THE PROMISES OF GOD: 4 A FULL HEART

 

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

          This morning I will continue with the fourth of Lenten sermons entitled The Promises of God. Just to recap briefly: week one I said that God provides us skylight to gives us hope. Week two, I said that God commits to us through the covenant that has been established. Two weeks ago, God as Jesus is lifted up on the cross lifts us to the reality that there is an invisible one who loves us always. Today, I would like for you to consider that God has a full heart to love each of us.

          John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, spoke of having a “heart warming experience” on May 24, 1738. Some people have called it his conversion experience. Others have said it was one of several pivotal events in his life. My question is, “What has warmed your heart this week? What filled your spirit? Did your heart go out to someone? Instead of being warmed, were you chilled or saddened by some event? Where has your heart been this past week?

          Is your heart lifted when a child succeeds in school, but saddened when you hear of abuse? Is your heart lifted when a senior citizen marks a significant milestone with joy and grace, but saddened when they have to face yet another in an unending string of health limitations? Is your heart lifted when a spouse or good friend accomplish a goal, but saddened when someone who is the sole supporter of a family loses their job? Is your heart lifted when a young adult finds direction for their seeming limitless energy, but saddened when they feel invisible yet another time?

          There is a wonderful old hymn, “As Pants the Hart for Streams”. It is based on Psalm 42. The author is unknown. The composer of the music is Mendelssohn. It is found in the Psalter of the United Methodist Hymnal, page 777. Verse one reads:

                           As a deer pants for flowing streams

                           So longs my soul for you, O God.

                         I thirst for you, for you my heart is yearning,

                         When shall I come and behold the face of God?

 

          Israel’s King David, who is one of most notoriously passionate people in history, goes to the heart of the matter in Psalm 51 when he prays: “Give me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

          His heart panted for Bathsheba. It’s a type of heart-trouble many people experience! Yet later in his life when confronted by Nathan the prophet his heart pants for God. A parallel experience happens when a young family pants in excitement when a new puppy is brought home. Twelve to fifteen years later when the elderly animal should be taken to the vet for its final sleep, their hearts pant in an unique way.

          There is an old saying, “To handle yourself, use you head. To handle others, use your heart. It seems that’s what God is doing in the passage from Jeremiah. God has attempted to relate to humanity on the theoretical, head level, by giving us the Ten Commandments. Yet Moses broke the law, literally, when in anger he threw down the tablets of the law as he descended Sinai. The people repeatedly broke the law in their way of living.

          In the Jeremiah passage, it seems the divine head steps aside and allows the divine heart to seek us out. God puts the law, God’s will, in our hearts.

          The Bible is about the transformation of the human heart. It charts the movement from theory, The Ten Commandments, to relationship, such as in the Sermon the Mount. We might say the incarnation of Jesus was the embodiment of God’s heart, God’s intent. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow. In Christ, God throws the divine heart into our midst to love us all unconditionally.

          If we were to read chronologically, today’s passage from the Gospel of John should read sometime after Palm Sunday during Holy Week. Yet it is read today not to restructure Jesus’ life but to tie it to Jeremiah’s promise of God’s heart, and deepen our appreciation of a broader appeal for the Palm Sunday events.

          In this passage, we are told some Greeks were at the Passover festival. Perhaps these were converts to Judaism, or, more likely, they were curious non-believers. We don’t know for sure. If word had spread about Jesus making his way to Jerusalem for Passover, who knows what kinds of people might have shown up to see the show. What the writer s underscoring here is that they were non-Jews, representatives of the Gentile world. Their request to see Jesus confirms the Pharisees’ unconscious prophecy (12:19) that the world is going after Jesus.

          The interaction between Phillip and Andrew here parallels the call of the disciples in chapter one. Jesus greeted the first disciples with, “Come and see.” The request here to “see” Jesus is a possible request for a meeting but more likely it is the desire to become a disciple. The parallel is that this was the manner of the call of the first Jewish disciples and now the manner of the call of the first Gentile disciples.

          Having heard this request from the Gentiles, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus can now go to his fullfill witness. He can be crucified, lifted on the cross, and glorified (remember these are the same words in Greek—lifted up and glorified), because he says in verse 32: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” This is the glory of God in Christ.

          The heart of God is a full heart, it is for all people. No one is left out. This is the justice of God. Justice is not just us, it is God’s love for everyone. Now that the Gentiles are seeking him, Jesus is ready to fulfill his work.

          Isaiah had proclaimed God’s word to the nation of Israel, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:6) In this incident with the Greeks, Jesus demonstrates that God’s heart draws everyone into God’s love and care.

          The issue of immigration today is a quagmire of our national policies and practices. The voices of religious, political, economic and cultural groups grow more strident as the weeks pass by. The choices of large scale deportations, higher fences, amnesty, or guest worker documentation smack at sloganizing but are not satisfying.

          Since the time our ancestors were forced laborers in a strange land as slaves in Egypt, the Judeo-Christian tradition has been called by God to care for the stranger in our midst. When God gives the second set of tablets, God tells the people, “You shall also love the stranger(sojourner), for you were strangers(sojourners) in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:19).

          The biblical narrative is clear; we have failed repeatedly in our care for each other. Yet God calls us again and again, and in Christ embodies a full heart, a heart for all.

          I am not advocating any particular policy. I am advocating that we consider the heart of God. I am advocating we pray, speak, and act for humane treatment for all people in this and all the issues of life. God has a full heart. It is a heart whose love knows no limits and is fully given to all people.

          Leslie Griffiths, was the Dean of Wesley’s Chapel in London. He tells of an experience with Louie Colly, a black teenager of his neighborhood. Louie was the victim of a murder attempt. His best friend, seeking to protect Louie became the victim in his place as he stood in the way and was clubbed and stabbed to death, about 150 yards from Wesley’s Chapel.

          Rev. Griffiths went to see Louie. Due to their cultural and age differences, their conservation was difficult. Rev. Griffiths was feeling inadequate when someone called Louie on the phone as they were together. Louie said to the caller, “Thanks man, but I got my Reverend with me just now and he’s the fellow I need.”*

          What you and I and all the world need, is to know that God has a heart full of love and we all have a place in God’s heart. Thanks be to God.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH

 

 

 

* Lord Leslie Griffiths, “Spirit of the Foundery,” Healthy Church Event, Houston, Texas, January 2015