A Spirit who binds displaced hearts together

Posted on

Day of Pentecost
May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17 [25-27]
Shera Nesheim, Diaconal Minister

Much like the displaced followers of Jesus in our readings today, in 1983 there was a humble group of Jesus followers who were also displaced and gathering in a mini-mall next to a meat market in Mandan, pondering where the Spirit was leading them to serve and be community.

I’m not sure anyone expects to end up at YCC. Or at least, they don’t consciously think, I want to be there! But when the Superintendent of the correctional center invited them to Hope Chapel to be church together, with the students on campus and regular families and adults in a normal congregational setting…this group of people couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

These people are still feeling called by the Spirit to be church in this place today. We call ourselves Heart River. For the past 33 years Heart River people have briefly intersected the lives of thousands of students on their journey toward finding new life and hope. We firmly believe in God’s promise of hope for every single one of us here, no matter who we are or what what we’ve done. Heart River people continue to be drawn into this place by the Spirit of God. There is no roadside sign for people to follow and come to worship, you have to be invited or to hear about this place from someone in order to end up here. And each week we choose to drive confidently past the “no trespassing” signs to share the peace with you all. Clearly, though some of you don’t want to be here, Heart River people DO!

When I asked some students why they think we come here each week, they told me they thought that we were all paid by YCC to be here. To be honest, this actually makes sense. Because a lot of the people in an incarcerated student’s life that care about them (you), are often paid to be in it. Well, I hate to break it to you all, but we’re not paid to be here or to like you. In fact, we give money TO the church, so we can keep being church in this place.

Why, then, do people feel so drawn to find God in this tiny little chapel in the middle of a correctional center each week? You see, displaced people all have something in common: a desire to belong. We are a displaced people seeking a God who will draw us together into a place where we indeed belong. You students are literally displaced as you have been physically removed from your previous home and brought here to spend a number of days. Heart River people were a group displaced without a church home for a short time, and although we now have an established community to call home, most of us would consider ourselves displaced in some sense of the word.

Each and every one of us shows up on any given Sunday morning for a variety of reasons, but most of all, we just want to be with people who care about us, we want to hear about a God who still loves us despite the junk in our lives, and we want to belong somewhere.

Most of us know people in their lives that have had paths that are winding and not always straight. Perhaps we have felt like we have been abandoned to navigate this wild life alone. Our own loved ones fall through the cracks to drugs, to suicide, to abuse, to mistakes. We’re all displaced. We’re all yearning for something more. And so we show up. Each Sunday we hear that God loves us even in our brokenness. We hear that we are worth loving, that we are called beautiful children of God, we long to hear the truth. We come for connection, for forgiveness, healing, and peace. That’s why we show up. That’s why people from across the state of ND, even from Bowman, (like Lois and Dennis), care to support and encourage you in your journey toward a future with hope. That’s why people send quilts and prayers to help proclaim God’s promises in this place.

We need to be reminded of these things because when we step foot out the door, the world tries to lie to us and tell us that we are failures. That we aren’t good enough. That we aren’t whole. That we always will need something else to be better, do better, live better. And these are reasons I find myself drawn to worship each week – not just for the sense of belonging, but to be reminded of who exactly I am: a beloved child of God. I need to hear the truth, so that I might live into it all week long.

So what is the Spirit doing with ALL of us here? Something happens in this place. Many people who walk in and feel the warmth of the wood, the soft glow of the cross and the cozy and welcoming space comment that they think this place is holy. Perhaps even Spirit-filled. Especially when the music is playing!

The Spirit is here, whether or not we want her to be or not. Whether or not we think she is here or not. She is here. She is binding displaced hearts together and calling us to share the love of God we find in Jesus.

The Spirit has led us here, to be together. So we’re here. Now what? We continue to speak words of love and forgiveness to one another. We continue to believe in a future with hope. And we cling to these things, because we know that we are not alone in it. Jesus has given us the Spirit of God, and the Spirit, like the wind, is everywhere. She is in this place, she is out the door, and she is in our hearts. She is infiltrating every fiber of our being and saturating us with peace. Peace and satisfaction that the world cannot offer, but only God alone.

For the past 30+ years Heart River people have been blown into uncharted territory by the Spirit. Navigating the different ways they can be in relationship with students who are incarcerated and learning how to be church in this place. And the Spirit has sent us into the community. To invite others to join us in this ministry, to reach out to students on the outside, as we learn how to walk with and support you. God often uses displaced people to spread the love Christ in the world. So whether you are in this chapel, at work in the community, in the cottage finishing your chores, or spending time with friends and family, remember to take a moment and feel the presence of the Spirit, gently reminding you of who you truly are, and gently nudging you to find belonging and hope that can only be found in God our Creator.