For God alone

Passage: Psalm 65:5-12; Mark 1:14-20
Date: January 22, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, one of the most influential theologians in all of church history, once wrote of God: "You arouse [us] to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Weavings, XX:6, p. 40) Wealthy, very bright, attractive, Augustine lived what we would call a fairly wild lifestyle in his early years. Yet, in his twenties, he simultaneously embarked on a pilgrimage of mind and heart. Far reaching resolution consumed more than a decade of his life. The line I quoted did not originate in his youth, but in his more mature adulthood. I remember hearing it early in my life: "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you [God]." In all sincerity, I affirmed that. "Truly my soul is at rest in God," the psalmist says. I affirmed it, but, I am not sure I believed it then. Our younger years tend to be our more restless ones. Oh, yes, many of us go through mid-life somethings-or-another, where major chunks of life are reconsidered. I remember doing some of that on my 40th birthday. It dawned on me then that I had spent, used up, about one-half of my life. Or, more precisely, that I might have only one-half of my life remaining. A healthy restlessness about direction, investment of energy and emotion, even thoughts about my legacy accompanied that birthday. But, that is a different kind of restlessness than the restlessness to which Augustine refers.

Writer Henri Nouwen describes our contemporary restlessness like this:
[Our lives are fragmented.] The many things to do, to think about, to plan for, the many people to remember, to visit, or to talk with, the many causes to attack or defend, all these pull us apart and make us lose our center. Worrying causes to be "all over the place," but seldom at home. One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless. (Making All Things New, p. 36)

Our hearts are strange, mysterious, and wondrous parts of our beings. For Biblical people, hearts (sometimes referred to as souls) were not just the source of pumped blood. They housed our perceptions, our thoughts and emotions, our decisions and behavior. In a sense, they were our life's thinking and feeling computer, digesting incoming information and emotions, and directing our responses. We still talk that way. We take things to heart. She had a "change of heart," we say. Literally, we do not believe it, of course. She still has the same heart as before, and it is still doing its amazing job keeping her alive. But, what we mean is that something changed deep inside, something important.

We intuitively know that our hearts actually are restless much of the time, that we live as if we were still without center, homeless in that sense. Oh, we assuage our hearts with self-imposed goals, New Year's resolutions, with diligent work, with essential exercise and proper stimulation. We seek to satisfy our hearts with lots of stuff, enough so that we help supply Goodwill or an occasional garage sale because we have more than we can possibly use. We engage all sorts of entertainment ( I hope the Sea Hawks win today) and addictions to try to mask our hearts' cries. Some embrace serial marriages, or affairs, seeking heart rest. But, in the middle of the night, when we lie awake in the dark, with rain beating on the window, it is difficult to hide from our restlessness, our uncenteredness. We have this sense that there must be some place of belonging. I have come to believe that those moments of awareness, of spiritual discomfort, are nothing less than holy gifts. I believe they are evidence of God's Spirit active within our souls. In those times of wrestling, the God of mystery wants to claim us even more, to shape us, to give us a center of rest, to provide for us home.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus invites people to follow him. When they began, they had no idea where their following would lead. We never do, when we respond to God's call deep inside. Some of us would like to have it all figured out, to know what will be expected and experienced. But that is not how life is, in any important aspect I know. More than that, we do not need to know. Ours is to trust the One who made us for trust and who invites us to trust as best we can. Over the remaining parts of our lives, what we will come to realize is that God asks us to shift their point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our life's priorities again and again. Nouwen helps here:

It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. (Same, p. 42)

Does this change of heart mean that suddenly life becomes easier, more peaceful, without tension or restlessness? No. Let us be clear. Besides, that would be boring, at least to me. Although now that I think about it, a little boredom at times might not be all bad. But, no. This change of heart, this reorientation of spirit, this openness to God in all sorts of ways gives our lives a center. There is a groundedness from which we can move. At our deepest levels, we find ourselves at home, even in our too full lives. Many of you tell me about that as you struggle with decisions, as you wonder about God's presence in your life and in this congregation, or indeed in the world. You tell me, as seemingly closed doors open, as Jesus Christ makes sense in new ways, as you perceive God's light along your life's path. You keep pointing to this holy reality, this elusive connection which periodically focuses your life and your search.

What this means is that we have a place, a mystery, a person to go to when we lie awake in the middle of the night, when we sit watching and waiting with others, when we struggle with life's most difficult questions, when we celebrate life's holy joys, even when we come to our life's end. At times we receive a presence alongside us in our tension and restlessness. At times we are given assurance that all will be well, when wellness is not obvious. Your prayers gave me that assurance three years ago right now. As I lay at home recovering from heart surgery and a subsequent heart attack, I wondered if I would be a semi-invalid. Would I ever be able to mow the lawn, hike in the woods, return as your pastor? In my questioning and anxiety, I was sustained. At times we are embraced, when what we need is to be held. That occurred here yesterday in our Healing and Wholeness service. Some came forward, knelt, were anointed. Caring hands were placed on them, and they were held before God in prayer. Mysteriously, at times we are left to struggle, to be in terrible wilderness. While that feels like some cruel joke, perhaps it is only there that we can learn and grow in ways we need. Surely people of faith, even psalmists, even Jesus, have cried out to God in their aloneness. But the important part is that they cried out to God, this focus of their hearts.

One of the heresies of our time is that Christians can have a relationship with Christ on their own, without the faith community. If we pay attention to the psalmist's words, we discover his language is that of Hebrew devotion. "God alone is my rock... salvation... fortress... deliverance... honor... refuge." These are all windows to God learned within the worshiping community, testified to from history and experience. His heart, his center has been shaped by life with others of faith. It is to these fellow pilgrims in faith that he addresses words of encouragement: "Trust in God at all times. Pour out your heart before God. God is a refuge for us."

At the same time, his words come from faith which is profoundly personal,
Truly, for God my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from God.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Surely this is our clue to a life of faithfulness, in our individualistic culture. Truly to find our life in Christ binds us to him and to each other. We need each other. God has built it into our very beings. How great it is that we are not alone, in our delights, in our difficulties, in our every days.

"You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." I not only affirm that. I believe it. For God alone our souls do wait.

Lord Jesus, we are all over the place in our waiting, in our rest and restlessness. Draw us to your heart, that we may know you more deeply and trust you more fully, that we may be home. Be the source of our lives and of our life together. And thank you. Thank you for such a gift. Amen.