From the Prophet Isaiah:
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am”,
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks; . . . .
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Isaiah 65:1-3 (NRSV) – January 10, 2013.)
“I was ready to be sought . . . I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’.” Almost more than anything else in Scripture, these words speak to me of God as not just wanting but needing to be in relationship with creation. I have written elsewhere about my understanding of God as the God who communicates; here is the God who seems almost desperate to be in relationship with his people. God speaks and everything comes in to being; in the beginning was the Word. But what good is speaking, what good is a word, if no one hears it, no one answers it? “Here I am, here I am” seems like a plea to be heard, to be recognized, to be answered. But in our modern society, very few people seem to be answering. Many claim to be seeking, many claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” but few are finding God in the traditional faiths and faith communities.
Recently, I had a discussion with a colleague about the non-church-goers who are best described as “apatheists”. This word is a “mash-up” of the words “apathy” and either “theist” or “atheist”. It describes people for whom religious belief is a matter of indifference. It’s not that they disbelieve (a recent article suggested that 80% of apatheists believe there is a God) or that they acknowledge some doubt or lack of understanding of God (as an agnostic would); it’s that the simply don’t care! An acquaintance of mine who accepts the label “apatheist” has put it this way: “I wouldn’t live my life any differently whether there is a God or not. It makes no difference.”
I think this is the modern trend, even among churchgoers. Cultural indifference to religion of any form, a “take or leave it” attitude, is becoming, if not already, the norm in our society. Religion and religious activities are one on a long list of options, and for most people not near the top.
But God is ready to be sought; God stands there in our world saying, “Here I am, here I am.” God does this through the church (and, I believe, other religious institutions of many faith traditions). If God is waiting to be sought, if God is calling “Here I am, here I am,” and people are not seeking and not answering the call, whose fault is that? If God and religion have become a matter of indifference, we who are active leaders of society’s communities of faith must bear the responsibility for that.
Among the Daily Office readings in this season are the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation, and though it is not today’s reading, I am reminded of the letter to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16) If people are lukewarm about religion, it is because we, the religious, have become lukewarm, worthy of nothing more than being spat out.
Isaiah presents God as not just wanting but needing to be in relationship with creation. God is ready to be sought and calls out clearly “Here I am, here I am.” But does the church?
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.