A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2016
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:1-14 Ephesians 3:14-20
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
What is it that sustains you? What is it that sustains you? Or maybe, we should ask, who is it that sustains you? Who gives you the strength to go on? Who gives you the solid hope to push that soft sheet off your stomach in the morning and forge through the darkness to greet another day of life? Is it your child? Is it your beloved? Is it your friend? Is it your dream? Is it your job? … Is it habit?
Does life seem more like a routine, a getup, put on the coffee, take a seven minute shower, iron the shirt, drink the coffee, brush the teeth, grab your stuff and rush to the car to get to the highway to get to work to sit at the desk to go through the papers and yak with your boss so you can swallow lunch in a half-hour in order to catch up on yesterday’s work and pick the children up from day camp to make a hot dog and drive to ball practice and yell a bit and stuff everyone back in the car so you can hit the mall before you get home to see the last half of Jimmy Fallon after bedding down the kids?
Or do you stay in your home most of the day, working, and cleaning, and designing? Or do you spend your hours remembering the way things used to be, how you used to make more decisions, but no having grown older and living in a different place, in a different world, you find a certain apathy protects you from the pain of not being able to do everything you want. Or perhaps you’ve been waiting for that part-time job to come through and it hasn’t. Your old place laid you off and the money’s running out. Dazed you sit by the front window and watch the world scurry by like a bunch of ants with busy-work. You used to be a part — and when you were in the thick of the hustle it seemed meaningful. Now it just seems temporary, uncertain craziness, and here you are, hoping against hope to be identified with that crowd again, to jump back into the rat race as maybe rat number 3, 842 when you used to be rat number 9.
What is it that nourishes you? What keeps you going? The writer of Ephesians says, “I pray that according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” When was the last time you felt strengthened in your inner being? Was it during a crisis? Was it one evening as the sun set in its orange beauty? Was it at the birth of your baby? Was it when your love touched you gently? Was it when your mother told you she thought the way you handled a problem was wonderful? Was it during prayer last week in church? We may or may not feel it right now, but God is at work within all of us giving us strength for today and even tomorrow. Giving us power to live, to change, to grow, to yearn, to reach, to love, to be.
Christ seeks to make a home in our hearts. To dwell, to abide. To stay with us during the night. To rise with us in the morning. To nest in the complex fibers of our loves and worries and just be. Christ will dwell with us as we are being rooted and grounded in love.
What does it mean to be “rooted and grounded in love?” Imagine holding a fragile plant with roots dangling and dirt caught in between. Now imagine digging and securing this plant into rich black soil. Being rooted and grounded in love means to have a fertile place from which to grow and blossom. Perhaps this place is in this church, or in your family, or with a close friend, with a therapist, with a sponsor, with your partner. This is a safe place where we can expose our roots, our origins, our anchorings, our deepest parts, because this place, this dirt, cherishes them as essential. For it is these dangling roots that grasp into the soil and moor the plant, encouraging us to nudge forward, green, stretch, blossom, burst, yawn toward the light. This is one way of being rooted and grounded.
Spinach planted by our children in the church garden
And yet, when we say rooted and grounded in love, we realize that sometimes we must pull out our roots from where they are and transplant. Sometimes this is a painful ripping out from friends and family, from work, from school, so our future relationships will not be mired in strangling tangles or so that the roots can grasp for more dirt. We may be transplanted so that our roots can sink deeper and allow us to be more flexible, to bend more with the winds of the Spirit. Transplanting can be part of the process of being rooted and grounded in love.
And still another sense of being rooted and grounded in love, may be our radical willingness to be uprooted. For to be rooted in love means to be rooted in an unfathomable journey of faith, where part of the strength for the journey comes from “letting go.” To be rooted in love may mean for us to uproot from family and from our possessions and follow Jesus. And not to just follow Jesus generally, but to follow him specifically from Nazareth through Galilee, by the seas, in the midst of crowds, to the lepers on the outskirts of town, to the hill overlooking Jerusalem, to the table in that cramped upper room and to the cross of betrayal, and finally to a life of resurrection. What kind of rootedness is such uprootedness? Surely only an uprooted rootedness that could come from God. Surely only an ungrounded groundedness in our mysterious creator could thrive on such sustenance. This is a sustenance that experiences the vibrancy of life as the dance of God, not merely the recitation of a creed.
An Indian philosopher named Samkara once said, “To know is to be.” To know is to be. In order to know or to understand the fullness of God, we must be it. We must live with God. We must allow God to be with us, in us, through us, before us, behind us, beside us. And this does not happen all at once. As we walk with God, we become more conscious of how our Creator is moving in and through us.
Solomon asked God to give him an understanding mind, that he would be able to discern between good and evil. Another, more literal translation of the Hebrew is for God to give him a listening heart. A listening heart to govern God’s people. Solomon seeks wisdom. And wisdom is granted as a by-product of walking in God’s ways, as an outgrowth of keeping God’s commands. Wisdom is not some unchangeable and eternal thing, some hunk of truth that falls out of the heavens, some book that intellectuals put together on how the world works, some code to the universe, or key to some hitherto “hidden prophesy.” Rather, wisdom is a natural by-product of walking with God. Wisdom is not the premise; it is the result of the walk. One does not start out with wisdom and then follow God. Wisdom comes as we follow God. A wise and discerning mind is a mind that is open to God as we journey through life, whether we are king or school teacher, plumber, minister, or artist.
In a book that is aptly titled Listening Hearts, several spiritual directors, pastors, and theologians describe what discernment is.
“The ability to discern develops in a relationship with God, as one becomes rooted and grounded in the heart of God…As we move toward spiritual maturity, we move beyond the need for specific rules and answers into the darkness of God where we must act in faith rather than certainty.
Because the evidence and experiences on which we act are usually conflicting and ambivalent, and because we are by nature vulnerable to our capacity for self-deception, discernment is often tentative and uncertain. We may not feel a great sense of having found the truth. Discernment can be like driving an automobile at night: the headlights cast only enough light for us to see the next small bit of road immediately in front of us. Discernment does not imply fully comprehending God’s will, but rather it raises the question, What is the next step God wants me to take? Ultimately, discernment requires our willingness to act in faith on our sense of what God wants us to do next. We need to risk making mistakes. We can dare to make mistakes because we know that God has forgiven us when we are wrong. What is important is that we act on what we have discerned. In obedience to discernment, more discernment will come.
And so we ask this morning, “What is the next step God wants me to take?” And as a congregation, “What is the next step God wants us to take?”
May God honor our wisdom seeking by rooting and grounding us in God’s own vibrant heart. Amen.
 Excerpted from Listening Hearts, Farnham et al., Morehouse Publishing, Inc., c.1991, pp.25-27.