnerable to and with one another – not just by riding the wave of attraction or enchantment or infatuation – it is thrilling and terrifying…and also life-giving and sustaining.
Which is, after all, the story of our faith, as well. To be sure, there are many aspects of it, but the Christian faith is ultimately about Love with a capital “L”…We are called by a God who made himself known not just by lovingly creating this world, but by turning over its stewardship to us; a God who made himself known not just by revealing himself in the person of Jesus, but by entrusting that person to us; a God who, despite the messes we have made of the gifts of creation and his son, continues to beckon us into relationship and redeem us through his unfailing love. Ultimately, and at its best, our faith is the story of the relationship between a God who knows each of us and wants to be known by us…It is also, importantly, about a God who repeatedly shows us that, just as it is between two people who love one another, vulnerability is as essential to that relationship as power and strength.
That knowing and being known, and that vulnerability, are important themes of today’s scripture readings. God entrusts Samuel, who is merely a boy, to be a prophet; God calls Samuel by name until he answers. The psalmist speaks wondrously of a God who knows everything about us – our thoughts, words, and actions – a God who created us and knows our bodies better than we ourselves. How marvelous…and scary! Like love itself.
That knowing and being known, and the inherent vulnerability of that knowledge, are essential components of today’s Gospel reading, as well. After last week’s dramatic story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan and the voice from heaven, today’s Gospel is decidedly less spectacular. Jesus understands that he is God’s beloved son, but what does that mean? Even Jesus doesn’t get explicit instructions from God, so, relying on what he does know, Jesus makes the decision to go to Galilee.
He has already been joined by Andrew and Philip, who were witnesses to the earlier voice of God, which is bound to be mighty persuasive. But not many of us actually hear a voice that we are sure belongs to God. Philip, for example, seemingly accepts Jesus‘s invitation to follow him on a hunch, an intuition, which is still pretty amazing. Philip, in turn, finds Nathanael and urges him to follow Jesus, but Nathanael is not so easily convinced. Now, that’s something that most of us can relate to. But as Nathanael walks toward Jesus, Jesus greets him in a way that somehow resonates with Nathanael. Nathanael asks very specifically, “Where did you know me?” and Jesus makes clear that he remembers seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. It is that combination of knowing and being known that convinces Nathanael to join Philip, Andrew, and Peter on the path of discipleship. Based on some combination of knowing and being known by God, by Jesus, and by each other, they take a chance and step into a future they cannot possibly predict. Talk about vulnerability! Talk about love…
And now, 2,000 years later, each of us is part of the tapestry of faith in a God who knows us intimately and invites us to reciprocate. It’s not a relationship built on factual knowledge; even the Gospel writers don’t agree on all the facts. It’s not a relationship built on how we behave, for the worst among us sometimes profit, and the best of us sometimes face immeasurable obstacles. Faith can come alive in an instant – for instance, when a child is born – and yet it asks us to be so vulnerable as to entrust that child to God. Not surprisingly, for many of us, it’s sometimes a relationship of one step forward and two steps back…If God created this beautiful earth, how can such awful things happen on it? And yet – sometimes in awesome revelation, but often in bits and pieces – through prayer and revelation and trust – through love – God somehow makes himself known to us and sustains us.
The role of the community of faith is essential for most of us in this journey of knowing and being known. Just as Philip encouraged Nathanael in today’s Gospel, we encourage each other. Look at St. Mary’s…built by a grief stricken mother who had lost her baby girl, dedicated originally to the welfare of local coal miners, this church has a history of hearing God’s call, stepping forth to meet it and ultimately thriving in the process.
There are countless examples, I’m sure. One that I learned about this week is Goochland Free Clinic & Family Services. Seventy-five years after the founding of St. Mary’s, parishioners were instrumental in founding Goochland Fellowship and Family Services, which was committed to providing assistance to individuals and families who were not eligible for state or federal aid. The founding women were so committed that they originally operated out of their own kitchens. In 1998, St. Mary’s parishioners founded the Free Clinic of Goochland in response to the heath care crisis that still exists for many individuals who cannot obtain health insurance. Not long after, parishioner Sally Graham, strengthened and encouraged by her Education for Ministry group here at St. Mary’s, went to work at the Clinic and now serves as the Executive Director of the combined organizations. Several others of you serve on its board or volunteer your services, and I have no doubt that your service is enhanced and perhaps even sustained by your faith and the life of this community.
We don’t have to look beyond the walls of St. Mary’s, though to see the love of God at work. Each of us who are here this morning is here, at least in part, in response to some call to know and be known by God. Whether we realize it or not, we are being fed by the prayers that we say, the scripture that we hear, and the communion that we take. In ways that we cannot begin to predict, we are being strengthened and prepared for whatever comes our way. When we can’t do it individually, we can do it together. We are known, and somehow we know it. We are loved.
I look forward to being on the journey of knowing and being known with you.
 Mandy Len Catron, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” New York Times, posted January 9, 2015; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html.
 See Daniel Jones, “No. 37: Big Wedding or Small,” New York Times, posted January 9, 2015; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/no-37-big-wedding-or-small.html.