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Heart of the Wilderness.

Jeremiah 31:31

Lent 5, Common Lectionary Year B

©2018 Rev Elisabeth R Jones

Please pray with me.
Words in the wilderness,
written on hearts,
lives to be spent,
not hoarded.
You have much to teach us today, Holy One,
help us to be open to your wisdom. Amen.

I start out thinking most of us here in CPU
get to choose at least physical wilderness;
we get to choose to go canoeing in the wilderness of Algonquin,
a winter walk along the lakeshore or at the arboretum,
or hiking mountain trails, even a silent retreat, a week at a cabin….
That sort of wilderness is a physical even emotional respite from the
urban/workweek existence.

But then I also realize that most of us here have also been plunged,
without choice into wildernesses of the heart,
or soul, or mind, or body at some time in our lives.
the bleak landscapes of illness of mind or body,
the forboding wilderness of job loss,
the colourless barrenness of grief,
the silent wilderness of watching helpless a loved one’s suffering.

With care for yourself, go there for a moment
into those wildernesses you haven’t chosen.
In the safety of this sacred company,
touch with your soul the ragged edges of those harsh places.
Because we need to hear Jeremiah’s words
of God’s promise, God’s covenant,
not from the comfort of wellbeing,
but from within in the landscape of loss.

As I said in my introduction,
Jeremiah scripted this Lively Word of God
while sitting with a war-ravaged, conquered,
displaced, exile remnant of a once-proud people.
Many felt that God had abandoned them to the mess,
the just deserts for a grasping, snake-biting, pinched,
unjust, corrupt generation.
If God was going to speak, surely it would be
the spitting words of condemnation.

Instead, the words are the promise of a promise,
the recalling of Creation’s dream itself,
the Words of wonder, showered in light
millennia ago from heaven’s height to the Sinai wanderers,
now to be written where life itself beats within God’s creatures.

And, truth be told, it takes a God Dream
a holy eternal calling to something wider, wilder,
and beyond ourselves,
for us to survive these wildernesses.

What stuns me, time and again,
is the experienced truth of this text.
How many times have you witnessed
a God Dream, written on hearts
that galvanizes action for justice, no matter the cost?
A God-Dream that makes prophets out of children
cyring out for the right to live without fear?
When have you felt that stirring, warming,
heart-beat-racing power within you
that lifts you to new places of courage?
To endure a wilderness
for the cause of something good, or great?
To speak out for love, instead of hate?

We felt that God-Dream stir in our hearts
back when Aylan Kurdi’s little broken body
cried out for the world to notice the suffering of Syria.
Staring from afar at this wilderness,
we needed first to remember
that the Dream of God is not limited by
Torah, or Quran, or by Gospel,
but its cadences are found in all religions of the heart
all paths of peace
and all actions of courageous love.

With this abundance we have,
we knew we could do no other than to let it go,
to offer what we have so that a family
we didn’t know, who speak a different language,
who worship God in a different way, could be given hope again,
a life again, dignity again.
God calling us to be
a heart in the wilderness of someone’s else trouble.

I don’t think any of us knew back in October 2015
when we signed up to become sponsors for a Syrian refugee family
that the wilderness we would experience would be one of waiting….
our waiting, for bureaucratic structures to move into something
faster than glacial slow gear,
has been nothing in comparison to the wilderness waiting
of a family in exile.

Let me take this day of God’s grace and mercy
to look into the heart of this family for whom we wait.
They are Syrian, Muslim, descendants of Circassian refugees
from a 19th century war in Russia.
A family whose wilderness heart has been inscribed through generations,
with the God-language of peaceful, non-violent resistance
to regimes which kill and oppress just to grasp on to power.
For this path of peace, they, and the cousins whom we now know,
have had to walk through war, into exile,
and to wait, holding fast and holding true
to a promise, a wilderness promise,
that there is a new home,
a new land, a new beginning for them.
A new place for them to partner with God and with us
in the struggle, the purposeful energy [1]
it takes for people of all nations and faiths to forge paths of peace.

The heart of the wilderness is to see
God at work to restore human community
to the fullness of its God-given potential.
And we, by some miracle of God’s global Dream,
we get to be their stepping stones,
their companions for this part of their journey.

So, good people of God at Cedar Park,
here we are… we have just three weeks to wait,……(gasp!)
and prepare for the day when we
stand back and cheer on,
while their blood cousins welcome them to a new country,
three and a bit weeks, before we, their faith cousins,
do what we can to help them feel at home.

What will we do?
Between now and then,
first the core Refugee Response team will meet tonight.
During the week you’ll all be receiving updates from the Team, and the Church Office.
Next Sunday following worship, we’ll gather as many of the
Resettlement team as we can to implement the various
actions needed for us to fulfil our mandate as their sponsors.
Expect then to see and hear through email, phone, website, hub
clear direction on exactly what is needed,
what is helpful, – and what is not!
Some of that help will be mundane and practical,
everything from strong backs, to household goods.
Expect that not everything you offer will be needed.

And every moment we can, we will surround
Najah and Sa’ed, Alhareth, Safay and Islam with prayer
for safe travels to their point of departure,
and a safe and soft landing on Canadian soil in April.

And in the weeks and months after their arrival,
we will do what we can to make this strange landscape
more like a new home.
We will learn to give space for dignity and self-determination,
to give with a light hand and an open heart.
We will break bread together,
We will sit and listen, hear with our hearts,
and learn their stories of what it means to lose one’s life in pursuit of
God’s Dream of peace, of justice, of love for the human community,
and for the planet.

For the heart of the wilderness is strong and true, wild and free,
and full of courage, and it beats in you, and them, and me.


[1] “Struggle” and “purposeful energy” are translations of the Arabic word jihad.

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