The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori: On the Annunciation: "Here I Am"

Presiding Bishop Preaches on Annunciation to Open House of Bishops

Kanuga Conference Center, North Carolina

by Katharine Jefferts Schori


Maybe we ought to start by singing, "hail, hail, the gang's all here." We're here again, brothers and sisters gathered as part of the body of Christ. Some are here eager to see old friends and share time together. Some have come with a bit of trepidation to their first meeting, or the first one in a long time. We have varying expectations of what we're going to accomplish while we're here, but we've turned up because this meeting is part of what is expected of us as bishops. I did not summon you. No one went out into the streets to compel you to come in. Our agreement to meet is part of how we understand God's claim on our common service, and each bishop is free to respond.

That is in great part what [the feast of Annunciation] is about. Mary is invited into a surprising part of God's mission, she's encouraged to take her part in a heretofore unexpected way. She may not feel ready, but she says yes. She says, "Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word." I'm ready - bring it on. It is a stunning response to a most challenging message.

Yet this isn't the first time we've heard, "here I am." Some of the other responses are so familiar, like Isaiah or Samuel answering God's call, that they have given rise to some rather overused songs. But that response "here I am" appears in many other contexts.

Abraham gives this answer three times, twice to God when he's asked to take Isaac to the mountain top, and again when he takes out his knife to slay his son. And when Isaac questions him, he also answers this way.

"Here I am," Esau answers when his father Isaac calls him to talk about his inheritance, and Isaac answers the same way when Jacob goes in to get his brother's blessing from his dying father. And so Jacob answers God in his dream when he's urged to go down to Egypt. And again, Moses answers when he hears God call to him out of the burning bush.

This willing response also turns up a couple of other times in the gospels as well: when the prodigal son comes to himself and decides to go home ("here I am dying of hunger"), and when Jesus speaks to his disciples in John's gospel ("I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me" 8:42b).

"Here I am" is a basic acknowledgment, an engagement in relationship. It's a way of saying I am ready and willing to explore what comes next. It's a response of faithfulness - even in the face of immense doubt, uncertainty, and absence of the foggiest notion of what is going to be asked of us next.

It's also the response that may best reflect the image of God we bear, answering the great "I am." When I AM calls, the faithful response is here I am, I am ready, I will meet you with the only thing that might possibly be appropriate - the way in which I reflect my being's origin.

Mary answers, "I am here" and I AM takes up residence in her. The child born of Mary's willingness bears the name Immanuel, a sign that I AM is with us. The fundamental response of the faithful one is about readiness, showing up, responding ‘I am here.' [The writer of Hebrews says the same thing, "see God, I have come to do your will."]

Showing up here indicates our willingness to respond, even in unexpected ways. We have new members to incorporate in this body, who are bringing new gifts and challenges - Terry and Michael, Scott and Mike, Marty and Dan, and Bill and Rayford. Where and how will we discover I AM in these new relationships?

There are also new members to incorporate in Christ's larger body, and we're going to spend a good part of this gathering learning to show up for relationship with the tattooed, pierced, rapping, tweeting image of God in the communities around us. We are going to discover things we hadn't imagined in those images of God. How are we going to be present enough for them to discover the image of God in us, and in the body of Christ?

We're also going to be asked to show up in relationship to the larger Abrahamic body. Mary may be honored even more in Islam than she is in Christian communities. She is certainly mentioned more often in the Quran. Are we willing to show up long enough and faithfully enough to find out why? How is our own Christian faithfulness going to be deepened in the encounter?

The angel continues to show up, inviting us to let the spirit of I AM dwell within us, and to bring new life into this broken world. That messenger continues to remind us that nothing is impossible with God. The hoped-for response is, "here I am." It's an answer that gets easier with conscious intention, "I will do my best to show up" or "I will, with God's help." We never do it perfectly, but then, Lent is an especially appropriate season in which to practice. We're meant to show up here with open hearts and minds, ready to respond to God's invitation. We are continually being invited to partner in God's life-giving work. It takes radical vulnerability, even in the face of Mary's fear, or Joseph's shame. Yet God's faithful partners continue to answer, "here I am."

Greetings, favored ones, the Lord is with you.

[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.Originally posted 3/25/2011]