“What do you long for most? What is most precious to you?” the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas asked the viewers of the Thursday, July 2, morning devotional service on CHQ Assembly.
“Some Christians find this question surprising since they associate faith more with denial than with desire,” she said.
Her sermon title was “Faith for the Earth: What Are We Longing for?” The scripture text was John 1:35-39a (NRSV):
“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi, (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’”
When the disciples of John the Baptist followed Jesus, he turned and asked them what they wanted, what they were looking for. “What do you really want?” Bullitt-Jonas asked the viewers.
“That is a piercing question for those of us who live in an addictive society that is quick to tell us what we want,” she said. “Our desires are hijacked by the culture.”
She was driving one day and saw a truck with an advertisement on it that read “What you are looking for.”
“I bit and got closer to the truck. On it was a picture of a woman lounging with a cigarette in her hand,” she said. “Cigarettes, cars, gadgets, new fashions, latest apps — we have got to have them.”
She continued, “These ads sell products that create a climate of craving. They create an endless process of acquiring, throwing away, updating. We live in a throw-away culture of boundless consumption and the use of fossil fuels.”
The earth groans with this abuse and human need grows, said Bullitt-Jonas.
“What is required of us is honest self-examination. We need a shovel as our tool to carry out an archeology of our desire to find out what truly makes us happy,” she said.
Once we have sorted through the lesser desires, she told the congregation, “we find out that what we want is to be fully alive, to know and be known, to love and be loved. We want to be part of something larger than ourselves.”
She continued, “We want to be creative and have a purpose, to be a blessing to others.”
Knowing and claiming our hearts’ desires is like having a compass in our pocket, Bullitt-Jonas said. “It is having the North Star overhead, a dependable indicator that points us to wise action and loving speech.”
She urged the viewers to use that guide in every encounter. “Ask yourself, ‘How do I meet this situation with creativity?’” Tap into your higher purpose, deeply inhaling and then saying or doing what is necessary to express that inner conviction.
“The more completely you align with your higher purpose, the more inner peace you feel. When you are lit up by creativity and curiosity, compassion and love will light up others’ lives,” she said.
Bullitt-Jonas said that humans are hurtling into a future “where we will all live on a planet that is harsher and hotter than the one we were born into.” She cited ecologist and writer Bill McKibben that our old familiar globe is melting, drying, and acidifying in ways no humans have ever seen.
“We are experiencing floods and a warmer climate that is a great breeding ground for a pandemic, and millions are on the move to find a better place to live,” she said. These factors become threat multipliers that lead to wars over scarce resources.
She asked, “How do we prepare for such adversity? We find out what we really value, long for, find our North Star, imagine a world we want to create. Then we join with others who want to cast their lot with love and justice as their compasses.”
One of the essays in her book, Rooted and Rising, is a conversation with Lennox Yearwood, Jr., founder of the HipHop Caucus. Bullitt-Jonas asked him where he found his strength to continue.
He said that he “had to believe in something outside (him)self. (He) had to find an anchor; you can’t do it without an anchor.” He is anchored in the African-American experience of overcoming slavery, Jim Crow and voter suppression; and as a Christian and a minister, anchored in God and Jesus Christ.
“When you link to a tradition of faith, your steps are ordered. God is leading me so I can fight for God’s children and the planet,” Yearwood said.
Bullitt-Jonas said, “He has found his heart’s desire. We need leaders who are justice makers. They need to do justice now, love mercy now and walk humbly with God, now. If God whispered in your ear, ‘This is why I sent you,’ what would you say next? Find out.”
The Rev. George Wirth, a retired Presbyterian minister from Atlanta, presided over the service that included a pre-recorded sermon in Chautauqua’s Hall of Christ. Chautauqua’s interim organist, Joshua Stafford, played an improvisation as the prelude and the postlude on the Tallman Tracker Organ. He also played the hymn tune “Fairest Lord Jesus.” Before the sermon, Robert A. Jonas struck a bell to provide a tone that he reproduced on the shakuhachi. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr., Chaplaincy Fund and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion.