Heavenly Father, I humbly beseech you to see before you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, and a sinner of your own redeeming. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirt. Amen. What a gift it is to be invited to be with you today through the worship at Washington National Cathedral. I’m grateful and humbled by the invitation.

Let me begin with these words by the great preacher and theologian Howard Thurman, as I reflect actually on our passage from Jeremiah today. “There’s something in every one of you that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. And if you cannot hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching.” The prophet Jeremiah heard the genuine, the word of the Lord remember, came to Jeremiah. It’s written, “And the Lord said, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

See, I think Jeremiah and Thurman’s vision invite us to be curious about this genuine that is within. Can we hear the voice before our own narrative drowns it out? Inviting us to discover God’s invitation. In our passage from Jeremiah, we hear echoes of just such an enticement. Jeremiah invites us to hear that God creates us, that God writes upon our hearts, that God invites the genuine in one individual body, to meet the genuine and the body of another. God invites us to see what we are part of God’s creation. Creatures of different, unique bodies, genuine bodies. We find that which is genuine, written with the same hand that prescribes us all. Thurman eloquently wrote, “I must wait and listen for the sound of the genuine in you. I must wait, for if I cannot hear it, and then in my scheme of things, you are not even present. And everybody wants to feel that everybody else knows that she is there.” That we are present, recognized, seen, I would say. When we look and our eyes are opened, and our ears unplugged, that recognized ministry of Jesus and so many healing accounts, we become aware, transfixed, and transformed. And the God through me meets the God through you.

We come to terms with the inscription written so long ago. Written and enlivened by the reinterpretation of those words, the translation, the retracing that reveals itself when one gazes upon God’s handwritten cruciform body of Jesus and receives with clarity what is written on another’s heart from the day before each of our own beginnings. Here then we know the Lord, the genuine, the forgiving one, the merciful one, the one of grace, and the loving one. And we see iniquity for what it is. See sin and sibling rivalry, but we also see it crossed out, undone, trampled like death itself by the embracing body of Jesus. Jeremiah’s gift, recognized by generations, is a prophecy that speaks out loud the shame of the cross in every time, and in this our time, Jeremiah pronounces, if you will, good news and the good news is this: that all exiles, all exiles, have an opportunity to begin again.

Jeremiah and Thurman are speaking truth to us. Dive deeper than our own inner dialogue and speech, and hear the words inscribed in our hearts. You are forgiven. All exiles forgiven. Before we are given, we have an opportunity to begin again. And if we are able, as Thurman writes, to wade, and to listen, and to see, and to know the genuine written on the hearts of mothers, and fathers, and brothers, and sisters, and our circle of friends. And those who are even our enemies, politically and socially. Those people whose minds we cannot stand, who if we had the power, Thurman writes, we would wipe them out. But if you can read each other’s cross-inscribed heart, we will discover that if we wipe them out, we go with them. For we are all exiles. So Thurman wrote, “You fight, you fight for your own life by not killing them.”

Here is a sacrificial picking up of our cross, Jesus is so fond of talking to us about. The cross of Christ does not allow the Christian you see to dismiss the exile in each other, nor our pre-exilic nature. For the Christian sees always, in another body of vision, of one’s own exilic nature, one’s own enslaved body. We also see there the genuine.

The whole arc of God’s narrative suggests that we are created to be embodied relationships. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “analogia relationis.” Nahum D. Chandler and W.E.B. Du Bois called it “the between.” We’re invited by God’s own cruciform handwriting before we were in the room to participate in a “poetics of relations,” says poet Édouard Glissant. Such poetry, the poetry that is between us is not a luxury, author poet Audre Lord wrote. A draw on her work here, a poetics of relation, it is where our names come from. The ideas, the ideas which are, until this deep connection, nameless and formless, about to be birthed and already felt. What is heard in the deep and whispered in the genuineness of ourselves, of poetry, Lord says, is that which precedes understanding. We glimpse, if you will, an icon of the Christ in us that speaks God’s fingerprints. A word of human unicity, the deity is not repugnant to the cosmos, nor flesh. A phrase I’m borrowing from theologian Kate Sonderegger here. J. Kameron Carter calls this the anti, the before, this paraontological nature of embodiment. Before it is all drowned out by human hatred.

Thurman helps us with this thick theological language and again he refrains: We see the genuine in ourselves, listen for it. But then you can see the genuine in others. Thurman wrote with the tongue of his own mystic prophecy it’s possible you see when we do this for me to go down in me and come up in you, so that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me. And the wall that separates and divides will disappear, and we will become like one.

As Jeremiah prophesied, all exiles have the opportunity to begin again. We are invited to a deep turn towards one another. So as to hear the genuine cruciform voice of God inscribed on our every heart before we were even in the womb. It is not that we are to speak out a prophecy, but that our bodies are to be the prophecy that repairs and binds and fights for the life of the exiled in each other. That fights the fight of love to the exiled in all of us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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