Here I Am: Sermon for April 23, 2023

Today we are launching an exploration of the seasons of life. We begin at the beginning … where everyone begins as an infant. One of the foundational theological beliefs is that all humans bear the image of God in their being, a belief commonly known as Imago Dei. We make meaning of that belief by recognizing all humans are born with a self, an inner being we discover as we grow. We grow until we recognize our inner being as who we are in our deepest being. Let me describe that inner self by switching to first person.

I am the one behind these eyeballs. I am the one behind the cranium’s facial structure with its latitude and longitude. With this body, I need no words to communicate whole worlds of meanings. I am a walking billboard of meaning with this body of mine.

I am the one with this skin pigmentation, its texture and hues, color-coordinated with hair and iris. I am male or female but not limited in the rich variety of inhabiting my gender with all its polarities, needs, and expressions.

I am the one who awakened to consciousness within this body. I was a watcher of the world I could see until I realized I was more than a body as I became aware I had thoughts and emotions, language tender and powerful, wordless emotions savage and raging of the me I was coming to express. Consciousness understood in sensate triggers helped me differentiate hunger, pain and pleasure, and release.

But what about that time before I had language? What about those days when I had thoughts but no words? Are words and their meanings the end result or merely the tools for consciousness?[1]

In our exploration of the stages of life that form the arc of life, I’ve chosen to pay attention to the life stages of David. In David, we see him in his childhood, as an adolescent, and through the sequential stages of adulthood until we come to his death. Other biblical characters can be stiff, cutout versions of real human beings, but David is presented to us as a complete person. We see the vibrant passion of his life and we see him broken in sorrow.

The story of David comes up because the prophet Samuel senses God’s regret over choosing Saul to be Israel’s king followed by the surprising choice of David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, who is anointed as Israel’s next king. He’s a great choice for our purposes because David is the single person the Bible devotes more space than any other character … more than Paul, more than Jesus, more than Moses. He’s critically important because he’s the first Bible action figure. What he does is so compelling it seems we can’t keep our eyes off him.

Even God seems under his spell. The Bible tells us David “was a man after God’s own heart,” as if even God cannot keep from watching him. The light shines bright on him but not at the cost of honesty as David illustrates Jung’s cautionary concept of the shadow self (“wherever there is a great light, there is also a great shadow”). From our earliest vision of this young hero, David is heroic and worthy of acclaim for all he accomplished … yet at the same time, his story is tragic and flawed. The Bible tells us David lived a full, complete life. Most of us are aware of the highlights of his life but we’re getting ahead of ourselves so we go back to the beginning, to David’s childhood.

Our first glimpse of David was as the youngest son of Jesse who was assigned the care of his father’s sheep. Even today, we can see young boys or girls who are tending the family herd in the Judean wilderness. This magnificent man began life as the youngest of a long list of sons. The Bible gives us a strong dose of primogeniture (how the birth order was understood as an indication of family favor). Typical practice in the Middle East believed the eldest son received all the family’s favor and privilege while the younger sons struggled for the scraps. This, however, is one of several biblical stories where the eldest son did not automatically receive the benefits of privilege. Samuel’s indication of God’s choosing broke that familial pattern.

A part of the arc for each child features those persons of influence who shape their lives. Some will be colleagues or teachers who become mentors. Others will be persons who will either encourage or oppose them in the directions they themselves choose to take. The journey for the child will come in these unscripted persons of influence who shape and mold them toward their destiny.

Pastoral theologian Myron Madden explored the relationships that exist whereby a child receives a blessing for being. This kind of affirmation often comes from within the family but it is also received from some other influential person outside the family. The affirmation of being affirms us as we are, not as we would like to be, nor even as we hope to become. It is a blessing for right now in this current moment. The power of this kind of affirmation can be understood as inherent in creation itself. One is blessed in creation as a gift from the universe. The blessing is a gift from someone who has some sense of understanding they can help a child live in hope and generosity. The blessing received has the power of guiding a child toward fulfillment and discovery.\

Our parents were given this first opportunity to envelop us in affirmation in their role as life creators. In the mystery of new beginnings, we were created in the act of passion and this gift of life is ours for existence. The gift of affirmation, according to Madden, comes in creation not as a reward for good performance. There is nothing done that triggers this affirmation. We are blessed for our being and that gives us the foundation upon which we add confidence-building events where we can shape our lives with confidence to risk, and accepting the adventure that life can be. This kind of affirmation is like a blood transfusion, perhaps understood as a life transfusion as an adult, an elder, passes along affirmation to one who is younger with the result that this affirmation has the power to ignite a sense of destiny in the child.

A blessing is a simple affirmation for being. This is a restoration to wholeness. It is a powerful platform of affirmation for one to receive and its effects are breath-taking. Madden is clear this blessing is meant to energize the child beyond the family, giving a child the confidence needed to cut the cords that bind us in emotional dependence on parents, siblings, and the extended family on our journey of life.

So, what happens when the confidence of affirmation is not granted? Novelist Pat Conroy expressed it honestly as, “I longed for their approval, their applause, their pure uncomplicated love for me, and I have looked for it years after I realized they were not even capable of letting me have it.”

Perhaps for most children it is feast or famine as we all come from a staggering variety of home settings. Parents who are there for a while, then are absent for other periods of time. Parents can be amazing givers of blessing and if they don’t there are grandparents or other adult figures who can fill in the gaps. Children can’t see all these forces at first, but children have role-models who give them guidance and support and love. A child’s world will expand and grow and they will learn their lessons in life as they become active participants in the act of growing.

When we are loved and affirmed for being, we are like bulbs that are planted in a choice location with the hope, the expectation, this bulb will accept all the gifts of sunshine and soil and rain until a flower emerges and opens to the glory of God.

© Rev. Dr. Keith D. Herron 2023

[1] These first-person descriptions of the inner self are adapted from Keith D. Herron, Living a Narrative Life, Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2019