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Seeking the Face and Heart of God

Date: 24/02/2013/Speaker: Ps Su-Lin Ngiam

Good morning church.

I’d like to start today’s sermon by reading one of our lectionary passages for today, Psalm 27 together as a collective prayer:

27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
27:3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
27:7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
27:12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

We are in the second week of Lent, and I wonder how that’s going for you? Have you been observing the season of Lent, or will it just pass you by?

The Lenten season for Christians honours the 40 days of testing and transformation Jesus experienced in the desert, just after his baptism. This was a period of preparation for him, to fully understand and internalise his mission ahead, his purpose here in the material world, on earth.

This took place after Jesus’ baptism, a ritual that confirmed his identity as Son of God, as God’s beloved, and an expression of Jesus’ acceptance of, and commitment to that relationship. It was a covenant and a celebration. The period in the desert immediately after his baptism served to clarify what exactly being Son of God meant, and how that identity was to be lived out.

Pauline preached about Jesus’ testing and experiences in the desert last week, and the lessons and insights that can be learnt from there. I think for me, the biggest triumph of Jesus’ experiences in the desert is that he overcame his own human ego and its needs – to be comfortable, to be important, to have power. Jesus learnt to totally surrender his ego, to be non-attached to the things of this world so to speak, the external validation that we want, and instead learned to rest and trust in his identity and relationship with God.

Jesus was doing battle with his own ego; often we are our own worst enemy. It was through his surrendering, and his centering or resting in God, that he was able to tap a deeper wisdom that resided in, and around him, that enabled him to overcome.

The psalm of David that we read just now could very well be said by Jesus in the desert. It is a psalm that is seeking God’s help through seeking God’s heart, and is asking for wisdom, for the peace of God that passes all understanding. It is a psalm that acknowledges there is a lot happening in the world outside, with enemies and adversaries, with threats and violence, but whose personal response is very much one of contemplation, introspection and non-action:

27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.

27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

This is such a rich and revealing psalm that demonstrates the heart of being in relationship with God. It is not so much a telling God what we need and what God needs to do, but very much a resting in God, a contemplation that draws us closer to the heart of God. It is here that wisdom resides and we find answers to our challenges, strength and courage to do what is needed, clarity and renewal to live out our mission and purpose.

This resting in God requires us to surrender our false ego and its desires, which often needs to feel important and powerful, otherwise we’ll be too distracted to fully rest, to be silent inside, even with our thoughts. It is when we empty ourselves, Jesus’ main task in the desert, that we know how to wait for the Lord and stop striving, to be able to be taught by wisdom, to be open-hearted and learn to see and recognise God’s face, and to behold the beauty of the Lord and not be afraid.

What does it mean to observe Lent? It’s a reminder to pause, to take time out, to rest in God, to contemplate, to surrender our ego, to reflect on our call, our purpose and ask have we been faithful or are we running away? It’s a reminder to seek the heart of God, and it is there our own hearts will be healed and whole.

Through the practices of Lent – prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading Scripture, fasting, doing charity and so on, the focus is very much on surrendering ourselves into God. These practices should of course continue throughout the rest of the year but being human, we forget, we become lazy, our egos get distracted again; so Lent provides us that wake up call once a year, a chance to realign ourselves with the bigger plan and purpose, to step outside our egoistical self to again connect deeper with the heart of God, to examine ourselves and the state of our hearts, grounding ourselves for whatever work, or ministry (all work is ministry) that lies ahead.

Some of you might be asking why is it important to seek the heart of God? Isn’t it enough to practice one’s religion and faith, to pray, sing worship songs, attend church and cell group, and be loving people? Why is there a need to learn how to surrender ourselves, to contemplate and spend time in silence, to be still and wait, to live an introspective and examined life? Or perhaps some of us are finding it difficult to seek the heart of God, to recognise the face of God because we are hurting, we feel overlooked, neglected and forgotten by God.

I think it’s important to keep seeking the heart of God, and the many faces of God because God is mystery and can only be known, and even then never fully, in, and through relationship. Whatever we learn about God through Scripture, teachings and others’ experiences can form part of our beliefs, but until we make sense of our own experiences with God through an examined life, until we learn how to see God without the projections of our egos and its expectations, then will we truly understand the breadth and the depth of God’s love for each and everyone of us, and the purpose each of us holds.

We need to seek that authentic God that resonates with the ground of our being, where we can experience the peace that provides confidence and assurance. This is the vision of God that expands our vision of the world and empowers us to align ourselves, and contribute towards that vision. This sometimes means letting go of our previous understandings of God, of old beliefs that no longer hold, of initial ways of seeing that cannot contain truth for us anymore.

27:4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

Do you need a renewed understanding and relationship with God? Would you like a deeper, more inspiring and beautiful vision of life and your place in it, which doesn’t mean there won’t be pain and sorrow? It just means when we seek God wholeheartedly, we surrender everything, our ego, our happiness, our pain, our ideals, our knowledge, and learn how to wait upon God, for a deeper wisdom to descend upon us, that often feels like a quiet acceptance and peace of what cannot be changed for now, and a motivation to change what is possible, a greater compassion for all things living, including ourselves, and a bigger capacity to forgive.

Finally, if you examine the word, Lent, it is also the past tense of ‘lend’, which has meanings that include, “to contribute or impart” (e.g. “I lent her some advice”) and “to accommodate or offer” (e.g. “I lent her my ear”). Lent is not just about surrendering ourselves and seeking the heart of God for our own growth and transformation, but our renewed and restored relationship with God compels us to then ask how we can lend ourselves towards others. It is a natural, intuitive question that will present itself, as our God is a relational, incarnational God; meaning our God thrives on relationships and on relationships that are life-giving, which involves love and justice. So much so that this relationship needed to be equal, to be material, that could be touched and felt by the senses. God, in Jesus needed to walk with us, body to body.

That was the crux of Jesus’ ministry, to walk with people, to model a life-giving relationship, to remind us that God can never be fully known, that God does not reside in our knowledge, teachings, beliefs and practice but only through surrender, emptying and seeking.

We are called to do the same. It is important that our ministering to others, walking alongside others or ministry of accompaniment stems from, and is intertwined with a constant seeking of God’s heart. Otherwise, a ministry that stems from our ego can be damaging, both to ourselves and others. Such a ministry involves, and will exhibit love, compassion and forgiveness. For ministry to be life-giving, it will require us to examine our own lives, to surrender ourselves and allow God to speak with us in the silences and moments spent waiting for God’s wisdom to pour into our hearts. Such ministry will be transformative, nothing less than the kindom of God here on earth.

I’d like to end by leaving us some questions to chew on, and then allow yourself to just sit in silence and empty your thoughts. You can close your eyes if you’d like, and if you notice a thought or feeling, just acknowledge it and let it go, don’t dwell on it. Let God meet you in the silence.

Focusing Questions:
– When was the last time you battled your ego?
– What is preventing you from resting in God?
– How will you surrender everything to God?
– How will you create silences in your life to seek God?
– How can you lend yourself towards others?