Drawn through the Prophet’s Heart: An Advent Sermon

The journey to God, Sufi Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee says, begins with “the homesickness of the heart, (you can find  Vaughn-Lee  speaking of Sufisim here https://goldensufi.org/a_interview_st.html

Perhaps it begins like this pain in Isaiah’s heart,
the pain that was in the heart of his people,
He knew the people’s longing,
their loneliness,
the tiny piercing dart of emptiness,
the pinpoint of absence within them,
was what would call them home.

He knew what was most important.

How could he thread through his heart the despair of his people;
draw through his prophet’s heart this thread of pain and longing
and tie this thread to the divine,
to the God who people experienced as absent, but who was in fact waiting.

Because the prophet knew what was most important
he took the people’s words into himself and flung them out to God,
throwing them,
great shards of anguish and longing,
into the heart of God.

Why don’t you tear open the heavens and come,. .

You were angry, . . . because you hid yourself we transgressed, . . .
we withered like a leaf, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. 

No one calls upon your Name; there is none who clings to You.” (IB)

Because he knew what was most important Isaiah didn’t swath the people in platitudes
but returned to them their own self-image,

 all of us became unclean and soiled, even our good deeds are polluted

A people stopped up with their own self-loathing

When the worst of it has been shouted or whispered,
Isaiah, the prophet who knows what is most important,
threads these words through his heart,
the words of the people threaded through the heart,
tied to the pin of God, round which they turned,
and turning recollect the origin and fulfilment of their longing in these new words for God.

You O Lord, are our mother and father,
we are the clay and your are the potter,
we are all the work of your hands.
. . . We are your people. 

The Israelites had been taken away from their home, in body and in spirit,
and now was the time of turning.
Now the heartache, made them remember that somewhere before the beginning of time they were one with God.

They had been called away from their home in body and spirit and they were longing.
And the heart-ache turned them toward home.

This did not only happen back then.
This is also for now.

We have many times been taken away from our home
and we are often unsure of how to enter the mystery again.
Sometimes we don’t know how to get ready
and sometimes we have just forgotten.
But in some moment,
some crisis,
some wash of beauty,
some time of fatigue with it all,
some wringing of the heart with our own pain or that of another,
some time of exquisite joy,
some moment of love,
each of us will be called to pay attention to the longing that is under it all.

These words I listened to on the threshold of Advent were powerful words.

“it is first a heart-ache, a longing, a discontent”, (Vaughn-Lee)
a moment when the shaking of our lives,
through beauty or joy or loneliness calls us to the journey, “the turning of the heart” toward the beloved.

What shaking of our lives calls us to this journey?
What calls you us to Bethlehem?
Where did you begin the journey?
Where did you first feel the bittersweet heartache that made you long for home, that told you
“that somewhere before the beginning of time you were one with him”.
What rocked your certainties enough to set you searching.
What tore open your heavens?
When did you feel the ache that made you look for the One who was hidden.

Sometimes we brush this call aside unwilling to let it interfere with the external plan we have made for ourselves.

But what brought us here this morning when there are so many other places we could be?
Was it perhaps to remember that stirring, that knowing the we are always called.
Always expected.  Always welcomed.  Always loved.

It is good to remember the start of your journey.
The moment you knew there was someone who waited for you to turn.

My journey began long ago in a small yellow room.
It is why even now in my house the thresholds are touched with a tiny yellow marking.
Because  I often forget.
When I am harried.
Or when I imagine I can be self-sufficient.
Or when I am too much seduced by externals.
When I am anxious.
Then I need to recall that encounter with this One for whom my heart ached and whom I met,
wordlessly in my small yellow room as a child.
I need markers,
small yellow daubs of paint on my thresholds to remind me of the One for whom I long.

What is the time you need to remember?  And how do you remind yourself?

In Isaiah this morning I see the movement so fundamental to spiritual growth,
the movement from orientatation to chaos, to re-orientation in a larger sense of self,
a recollection of the One who shapes us from within;
who calls us over and over to return.

Oh that you would tear open the heavens. . .

You are the potter, we are the work of your hands

Isaiah’s people longed for a great and powerful God,
mighty in the way of the world.
But heart-ache led them through chaos and loneliness
to find a God strong in a way they could never have imagined.

A God who shaped them like a potter,
hands wet with the clay,
spinning them tenderly on the potter’s wheel
til they became the beings of beauty dreamed in the depths of the creator.

Many still long for the same kind of God,
mighty in the way of the world,
with armies and great houses and wealth.

But the king who comes is not that kind of king but a baby born in a barn,
a king we could never have imagined.
This is full of mystery. *

We need time to get ready.

Over and over again we need this time that each of us marks in our own way.

On the threshold of Advent I  hovered with Isaiah’s people on the edge of the absence of God.
I recognized my own longing and felt the pull again into the great mystery of Christmas,
where the one who waits is also the one who is coming.

Where the king is a baby born in a barn.
Where we meet in the midst of our life a God we might never have imagined,
and feel the response to our heart’s longing, and the response to the homesickness of the world.

This story is not just back then.  It is also for now.*

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

*Adapted from the Godly Play Story of Advent (Jerome Berryman)


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