"Only a little child"-Sermon for Proper 15, I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
So, as perhaps you know, this is my second Sunday back from my family’s summer vacation. And, for part of that vacation, we were blessed to travel to the Maya Riviera in Mexico where my parents have a time share. And though the trip was full of wonderful memories, as my family and I reflected on the trip together, we agreed there was one night that was particularly magical. It began with dinner at a beachside restaurant…three generations of my family present…arriving as the sun was making its gloriously descent under the peaceful sea. Dinner was followed by dancing. I cut a rug with my wife and my mom and my children. I love to dance! And, as we exited the restaurant under a star filled sky…the most magical moment of the evening was really just beginning.
You see the restaurant was again on the beach and as we exited the front doors of the restaurant and on to the beach ourselves, we quickly noticed that we stood among dozens and dozens of baby sea turtles. They were traveling in every direction imaginable…all over the place. Immediately, we all became acutely aware of where we were stepping hoping not to injure one of the adorable babies. Apparently, a momma turtle had made a nest and laid eggs on the beach some time ago between the surf and the restaurant…and as we were twirling on the dance floor these turtles were emerging from the sand…just beginning their journey to the sea…just beginning their own life’s great adventure. But, as I noted, the turtles were crawling in every direction imaginable…but not actually to the sea. And, what we quickly learned was that the many twinkling and relatively bright lights of the restaurant were confusing the DNA level instincts of the turtles. You see typically the turtles instinctually find their way to the sea by following that which provides the brightest light…which is the moon’s reflection on the water. Following this light, again, the moon’s reflection, takes them to the sea, which they must find if they are to live. But, in this place, there were many bright lights…all demanding the attention of the baby turtles…pulling them in many directions…what we were seeing played out before us was, in a sense, mass chaos and confusion…light pollution…threatening the very lives of these precious creatures…the moon’s light drowned out by so many man-made electrical lights. Thankfully the hotel we were staying in has biologists present looking for just this sort of occurrence. They showed up shortly after we did. They brought out special baskets, turned off the outside lights, and invited us to join them in collecting the babies. For just a moment, we all got to be marine biologists, collecting turtles with great care…until we were sure all where accounted for. Then we helped them take the baskets to the sea where we released them into the ocean standing watch till all were swimming out into deeper water. It was indeed a magical sort of moment.
Now, in today’s Old Testament lesson, we also find ourselves at a birth of sorts…or at least a new beginning. Solomon has just ascended to the throne of Israel following the death of his father King David. Though I am uncertain exactly how old Solomon was at the time, he refers to himself in the passage as a little child…and I am sure that is exactly how he felt. He says he does not even know how to come in and go out. He describes the task set before him to rule a nation, to take responsibility for a nation, to care for the countless people now entrusted into his care…he describes this new place he finds himself in as daunting, confusing and overwhelming. And, again, I imagine that is exactly how he felt. For, he is being asked to fill unimaginably big shoes…those of his father’s, David. Though David was profoundly human, both broken and beautiful, he had been a good king…a person after God’s own heart…beloved by his people…ushering in a time of great prosperity and peace for the nation of Israel. And, now, it is all up to Solomon…and he is unsure, understandably so, that he is up to the task. Israel is a relatively small nation surrounded by giant empires on all sides…the Egyptians and Babylonians…to name just two. He must learn the subtleties of geo-politics…both foreign and domestic…how to grow and maintain a thriving economy…how to keep his people, who I believe he loves, safe and well. Big shoes to fill indeed. And, as he stands at the beginning of it all, he, again, feels confused and unprepared, which direction should he take…what will be his guiding light when there are so many lights calling him in so many different directions. Like the baby sea turtles, he has emerged from the sands of his coronation as king and the path to the waters of life and well-being, both for himself and all those entrusted to his care, is not so easy to discern. Much exists to confuse and manipulate in our often broken and confusing world, so how will he find his way through it all…find his way to the one true light.
And, though we may not be queens and kings tasked with the challenge of leading a nation or newly hatched sea turtles trying to desperately find our way to the life-giving sea, we are not immune to the experience of confusion and disorientation…for they are a part of the human condition…which we all share. As St. Paul says, we all now see as if looking into a mirror that is dimly lit. Though I think every age has its profound challenges and that we have a tendency, generally speaking, to idealize the past over and against the present, it is fair to say we live in confusing and unsettled times. I need not to restate the laundry list of pandemic and politics, racism and classism, economic inequality and deep division to make the point…for we are all very personally and sometimes, very painfully, living through it…and it is, indeed, all confusing, disorienting, and anxiety inducing. My wife, Ashley, who is the Lower and Middle School Chaplain at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and who was also preaching on a similar theme this week as their faculty regathered for a new school year, shared with me a poem by James Baldwin titled “For Nothing is Fixed”…so my apologies for the repetition for our St. Andrew’s faculty who also are St. Julian’s members…but the poem begins with these words:
"For nothing is fixed, forever, forever, forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have."
Friends, we carry heavy loads. We are responsible for both many and much…and the disorienting state of the world only adds to the burden…the challenge of making good choses…the challenge of not finding ourselves immobilized before the confusion we face…the challenge of discerning the true light to follow and what false lights to ignore. And, I say this because we must acknowledge the reality in which we live…face it…and work through it…if we are to find our way to the life-giving waters that are present around us…for the God of life and love…our God discovered in the person of Jesus…is present before us…like the moon that shines on the water most brightly in the darkest hour of the night. Though the baby turtles were struggling to find it…the sea…that promised a life and a future…was always very close at hand…and so is the God of love. So how to find the guiding light of God’s love is the challenge we face…and not alone…but together.
James Baldwin’s poem continues and I want to now share it in total, he writes:
"For nothing is fixed, forever, forever, forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out."
Thus, the way forward through the chaos and confusion…the way forward to discover our guiding light…the way forward to find a life full of meaning and purpose in the midst of the always present confusion, as Baldwin suggests, is found by holding on to each other…keeping faith with and in one another. And though I believe more implicit than explicit in the poem, the invitation is to hold on to both each other and the God of love who is the anchor and source of the faith we share. And I think both Solomon and the baby sea turtles point us to both God and each other as well.
You see, as Solomon is facing his uncertain future, feeling confused like a helpless child before the great weight he has been asked to carry, he does have something to do…he does have somewhere to go…the passage tells us that he leans into the commandments of God, the Law of Moses...to love God with his whole heart and love his neighbor as himself. I think that’s a solid guiding light for all of us. Further, he begins his reign, as the passage also makes clear, in worship and prayer. He asks God for God’s own wisdom in the discernment of all things. And, God shows up. God promises that God will give to Solomon the gifts of discernment he will need for the flourishing of his people. And, further, God reminds Solomon that he is unique and special and capable and loved. He does not need to be David…to fill his father’s shoes…he just needs to be himself. And, I believe the same is true for each of us. God wills to be found by us…the light and the sea of God’s love is calling out to us. And, if we but seek God out in our own times of prayer and worship, I believe God will also give us the wisdom we need for the ordering of our own days in the very midst of the world’s confusion and chaos. God will remind us that we are enough…the unique and special and capable and loved person we are each made to be…is enough…to find our way into a life and future with purpose, direction, and meaning. So, hold on to God by faith.
And, finally, to those baby sea turtles…now I don’t know if our walking out of the restaurant at that precise moment was a divine appointment. But I do know that as they were struggling to find their way, in what was a really vulnerable moment for them in their young lives, others were present…other people were present to help them find their way…to help save their lives. That night we got to be among those people. But, at other times in my life, you’ve gotten to be those people for me. And, I’ve got to be those people for you. When things are at their most confusing, most chaotic, most dangerous, we have got to hold on to each other…to ask each other for help when we need it and to offer it with our whole hearts when asked. Sometimes we literally need to hold one another up…and sometime we just need to walk hand in hand…side by side. For two sets of eyes, two minds…three sets of eyes, three minds…and so forth…will always be stronger than one and better equipped to discern the true light…the right path forward…through the darkness and into the light…off the beach and into the limitless sea.
It is for this that St. Julian’s exists…a community of love and belonging…where together we hold on to and meet both the God of love and companions, friends for life’s journey. For, together, with one another and God in Christ at our center, we discover the strength and wisdom we need to find our way through the confusion and chaos…through the darkness and into the light…off the beach and into the limitless sea. Amen.