Sep. 1, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Sep 1, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17C)

September 1, 2019

Heart Seeking
A sermon about living in the right order

Recently I had some banking to do, and ended up waiting longer than expected to see the manager.  As I settled into a chair, I picked up a copy of the local paper, and began skimming.  A business logo caught my eye—a heart, encircled by a ribbon of letters that spelled out “seeking,” expressing the lyrical notion of Heart Seeking. Catchy. The logo aligned with the photo of a beaming life coach, as he described himself, a guide for hire who would lead me to conscious self-empowerment, and a flow of personal energy. Wow!

The guy looked nice enough, but I felt mystified by his sweeping, generic claims for improving my life.  Reading his words reminded me of opening a fortune cookie, or reading an astrology forecast, and puzzling over how to relate their cryptic predictions to my actual circumstances. A bit of fun for the moment.

But as I finished my business and left, this notion of heart-seeking stayed with me, because we all want assurance that we are living lives of real purpose and meaning. I started mulling over what Christians through the ages have learned about the soulful quests of our own hearts.

And that led me to remembering a saintly bishop named Augustine, who had served the Church at the turn of the fifth century.  Yes, that’s 1600 years ago.  This wise and experienced believer found his own heart breaking as barbarians overran his beloved city of Rome.  He felt powerless and distraught as he watched the center of the known world go up in flames.  Where did a disillusioned seer like Augustine turn, to replenish his own power and energy?

I opened my copy of his autobiography entitled Confessions—a heartfelt letter to God he writes while sitting in the ashes of a city everyone called eternal. How shortsighted they all had been!  Augustine’s confession to God begins by acknowledging that he and fellow Christians had put too much trust in earthly arrangements—the kind of material things that Jesus reminds us fall victim to moths and rust that corrupt, and thieves that break in and steal. In penitence Augustine recommits his heart to trusting God alone, who has never deserted his people.  He breaks into praising God for loving care that withstands the worst life has to offer.  “O God our hearts are restless,” he sighs, “until they rest in you.”

Looking back over decades of searching for the good life, Augustine has learned that God makes little effort to fit in with our common-sense thinking, even though it seems compelling to us; nor to fit in with our personal agendas, no matter how pressing they may feel.  At times life simply exasperates us.  We get frustrated and confused, and we turn away from God—scarcely admitting to ourselves that we are doing it—and we start looking for quick solutions. Maybe we make an appointment with a life coach who blithely promises to guide our conscious empowerment, and facilitate the movement of our energy, whatever that means.  Meanwhile Augustine’s conversation with God has long ago revealed what true seekers keep relearning: the good life is never finally found “out there” among life’s passing circumstances and pro tem experts, but within our own hearts as we cling to God.

Our hearts are simply restless until we humble ourselves before ultimate Reality, and really see.  Until we turn back and acknowledge whose we are, and from there begin figuring out who we are. We grow willing to will what God wills for us, and go with that grace-filled flow.

Our collect that opened this Eucharist sets us to praying,

“Graft in our hearts the love of your name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works.”  That’s the inward, spiritual order that sets everything else in order.  First we rest our hearts in God.  Then we begin learning real spiritual truth.  And then we begin connecting with the eternal goodness in life.  And finally then we find the power and the energy we’ve spent a lifetime seeking.

As we pray, so may we live.  Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved.