“A Prayer for All Who Are Searching”

“A Prayer for All Who are Searching”
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
November 18, 2022

Imagine you and a few other complete strangers come together in a room for 55 minutes to discuss your deepest hopes and fears. The group facilitator leads you through some opening breath exercises together and then shares with you the topic of the day: uncertainty.

A few ground rules before the group gets going. If you are not speaking, you are practicing active listening without interruption. If you want to express support for what someone says you can:
Snap
Place your hand over your heart
or raise your hand
Now the prompt for discussion: “But how I really feel is ______”
After about 20 minutes of this, you are separated into pairs with the prompt: What keeps you up at night? Each person shares for 3 minutes. After those six minutes, you return to the larger group to share what you heard.
The whole session ends with some light stretching while soothing music plays in the background.

What you have just participated in is called a “gathers,” and it is put together by a group called Peoplehood. Led by the exact same co-founders who, a decade ago, founded the high-end fitness chain called Soul Cycle where they very overtly combined exercise with spirituality.

Peoplehood has a variety of both digital and spiritual sanctuaries, as the gathering spaces are called.

What’s the specific product?

“We realized that connection should be its own product.” One of the co-founders said. “We are modern medicine for the loneliness epidemic.”

Relationship as product…because they know, people are searching, aching for connection.

Or think for a moment from a very different angle how many conspiracy theories have bubbled up in the past few years. What makes a conspiracy theory attractive? What makes a story about having inside knowledge about who is probably really pulling all the strings…so alluring?

When the world feels chaotic, uncertain, when a virus changes everything out of nowhere, when the country and world are changing in all these ways, when a WW2 era war breaks out in 2022…when life feels entirely out of control, we eagerly search for a sense of control. An explanation, a theory, gives control.

Or think about how the pandemic led to this Great Resignation or Great Reprioritization – people looking afresh at their lives and asking fundamental questions about what really matters. What should I do be doing, really? People have been searching for a sense of call.

Whether it’s connection or control or call…one can survey the landscape of modern American and I think readily say, “Yes, we are doing a great deal of searching.”

Which of course is true in its own way with every generation, and it was a form of searching, specifically, that proved the presenting challenge for Paul as he wrote to this church at Colossae.

There, the young church was being tempted by the strong pagan influence all around that said there were all kind of
hidden, insider mysteries one could uncover…
ecstatic spiritual experiences one could have…
deep insights to have…
…if you searched them out rigorously through certain kinds of fasting and self-denial, certain observances of special festivals and holidays, certain kinds of ritual washing.And it’s not that searching is wrong. Goodness, searching is at the heart of the Good News – God in Jesus Christ has searched and found us. But Paul see a danger in this kind of searching because it is forgetting the most essential, most fundamental thing that God’s people already have.

Which is why Paul prays the way he does in our passage. As we hear, a couple lines of asking God for something and then a number of lines simply declaring what God has already done – what the people already have. Let’s lean in for a moment to appreciate the specific way Paul prays over a searching people.

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power so that you may be prepared to endure everything with patience…”

Strength to endure with patience!? It’s a strange petition, but one we’ll come back to.

Listen where the prayer goes from there:

“while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

I pray that power is poured out on you and through you so that you might give joyful thanks.

Why?

Because for all the searching then and all the searching now…the most fundamental truth Paul is reminding the church is this: we’ve already arrived.

We have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son – the language there alludes to the Exodus story, making clear Paul understands us as people taken from captivity to sin and death and transferred into the land of freedom and live.

From captivity… to home. This is the ground we walk upon.

And we stand there, forgiven, in this space alongside all the forgiven saints of light…connections abounding here and there and throughout the generations.

Paul’s prayer is making clear that the church need not search for some kind of secret spiritual experience or gimmick or insider-knowledge to finally search our way forward or get a real understanding…but as one commentator puts it, the people of God are “to sink their roots deep into their very ground of being, Christ himself.”

Less about searching out there and far more about deepening what is already ours by grace.

Some of the power and beauty of this promise was brought back to me the other night. Many of you are aware that since this past spring/early summer, FPC has been working alongside Round Rock Presbyterian and Grace Presbyterian and San Gabriel Presbyterian in supporting and caring for and befriending a refugee family from Afghanistan, the Azizi family.

Most of the family arrived in early June, but the father – Khalid, and eldest son, Farzad remained in Kosovo and have been trying to join the family here ever since.

It has been an incredibly trying thing for the whole family – plenty of worry and heartache and uncertainty. And then the middle of this past week the news breaks: Khalid and Farzad will arrive to the Austin airport on Friday. Home to Georgetown that evening.

A group of folks from the four congregations went to the airport with the Azizi family to join them as came down that escalator and embraced for the first time in months.

And then a whole bunch of others from the four congregations met the family at their home here in Georgetown, and I was able to be there for part of it. And as we all entered the living room there was this incredible spirit of joy with food platters and pizza had been ordered.

I had a few moments to talk with Khalid, and it was the strangest thing.

Even though I had never Facetimed with his like some others in the room had, even though I have only visited their house one other time and so don’t know the family nearly as well as many of you…even so, I found as I was talking with him that tears were coming to my face, and I choked on my words.

Why?

In his book, Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner writes, “Joy is home.” When we are in the midst of the gift of ‘home’ fully, beautifully, expansively unfolding –

-not being taken for granted but sinking roots into every last bit of its goodness –

– even just breathing the air of ‘home’ is powerful.

Joy is home.

To be sure, the challenges before them remain real: Farzad needs to be enrolled in school and make that big transition. Khalid has a good bit of documentation yet to work through and needs to find a job. Healthcare coverage has to be figured out, a path toward citizenship needs to begin…

And yet isn’t amazing for all the unknowns out there –
if you know you are home,
if the fullness of that gift holds you,
if your roots sink deeply into that –
isn’t that such an anchor? Such reason for thanks amid all the unknowns.

I pray that you might joyfully give thanks to the Father who has brought us home in Christ.

At a fundamental level, what is invited is not a searching but a sinking of our roots into that most basic truth. Walking around in the living room of it all.

Buechner goes on to say, “We have God’s joy (home) in our blood,” which means, he says, “that even when we cannot believe in him, even when we feel most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us” – home cannot help but abide in us.

What helps us sink our roots in that truth that, yes, indeed – we are home?

We live in a society where uncertainty remains the topic of the day on so many fronts – and the church of Jesus Christ offers a prayer in the midst of that.

Where so many of us search for connection…the prayer is “Oh that you might see already you stand freely and forgiven alongside saints of my light.” You are already home in the gift itself.

In a society where conspiracy theories and a strong desire to gain some kind of control over the chaos exists constantly…the prayer is, “oh that you might know you are securely home no matter what…and in that knowledge may you have the power to endure with patience whatever unknowns come your way.” The prayer offers no theories or explanations about all that is unfolding, but rather Paul would have us trust the home we have in Christ, the One who has overcome all the darkness.

In a society where we ache for a sense of direction, calling… the prayer is “that first and foremost, and always you might know you’ve already arrived. Rest in the fact that you are God’s beloved with God’s joy coursing through your veins.”

It is not a prayer negating the constant seeking, searching, and growing we all do…but one making clear that there need not be an ounce of anxious striving or searching…all that needs to be illumined will be as we sink our roots in the home that is already ours.

Most concisely, it could be said this way: In a society searching for connection, for control, for calling…Paul declares Christ. He prays Christ’s power over us. Under us. Around us.

Because, Buechner once more, “I believe that it is when Christ’s power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home…”

Amen

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert