Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon: August 30

This sermon was given at Monroe Congregational Church.

Opening Prayer from Tides & Season by David Adam

Love, Joy, Compassion, Hope, Pity

When we think of our hearts, the seat of our emotions, we think about love, joy…even sadness or anger. We think of those feelings that are part of our lives. We even say that some wear their hearts on their sleeves and we know what they are feeling. We think of our heart and our feelings in positive ways. And we would certainly agree with William Blake’s poem “The Divine Image” where Blake writes:
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
This poem from his Songs of Innocence, fits our understanding of our hearts, full of mercy along with pity, love and peace. But Blake also knew that what comes out of our hearts is not always so wonderful. From his other poem “A Divine Image” from his Songs of Experience:
Cruelty has a human heart,
And Jealousy a human face;
Terror the human form divine,
And Secrecy the human dress.
Blake describes the human heart as a “hungry gorge.” We describe people as having a heart of stone (think of Pharaoh). Such a description of our heart connects with what Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Mark. That the heart isn’t just those emotions we like to think about.
Jesus said, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
When confronted by some about the disciple’s actions, Jesus does not look to the outward rituals of purity, nor the boundaries of community, Jesus pointed to the heart as the seat of our morality, the seat of our purity, the seat that if not right with God can defile us. He takes the argument and confrontation over a ritual tradition to the next level: defilement is not about what goes into the body or even how we wash it, it is what comes out of our body, it is our actions in word and deed that come from our hearts.

The list he utters includes obvious things life theft, murder, adultery. All in the 10 Commandments. But Jesus includes other less obvious things like deceit, envy, slander, pride and folly. Jesus calls all these actions evil, these are what defile us. They not only corrupt us but they also destroy the love we have for God and our neighbor. These actions are self-centered, self-absorbed, self-focused with no connection to the harm of the social fabric of our lives. Jesus moved the question away from changing traditions, to get at the heart of the matter, for when it comes to purity or defilement, it is all about our heart, and Jesus wants us to have a change of heart, a heart that is with him.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out: “We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered.” (Letters & Papers from Prison)
It is what comes out of hearts, into the words and actions we do, that define us as Christians. As Pastor Jenn put it last week, “Our fight is not against flesh and blood; rather it is in living up to our calling. It is balancing to stand in Christ's shoes, reaching out to people not to strike them or push them away, but to bring them the fullness of God's goodness.”

And when we stand in Christ’s shoes, when we live out our baptismal calling, then we live into Christ’s large-heartedness as Bonhoeffer talked about. We live with compassion and love and hope toward our neighbors and all of God’s creation. It certainly isn’t the easy route, but when we live that way all will come to recognize it.

When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the late 1950s, they immediately arrested religious leaders and members of the resistance. Chinese soldiers found an elderly monk named Tulku Arik in retreat. They bound his hands, tied him behind a horse and rider, and led him to imprisonment. The old man was very thin, ill and unable to keep up. Whenever he fell, he was dragged. Along the way, a group of villagers recognized the monk. Despite the danger, they ignored the Chinese guard and ran and tried to attend to his wounds. "Please," the old lama said, "don't worry about me. Help the soldier who is holding the rope. He has blistered his hands dragging me . . . "

Over time, Tulku Arik was moved from prison to prison, and wherever he went, compassion followed. This was not lost on the Chinese, who ultimately released him, saying, "This kind of lama is okay." [From Change of Heart by Lama Shenpen Drolma]

One of our challenges as disciples of Jesus is not to let those things "outside" of us weaken that which we hold dear inside of us, not to let such anger or vengeance or cruelty displace the things of God in our hearts where mercy, pity, love & peace reside but to let God transform the evil that we have experienced into compassion and forgiveness for others, just like that monk.

For we are called by Jesus to have our human heart connect with God’s grace, which we see in Christ’s large heartedness. Let me end with someone who in the last century tried to have her heart connected to Christ’s large heartedness, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These are her words:
"Speak tenderly to all [them]. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well."

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