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Sermon: "Our Hearts Were Burning"


There is a part of our interior lives that almost nothing can touch. It exists in the deep space that holds the memory of what has been forgotten as well as what we hold onto. It is the place that longs for the love of God to be requited like a thirsty deer longs for a water brook. Such places exist in secret, beyond accolades, relationships, or work. They dwell in the sacred part of us that the psalmist said is woven in secret beneath the earth. I have seen glimpses of that space in others and have known it in myself like I know the back of my hand. It is where thoughts grow, fear hovers, and wonderings take on a life of their own.  All of us know that space within ourselves. We conjure up that place without consciousness. Mystics, disciples, entrepreneurs, and pilgrims are guided by some of the lessons from that divine spark that lives within. One of the great forefather’s of the Civil Rights movement, Howard Thurman, was a gifted writer, chaplain, mystic and social justice advocate who also talked about his first encounter with that interior place. He describes being a young child in a segregated south at the turn of the 20th century and going to sit under a big oak tree. There he said he found a relationship that could commune with his loneliness.  He said that the tree was one of his first teachers to show him the vital importance of paying attention to the interior fire and fear within.  As a writer he described this space as a kind of lining around our hearts with sentries standing guard so that nothing can harm that sacred and wounded space held in secret. 

On Wednesday nights this Easter Season, Claire Browne has been leading us through reflections on the practice of living into the truth of resurrection. Last week several people spoke about times recently in which they saw signs of resurrection and the face of God. Such reflections have felt like a call to pay attention to that interior place and to practice letting down our guarded and blind hearts to allow love to sink in. When stone becomes flesh and brokenness transforms into compassion, those are moments that initiate the healing of ourselves and the world.

In the post resurrection story in the Gospel of Luke, the disciples were walking down the road to Emmaus and met a man who walks with them. With overwhelming grief and brokenness emanating from within, they don’t recognize him even though he is right beside them. The guards around their sacred hearts were standing tall. But there was that place that burned within them they recalled. Such a burning was a sign that the author of the spirit and the guide on road was close. That place calls us on our spiritual journey.

It is the host at communion that holds the possibility of transforming a broken piece of bread into a sacred meal. This rich interior life calls us to attention, even as we try to ignore it. It burns within and when we allow forgiveness, hope, and all the other gifts freely given to us all to let our guards down, we can feel resurrection.

In the iconic images of the Sacred Heart, the robe is pulled back to reveal a heart with a haloed light. There is pain and holiness in that image, but what radiates is a heart open to the world that burns, for love; the most powerful force on earth. That heart and its haloed sacred lining reveal the truth that nothing stands between us and seeing love resurrected around us while we are walking down the road. The sacred heart beats within us and burns when we walk near the holiness and hope of resurrected love. When we see with eyes searching for signs and hear with ears tuned into hope, we can feel our own healing and sacred hearts.

About 20 folks that gathered last Wednesday nights at the chapel talked about such experiences as seeing Christ in a doctor who came to a friend’s bedside, how they recognized the face of God in a stranger who showed compassion, about hearing creation sing in the song of flowers. All of them describe a well of tears behind their eyes, a burning of their hearts, and deep gratitude that turned an ordinary moment into a sacred path of healing. Such moments are there for all of us to behold.

I have spent so much time in Vans and Airplanes this past year, traveling and speaking to conventions, as thistle farms share the story of how love heals. Whenever I travel I am with a group of survivors who also come bearing their sacred hearts and sometimes it is hard. If you are tired, having a bad day, or grieving, it can close the kindest of hearts. Especially if there is a relapse, death, or someone quits, it feels like there is a heavy blanket that covers a wounded heart and blinds us to the living God walking beside us.

On Friday we were driving through the mountains of North Carolina after sharing a justice tea party and helping start a new recovery home for women out of the work being done by Our Voice, a nonprofit community that works with survivors of sexual violence. It was a powerful and fairly intense event, so after we served the couple hundred of folks gathered the tea grown in Mexico and shared the story of the movement for women’s freedom, and after we sold thousands of dollars in body balm, we packed up our wares and headed on the road to our Emmaus---Nashville.

In that familiar rush of trying to get back, I wasn’t thinking about seeing the face of God or hearing the living word in my midst. But after a couple of hours of phone calls and emailing I stared out the window and just started listening. In the middle seats of a rented van I heard the voice of God. It startled me to hear it, and my chest burned.

There was a conversation between two of the amazing survivor leaders at Thistle Farms.  One was stressing about money, and the other started counseling her, not in broad terms but by getting out a pad and spending the next hour going through every single bill and making a budget and making a to do list to get her finances in order. You could hear the peace of God washing over the woman that was stressed. The flow of grace between them was a balm to all of us weary travelers along the road. The vision of God beside me didn’t come to me in lofty speeches or stunning images. That is the way the spirit works, as we are walking through our lives we suddenly realize our Lord has been there all along and we feel hearts beat to a rhythm of joy that makes it want to break in gratitude. I met the risen Christ in two women sharing a scary part of their lives and healing one line item at a time. Rarely do sacred moments come with rainbows and harps. Instead they come in graceful moments that give us a burning heart and remind us we are in the presence of God.

So today is a simple and deep call. Remember and feel that place in you. Thurman said toward the end of his life, "There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine. It is the only true guide you will ever have.

And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” The call to all disciples is to recognize when your heart burns, and then watch and listen as scenes before you become visions.  Feel the space when you walk beside a friend and know you are standing close to the image of God. Our journey as disciples is to walk into that space, to let down the guards, and feel our hearts burn with the presence of love.

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