Spirit: Seek me with all your Heart

Sermon September 27, 2020

Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

Scripture Passages: Jeremiah 29:10-14 & Psalm 62:1-8

Will you pray with me? Restless Spirit, Holy One in whom we find rest, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts be acceptable to you. For you alone are our rock and our salvation. Amen.

My journey hunting for home has been life-long. Maybe it’s because, at age 36, I have called 24 different places home, 12 of those before I turned 18. Maybe it’s because those 24 homes spanned eleven states, five countries, and three continents.

In my search, I’ve always had a sense of home — of finding or making or coming home — even if I lived somewhere only for a little while. I learned to make friends FAST. I learned to navigate different school systems, rules, cultures, and languages. I learned how to fit in even when I stuck out like a sore thumb — whether because of the clothes I wore, the way I spoke, the food I ate, or the color of my skin. I learned to speak South African English, American English, Zimbabwean English and Indian English along with Zulu, Ndebele, Nepali and very broken Tamil.

Yes, I’ve always had a sense of hunting for home… and finding it. AND I’ve also always had a sense of exile — of being far away from where I most belonged. In the place that felt most like home, Mfanefile, South Africa, the color of my skin exiled me, marking me as an outsider, an illegal resident of my community, an illegal attendant at my school. And once we left South Africa, I lost connection to the culture, language and community that had formed my earliest sense of identity, family, community and God. Once my Zulu was gone, I knew I could never go back and be from the place that had taught me what home was. [PAUSE]

The story of exile and return is one of the 3 primary macro-stories

of the Hebrew Bible. The other two are the Exodus story of bondage and liberation and the Priestly story of purity, sin, guilt and forgiveness.[1] Our Jeremiah reading this morning is part of the exile tradition. And what is a life in exile like?

Author Marcus Borg defines it as

an experience of separation from all that is familiar and dear. [Exile] usually involves powerlessness and marginality, often oppression and victimization…..

As a life of being separated from that to which [we belong], exile is often marked by grief…. The feeling of being separated from home and longing for home runs deeply within us…. In our own lives, the experience of exile as estrangement or alienation can be felt as a flatness, a loss of connection with a center of vitality and meaning, when one day becomes very much like another and nothing has much zest. We yearn for something that we [remember… perhaps only vaguely, perhaps quite clearly].[2]

I daresay, it is not much of a stretch to see how we, today, are experiencing exile. During this time of pandemic, so many of our accustomed ways of being together are simply not possible or safe. Sometimes it feels like God has forsaken us. [PAUSE] The Israelites must have felt the same way — that God had forgotten them, or worse yet, was punishing them.

But ultimately, the message of the Hebrew Bible and of our gospels is that God does not intend for us to be in exile. God’s promise in Jeremiah confirms this for us: “I know the plans I have in mind for you. Plans for peace, not disaster — a future filled with hope…. I will listen to you when you call me and pray to me. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you.”

“If our problem is exile,” author Marcus Borg explains “[then] the solution is, of course, a journey of return.”[3] Today, it seems simple — we just need to go back to “normal” — to in-person school, worship in our sanctuaries and the reopening of restaurants, theaters, bars and businesses. [PAUSE]

But return is not so simple — either for us or for those living in exile in our scriptures. Because it is not so much “normalcy” that we long for but home. That place of safety, connection and trust. That place of belonging, of being loved and loving.

We long for home. And much as we might like to think otherwise, pre-pandemic life did not offer everyone safety, connection, trust, or a place to belong and to be loved. Pre-pandemic life was not home for all of us.

So what is this home we’re looking for?

Borg suggests that it is “the place where God is present.”[4]

Modern-day mystic Richard Rohr articulates it this way:

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves.”[5]

When we restore the Divine Center, that place where God is present, when we occupy it ourselves, then and only then, do we come home. 

As long as we remain in a place of fear, a place of ill will or hatred, a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim, an endless flow of online punditry and analysis, a place of so much angry noise and conscious deceit, as long as we remain in these places, we remain in exile. We remain far from the home where God is present.[6]

“Search for me with all your heart and you will find me. I will be present for you.”

Or in the Psalmist’s words:

 Only in God do I find rest….

And the New Living Translation’s version of the Psalmist’s words: “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in God. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.”

This autumn season, as we feel our exile so acutely, may we remember that the solution to exile is the journey home. And in my words, God is the home for which we have all been hunting.

So take courage. Practice rest. Turn off your phone, the radio and the television. Put down the newspaper. Catch yourself in moments of fear, judgment, ill-will, bitterness and resentment. And in those moments pause. Breathe. Pour out the struggles of your heart before God and then let go. Let all that you are wait quietly before the Holy Spirit. Cultivate compassion. “[Use] this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading…, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.”[7] This is how we journey home.

Beloved of God: Trust in God at all times!

    Pour out your hearts before God!

    God is our refuge, our fortress, our home. Yesterday, today and every day. Amen.

[1] Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time chapter 6, pages 119-133.

[2] Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time page 125-126.

[3] Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time page 126.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rohr, Richard, September 19, 2020 Reflection for Center of Action and Contemplation

[6]  Paraphrase, ibid.

[7]   Rohr, Richard, September 19, 2020 Reflection for Center of Action and Contemplation

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.

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