The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
March 21, 2021
Have you ever paused to think about how amazing your heart is? It is the pump that keeps each of our bodies alive. It beats anywhere between 60 and 100 times a minute, normally—unless you are a well-trained endurance athlete and then it might beat only 40 times a minute. And with each heartbeat, the heart pumps blood throughout our bodies and carries oxygen to every cell. Then the blood doesn’t stop flowing when it reaches its target cell, thinking its work is done—it goes right back to the heart where the heart sends blood to the lungs to get more oxygen. And the cycle repeats and life continues.
Heart conditions make it harder for our bodies to function at their best. We owe great thanks
- to medical doctors for their treatment of physical heart conditions and the amazing ability to do heart transplants in dire situations;
- to close friends for their treatment of our relationally broken hearts and their gift to help us laugh once again;
- and to God for divine treatment of our tainted spiritual hearts and the radical transformation of our diseased hearts. While all of us need a radical transformation of our heart—and to such an extent that the prophet Ezekiel talks about replacing our old heart with a new heart—most often the Bible talks about God’s transformation of our heart.
Today, we are going to spend some time reflecting on God’s treatment of our tainted spiritual hearts. Humankind hasn’t had a good track record of keeping hearts from being contaminated. If we go back to the beginning with Adam and Eve, their hearts were quickly tainted with sin — so that they gave into temptation and then lied about their actions. And then their first-born was overcome with jealousy and killed his brother.
Throughout the Old Testament we hear of the people of Israel and Judah allowing their hearts to be filled with selfish desire, the worship of false gods and a complaining spirit. Yet, God did not throw his hands up and say “I am done with this… I am so over these tainted hearts… I am out of here.” God wasn’t going to let sin have the last word.
What we learn from Jeremiah is that God was committed to making a new covenant, different than the ones made through ‘the law’ and with those called to be instrumental in the forming of a faith-filled people. It would still be a strong, solemn agreement between God and the people, more than just an alliance. It would however not be on stone or in a rainbow, but on the people’s hearts.
Because of the human heart’s susceptibility to sin, God needed to go to the heart of the matter — it was critical for heart health.
God knew that the heart was not just wrapped up in emotion as many of us think of it today. The heart also involves our intellect and will. It is the ruling center of the whole person, the spring of all desires.
The houses of Israel and Judah had been given an opportunity to get to know God and follow in God’s ways, but overall, as a people, they had been weak of heart and not allowed God to be the pulse of their lives. God was committed to not let tainted spiritual hearts remain untreated. His new covenant would provide healing for the sin-sick soul.
God’s new covenant would claim the house of Israel (and, through Jesus, each of us) as his own. Jeremiah wrote God’s words in verse 33, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And as God’s ‘own’, our spiritual hearts are made healthy and strong through grace and forgiveness. God was well aware of our weakness of heart in giving full allegiance to him; and yet he says, as recorded in verse 34, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
God has claimed us as his own and is not going anywhere—no matter where we may roam.
There was once a young man from Chicago who went down to the bluegrass regions of Kentucky where he met and wooed a young woman who ultimately came back to Chicago as his bride, Haddon Robinson writes. He goes on with this story: They enjoyed three lovely years of marriage, and then one day in the midst of a sickness in a seizure of pain the young woman lost her mind. When she was at her best, she was a bit demented. At her worst, she would scream, and neighbors complained because the screams cut the air and it was hard to live with.
And so the young businessman left his home in the middle of Chicago, went out to one of the western suburbs, built a house, determined that there he would try to nurse his wife back to health and sanity again. One day the family physician suggested that perhaps if he were to take his wife back to her Kentucky home that something in those familiar surroundings would help her restore her sanity, and so they went back to the old homestead. Hand in hand they walked through the old house where memories hung on every corner. They went down to the garden and walked down by the riverside where the first cowslips and violets were in bloom. But after several days nothing seemed to happen.
So, defeated and discouraged, the young man put his wife back in the car, and they headed back to Chicago. When they got close to the house, he looked over and discovered that his wife was asleep. It was the first deep, restful sleep she had had in many weeks. When he got to the house, he lifted her from the car, took her inside, placed her on the bed, and realized she wanted to sleep some more. So he placed a cover over her and then just sat by her side and watched her through the midnight hour, watched her until the first rays of the sun reached through the curtain and touched her face. The young woman awoke, and she saw her husband seated by her side. She said, “I seem to have been on a long journey. Where have you been?”
And that man, speaking out of days and weeks and months of patient waiting and watching said, “My sweetheart, I’ve been right here waiting for you all this time.”
Haddon Robinson reflects, And if you ask me, “Where is God?” the answer is very much the same. He’s right here, right here waiting for you to respond with love to love, waiting for you to respond with trust to promise, waiting for you to cast yourself with a reckless abandon upon the grace of God, and waiting for you to discover what it means to be loved by God.
God has revealed himself to you and made himself known. God has called you by name and loves you beyond measure. Are you committed to love the one who loves you? Are you willing to fully embrace being God’s very own?
To embrace being God’s very own will have some unique challenges in upcoming days. As we are vaccinated, and hopefully the number of COVID-19 cases continue to decline, enabling us to once again be together in ways that we have only dreamt of for over a year, there will be
- the challenge to not get caught up in our dreams of what we can do and move forward without consulting with what God wants us to do;
- the challenge to not get so enthralled with ‘the feel’ of the moment that we carelessly endanger our spiritual hearts, let alone other people;
- the challenge to not fill our time with experiences and people to overflow, so as to not leave room for God to speak to us in the stillness of quiet moments.
May we live our days, without loosing sight of the wonderful gift of grace and love that comes our way, by living as God’s very own and inviting him to write his law on our hearts.