How’s Your Heart?

Lent 5 B, March 25, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

So how’s your heart?  Have you been getting regular checkups?  Are you eating heart healthy food?  Getting regular exercise?  Do you  take your medications as prescribed by your doctor?  Good!

So how’s your spiritual heart?  Are you paying even closer attention to it?  You should you know; that heart will be around a lot longer  than your physical one.  The physical heart will eventually fail from sickness or old age, but your spiritual heart, the essence of who  you are, will last for eternity.  Your Great Physician, the one who created your bodies, has prescribed medicine and treatments to care  for your spiritual hearts as well.  If you follow His care and rest in His work, then you are absolutely guaranteed to have a blessed  eternity.  Listen: “For this is the covenant that I will make with (them)… declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will  write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each  his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will  forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” [Jeremiah 31:33-34]

So there is God’s prescription for you; a new covenant!  But why do we need a new covenant?  Well, its because the old one can’t save  you!  Why; is there something wrong with it?  Well no; its just that sin-sick people, people like us tend to misuse it; we want to use it in  ways God never intended.  You see, in our sin-sick condition we don’t want to believe that we have spiritual heart disease.  The people  in the prophet Jeremiah’s time didn’t want to believe that either!  In fact, every time God tried to treat His people’s disease of sin with His Word, they came up with all kinds of excuses to avoid getting the treatments.  And if they didn’t like the message, why they would just attack God’s prophets, who were kind of like His spiritual paramedics.  So like a child throwing a tantrum in the doctor’s office before receiving an injection, they refused to listen.

We aren’t much better today really.  It’s getting harder and harder to even mention God’s name in public without someone being offended and trying to silence God’s wisdom.

Did you hear about what happened to the Christian fraternity and sorority on the campus of SDSU?  They had a very simple code of conduct based on God’s Law; a set of rules that you must agree with in order to be a member.  They required all perspective members to sign a pledge promising to avoid sex outside of marriage and agree that marriage as God defines it is between a man and a woman.  Well, as you may have guessed, the state of California determined that they were discriminatory and not eligible for any of the state’s support that all of the other fraternities or sororities receive.  Well both the fraternity and sorority sued in federal court and lost.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to even hear their case.  So what does this case tell us?  Well, you can’t force people to live God pleasing and moral lives.  No, I’m afraid that before God’s can be received and follow we need something more than rules and pledges in our lives; we need something new and powerful that doesn’t depend on us.

Like the true and faithful children of Abraham in the prophet Jeremiah’s time, we’ve also discovered that on our own we can’t keep God’s law and rules of conduct.  We’ve all learned by experience that the old covenant, can never bring us God’s peace and salvation.

So this morning God wants us to admit that try as we might, we will never please Him by being good.  He wants us to see that on our own, we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We love to look at the trouble in our neighbor’s life and feel superior, while ignoring the big problems and sin that dominates our own lives.  This is why we need a new covenant; a new prescription from God.  In truth we need a new heart.  So this morning, God is telling us that right now, He’s doing that very thing, and He does this work through the new covenant.

This new covenant is “not like the old covenant (He) made with (our) forefathers.”  It contains no laws, rules, or regulations that have to be kept.  It has no priesthood that limits the right of who may approach God.  In fact, this new covenant invites everyone, regardless of nationality, to believe in God’s love and presence with them personally.  It sets aside ethnic, racial, and other man-made boundaries.  The prescription or invitation of the new covenant is for the entire world.  This new covenant invites everyone to worship the Lord in spirit and truth—“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”  This is God’s miracle of conversion or new life.  How does He deal with our old diseased hearts?  He rips them out in baptism and replaces them with new hearts.  With these new hearts, we see God’s holy and perfect righteousness and instead of being afraid, we call out to Him through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, with the words,  “Abba, Father.”  We no longer look at God as angry and threatening, instead we see His forgiving love!  This change in heart is something that the old covenant could never give to us.

So how did God do this mighty work?  By showing us Jesus, His own Son upon the cross.  In God’s Word, we see  Jesus there upon the cross, high and lifted up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Through Jesus’ obedience and death we see the once-and-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes the guilt of sin from the entire world.  He offered Himself freely; He willingly shed His blood so that all could be saved from their sins and be given a new heart.  Now there is nothing that can prevent anyone, including you from knowing the forgiving love of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus shouted from the cross “It is finished” he said those words for you.

This new covenant is sealed upon your very flesh in your baptism.  It really does not matter whether you can remember the day you were washed clean or not, because it was God’s work and not yours or any other man.  In your baptism God took the sacrifice of Jesus blood, blood shed for the entire world as payment of their sins and He made it your personal payment.  In your baptism God sealed you and gave to you His very Spirit and the forgiveness for all of your sins.  But that is not all… He also gave to you the gift of faith to believe in this new covenant.  In our baptisms, the Words God spoke by the prophet Jeremiah come true: “No longer will a man teach his neighbor… saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me.”  We know Him through both the gift of faith and the promise of forgiveness that was given to us in our baptism.  In both the cross and the baptismal waters, you hear God’s continuing promise to each of you: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

But the work of the new covenant does not stop at the baptismal font.  Every day God feeds us with His Word; a word that can be read, spoken, and declared.  He calls us to His table and shares the meal of the new covenant within Holy Communion.  In this meal He draws us to Himself and feeds us His supreme gift; with the bread, we receive His body given on the cross; with the wine He gives us His own blood poured out upon that same cross.

Within each of these sacred gifts, God gives us complete forgiveness, and He removes all doubts about His love for us.  With these gifts He comes to us personally and works within us, strengthening our new hearts; hearts that beat to please Him.  When we keep God’s law and do what is right, we glorify and please Him!   When we fail, when we sin He wants us to confess these failures and turn to Him for forgiveness.  This is the rhythm of living in God’s Kingdom of Grace; this is the rhythm of our new hearts beating within us.  It is a life that God wants us to demonstrate to others.

Now, it might seem dangerous following Jesus and sharing God’s forgiving love with your neighbor; it might make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to shame and ridicule.  But if you will follow Jesus and the path of sacrificial love that He walked, after a while you will begin to grow in faith and learn to rest in the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit.

Before we close our message this morning, I want you to look up; look up at the ceiling of this church.  Do you see how high those lights are?  I would say that they are about 45 feet at the highest point.  How do you think those bulbs get changed?  That’s right; someone has to climb up there on a ladder, and that someone in usually Dwain and me.  The first time we went up there, we were pretty afraid.  Each rung of the ladder created more fear, but we went up because it had to be done.  Once we got up to the top, we felt every wiggle and jiggle of the ladder.  But something happened as we began to work; we became comfortable with the height because we were comfortable with the strength of the ladder, so comfortable in fact that we had to remind each other to be careful because it’s a long way down!

Well, that’s sort of like our walk of faith.  God has given us a new heart and a new covenant to live out and to share.  He’s assured us that if we trust in His presence and work within us, then we will be alright.  It might seem a little scary at first as you begin to share God’s forgiving love and Word with your neighbor.  But once you start walking with God and letting Him work within you, your fear will leave and God’s peace will take its place and you will be amazed at the good He can do through you!

Just as Jesus obediently walked to Jerusalem, He wants us to allow Him to lead our new hearts governed by a new covenant.  He wants us to go out into this world of sin and share His forgiving love and Word with others.  It can seem intimidating and even a bit threatening, but remember you have a new heart beating within you… and that heart is saying, “You’re not alone… not alone… not alone… not alone!”

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.