I don’t generally wear my clerical collar, except for church on Sundays, and when I’m doing some ministerial function. I’ve said that the collar carries no weight with the Lord, but it works well on hospital visits. In everyday life we tend to make all kinds of distinctions. We elevate a person with more education, wealth, or influence above the poor and so called common people. But Scripture teaches us in a number of ways that “God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts:10:34) God looks far deeper into each person. “For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) Wealth, education, and influence are nice if they are used for good and for the glory of God, “but, the Lord declares, to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”(Isaiah 66:2)
A friend of ours, for whom our church has been praying, is undergoing a life saving heart operation today. We pray for wisdom and guidance for the doctors, for peace and strength for her husband, and for complete healing from her condition. It is a frightening time when one is facing the possibility of death. We look in hope to the medical profession, and the mercy and grace of our God. That is also what this week is about. All of us, no matter how fit we are, have a serious heart condition that does lead to death. We are by nature sinful and separated from God, and that is spiritual death. We are in desperate need of intervention by a wisdom and power beyond ourselves. Jesus is that intervention. He provided the full healing power necessary to repair our diseased hearts. We have the assurance that, through faith in Him, our hearts have been healed. He has take our sin and given us His righteousness. He has taken our death and given us life. This couple, for whom we are praying, believes that deeply. They, as we, very much want to see a good physical result from this operation. but above all we know that in Jesus, death has been overcome, and we do have life and hope in Him.
The Prophet Jeremiah, writing 600 years before Christ, wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”(17:9) Other translations are even stronger saying the heart is “desperately corrupt”. This is not just the raving of an Old Testament seer on a bad day. This is a true statement of our condition before God. Jesus said, that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”(Matthew 15:19) Mankind, including you dear brother and sister, and me “great preacher” that I am, have a heart condition that is beyond any earthly cure. We hate to admit it, but we are broken and helpless, kneeling before a Baby in a Bethlehem stable. That Baby is the only source of our heart change, and our ability to come into the presence of God. But that is the very reason He is there. God loves you, and me, so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that as we believe in Him, we will not perish, but have everlasting life.(John 3:16) The cross of Calvary hung over that dirty stable giving us a heart change, and bringing us hope and life.
Anyone who watches any amount of network TV is deluges with commercials about upcoming TV programs and feature films. The offerings are abysmal! What is portrayed in one after another is anger, greed, violence, sexual exploits, and hate. We are told that the media is only being a mirror of our society. In large part that is probably true. I was reading some material from the 14th century last night. They didn’t have the media, but they were no better or worse than we are. We begin our worship service with a confession, acknowledging before God that we are by nature sinful and unclean. That is where it all comes from. We are sinners in a sinful world. But then we hear the gracious words of Christ’s forgiveness. The rest of the service is centered around the proclamation of the Good News of forgiving grace in Jesus Christ. Through the words of Scripture and Holy Communion we hear of a new way of life. We declare that in Christ there is forgiveness. There is a better way to live. Christ, alone, changes us inside at the deepest part of our being, making it possible to live a life that is not centered around all of the base things of this world. It is a life of joy, strength, peace, and real love.
In a conversation with my grandson last week he was telling me about one of his science classes. The instructor was saying that because of the great advances in medicine and technology, he predicted that, by the end of the century, people would be living to 200 years and beyond. This opened up a great discussion. My remark was that this would be a horrible prospect. I can’t conceive of the terrible conditions this would impose, and the absolute dictatorship that would come about to manage such a society. This is the stuff horror films are made of. My main point was that, in spite of all our scientific advances, man’s heart has not changed in 7000 years. A couple thousand years ago Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”(17:9) Jesus followed this saying that “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) Unless the heart is changed, all of the technological progress can only lead to destruction. And only Jesus can change the heart.
Is there a difference between one’s private and public life? Maybe the question is, should there be? or even, does it matter? Scripture teaches us that the convictions and commitments of our hearts should show in all that we are and do. This points to a very important verse from St. Paul, “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”(Colossians 3:17) There is nothing here about living two different lives. Whatever we do, whether private or public, comes from what is at the center of our life, and that does make a difference. Of course we sin, and there is forgiveness and restoration, but we live by one standard and not two. This is important for all of us, but I also think it is important in this season of examining candidates for public office. For too long we have tried to excuse bad personal behavior or attitudes, saying that it doesn’t affect the work they do in office. We are one person. Who we are inside makes all the difference in who we are outside. Our Lord continues to work in the deepest parts of our life.
Ancient Israel was instructed in worship. God gave instructions for the sanctuary, the festival days, and the pattern of sacrifice. From the birth of the Church at Pentecost, worship has been central for Christians. Liturgies developed over the years with great meaning and purpose. However, worship is more than the form we use. Worship is a matter of the heart seeing clearly who Jesus is. In Matthew 14 the disciple saw Jesus calm the storm at sea, and “those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” It was not only that they had had their immediate need met and their fears calmed. They realized that they were in the presence of Most Holy God. The Creator stood before the created. There was no other possible or fitting response than to pour out the heart in worship. Our services and liturgies are helpful, but it is a heart realizing that it is in the presence of Holiness that brings forth true worship.
Franklin Roosevelt once said that the “business of America is business.” I’m not opposed to competition and free enterprise. I was in business myself for 30 years, but I do get tired of the merchants advertising blitz, especially this time a year. Three quarters of my new e-mails are advertising! We complain when Americans don’t save enough, and when they save, we complain when they don’t spend enough. We have made the dollar, or the euro, the central guiding principle of life. We have also become soft and selfish, not wanting to give up any portion of our benefits for the common good. I certainly don’t believe that the answer is another government program. In fact, I don’t see any answer, because the answer is not on the outside. It is on the inside, a change to human hearts, and governments can’t accomplish that. The only change to the heart comes from the Child that was born 2000 years ago in a Bethlehem stable, the One who said “you must be born from above, by water and the Spirit.”(John3) Until the Lord returns, that only happens one person at a time. This truth is the greatest gift each of us has to give in this Christmas Season.
God’s work in us is always that of changing our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah had said, “The heart is deceitful above all thing and desperately corrupt, who can understand it.”(17:9) It is a truth we do not like to admit, but it is a truth that we see plainly both in ourselves and in the world at large. From the first time that we begin to acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, God is at work within us to soften, cleanse, and change our hearts. He is our Father, not overbearing or forceful, but gentle, patient, and loving. He is at work daily to open the eyes of our hearts to the beauty and goodness of His life. His Spirit is actively working to move us from the false values and great fears of this life, to the riches and peace of His. Jesus gives us the invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”(Matthew 11:28-29) Trust your Father. He loves you and is working in you.
I had my annual echo cardiogram yesterday morning. They provide a small flat screen monitor next to the table where the patient lays on his side for the test, so he can watch what is done. It is amazing laying there watching the interior workings of one’s own heart. The different chambers, the valves opening and closing in perfect rhythm, and it has been doing that 70 times per minute for more than 70 years. The statistics about the human heart are astounding, and that is only one organ of our complex bodies. An accident of nature? A process of trial and error, mutations and natural selection over millions of years? I don’t think so! We are God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made. And further, If He has made us so intricately, and keeps us functioning over our years, He will not abandon us. He is ever present with His abundant mercy. Whether that heart, or any of part keeps functioning, is really not the point. He has made us, and we are His. He will watch over His creation, and guide us to Himself.