Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 2 Sermon - Matters of the Heart

Continuing in our Advent Season, this sermon of the Second Sunday of Advent takes a look at the central concept of the heart - in life, in worship, in love and obedience to God.

When the Scriptures talk about the heart, and when our prayer book uses "heart" or "heartily" (we heartily thank thee...) what are they referring to? Not merely the cardiac muscle in our chests that pumps blood, but rather the heart is the core of who we are. If I say, I love you with all of my heart, I mean that I love you with all that I am and have, to the very core of my being. This is the heart of a person, and out of the heart flows the drive of our desires, the impetus for our thoughts, and the motive of our actions. "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" - Jesus (Matthew 12:34-35).

The Bible consistently teaches that a person's heart is naturally not good, but instead is corrupted and inherently selfish. While humans are created in God's image, they are Fallen and sinful, and need redeeming. Without God's intervention people's hearts are:

  • such that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5)

  • deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9)

  • corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:1-3)

  • the source of evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander (Matthew 15:18-20)

(See also: Genesis 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9; Romans 1:21, 3:23; 1 John 1:8-10)

What you and I need is a new heart. What Christians have, for millenia, called regeneration, and what Jesus called, being born anew (or born from above, or born again). From a new heart flows love, obedience, generosity, forgiveness, and peace. This transformed life is characterized by what St. Paul called the fruit of the Spirit.

But here's the catch: in this life the transformation of heart and mind and soul and body is not complete. We are reckoned (logizomai: imputed) righteous through faith in Jesus, and while our hearts are regenerate, there is still the sinful nature present. Thus for the faithful Christian, being born again is not the end of the battle against the selfish corruption of the heart, but rather the beginning!

This is where our liturgy speaks. It understands the corrupt heart and the power of God to forgive and justify. Those who wrote our prayers understood that the Christian life is first and foremost one of repentance, because it is in repenting that we are kept honest about our own shortcomings, weaknesses, and sin, and also kept focused on the completed work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Remember, Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost, he came for the sinner not the righteous, for the sick, not the healthy.

The language of our Rite 1 liturgy is full of "heart" language. No less than 13 times do we express the term "heart" or "heartily": Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open...cleanse the thoughts of our hearts...we are heartily sorry for these our misdoings...lift up your hearts...we heartily thank thee...keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God...

Ours is worship not merely of the mind (cerebral) or of the eye (asthetic) but of the heart. If you come to church in worship and God does not do something to your heart, then what are we doing here!? Know this:

What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.

Our worship this Advent, and truly year round, is intended by the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts.

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