Love and Respect

Love and Respect

“let each one of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” St. Paul

The Archbishop gave instructions to the clergy at Synod that we are to preach on marriage this year and I am so glad that he did. This is the fourth Sunday that we have remained in John chapter six and the Discourse of the Living Bread and I don’t think that I have another bread sermon in me. So I’m happy for the opportunity to address something else.

I want you to use your sanctified imaginations with me for a moment as I create three scenarios in your mind’s eye. The first is from a TV show that aired years ago. It was called All in the Family and the lead character was named Archie Bunker. He was an older version of Al Bundy from Married with Children, if that helps. He was a blue-collar worker and sort of a Redneck if people from New York can be Rednecks. He was sexist and racist and would bark orders at his wife Edith from his chair, telling her to stifle herself and to get his dinner ready. You get the picture.

The next scenario is Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. If you don’t know who that is the Austin Powers movies are parodies of the James Bond movies. As his name implies Dr. Evil is the lead villain. He made a clone of himself but who was only half of his size so he called him “Mini Me.”. When not being evil they exchanged loving looks and continually said to one another “You complete me”accompanied by a pinkie to his lips.

The third scene is Adam recovering from a deep sleep after some divine surgery has been completed on his side. He wakes to discover a beautiful naked creature sitting next to him, unlike any he had ever seen before. He exclaims Wo….Man!” which is how “Woman” got her name. (It’s in the Bible somewhere, look it up.)

Now what in the wide world of sports do these scenarios have to do marriage? I suggest to you that these three scenarios represent three differing views of marriage and are examples of how desperately important it is to have the correct image before you if you are going to do the will of God and experience the kind of joy that God intends for marriage to produce.

Archie didn’t just drop out of thin air. Probably everyone here has known an Archie Bunker and some have even had him as their dad. This model is husband as king of the castle, head lion in the den, lead dog in the pack, when-I-say-“jump”-you-ask-“how high?” In this image children are to be seen and not heard and wives are to quietly serve their husbands.

I had a family member who married an Archie Bunker. He used to come home from work and plop down in front of the TV and shout for a beer. Like Edith she would deliver it in haste. That went on for some time until one day a friend of hers said, “Let me take it to him”and as she did so she shook the can of beer the entire length of the hallway. After it exploded all over him the husband he never again barked out orders for a beer.

Therein is the damage of this model. It not only makes one the superior and the other the inferior, it ends up making war between husband and wife. It can be a boisterous war like Archie and Edith or it can be a quiet passive/aggressive war that goes on for years with especially the wife leading a life of quiet desperation. I used to lead domestic violence treatment groups and so I know that this Archie Bunker model is still very much with us. But it falls way short of God’s intention for marriage.

A much more popular image today is that of Dr. Evil and MiniMe with each telling one another “you complete me.” On the surface it may look like a good relationship but since MiniMe is a perfect replica of Dr. Evil their devotion to one another is really just thinly veiled narcissism.

I have witnessed some wedding ceremonies so steeped in narcissism that you fear it foreshadows the true substance of the future marriage. You don’t want to think it but as you sit in the congregation and say to yourself, “Yeah, this one is not going to last.”

That is why I deeply appreciate the wedding liturgy of the Prayer Book that puts things in their proper perspective. We don’t process to the theme of Dr. Shivago or have bridesmaids and groomsmen dance down the aisle like they are on America’s Got Talent. The Prayer Book reminds the couple that this is bigger than you. We don’t write our own vows about staying true to each other as long as our planets are in alignment. The Prayer Book declares marriage as a permanent arrangement. It is one man and one woman for life. In seeking the blessing and support of the Church the husband and wife are reminded that it is bigger than you. In fact they make a vow to God before they make a vow to each other, which reminds them that it is bigger than you. In case I have not said it enough, and I think that St. Paul is also saying it is bigger than you.  

I love the curve ball that St. Paul throws to make that point. He gives specific instructions about the relationship of husband and wife and then he says, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church, however let each one love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” So the reader is left asking, “Wait, are you talking about Christ and the Church or husband and wife?” And St. Paul’s answer would be “Yes, because I want you to know that this is bigger than you.”

So the unity that a couple shares is not by one becoming a clone of the other. One marriage counselor said, “If both of you are exactly alike then one of you is unnecessary.”Unity does not come from uniformity it comes when a man and a woman become a complementary whole. Each provides what the other is lacking. They do indeed complete one another but only by becoming the unique person that God had called each of them to be. 

The third scenario is Adam waking up from divine surgery to discover his wife who is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She is not one of the animals over which Adam is to have dominion. Nor is she a clone of Adam so that Adam can worship himself. She is his companion and partner and coheir and lover and friend. She increases Adam’s joy, as he does hers. She makes his life whole because even though all of God’s creation is good, life is richer when there is someone you love with whom to share God’s goodness.

This guy is walking along the beach and discovers a bottle with the proverbial genie in it. He lets the genie out and so the genie offers to grant him one wish. The man says, “I love going to Europe but I hate flying so I want a bridge across the Atlantic.” The genie says, “You’ve got to be kidding. Do you realize how much steel and concrete that would take, not even to mention the engineering headaches of spanning 3,000 mile of water. Don’t you have an easier request?” The man thinks for a second and says, “Help me understand my wife.” The genie says, “Do you want 2 or 4 lanes on that bridge?”

 An author has made a fortune telling us what we already know, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. That truth is as old as the Scripture that also recognizes that men and women have different needs and play different roles and can even be a mystery to one another. These differences are something to be celebrated rather than ignored or attacked. And before we write off this teaching of St. Paul on marriage as culture-bound and archaic, lets’ more closely consider what St. Paul is saying. I believe it is divine wisdom.

 One of my favorite movies of all times is A Few Good Men.  There is a dramatic scene when Lt Kaffee is questioning Col Jessep and he asks “Why the two orders? If Kendrick told his men that Santiago wasn’t to be touched, then why did he have to be transferred?”  That scene came to mind when I was trying to understand St. Paul’s teaching. Why the two orders? Why does he tell men to love their wives but tell wives to respect their husbands? Why the two orders.

 As I pondered I came to believe that St. Paul was touching on some core values of each sex. This is a generalization and of course there are exceptions to the rule but I would submit to you that the following is true for most men. You can tell us all day long that you love us but if you disrespect us then you can keep your love. And I have discovered with my wife that as long as she feels loved or cherished that she would stick with me even if it meant attacking hell with a squirt gun. Respect is a core value of men and love is a core value of women. Of course it does not mean that men don’t need love and women don’t need respect. That is not the point. But imagine a world where the wife’s chief thought and passion every day was to honor her husband. Imagine how her husband would be empowered to attack his day. Imagine a world where a husband’s number one goal each day was to make his wife feel cherished. Imagine the joy in that home. Imagine a world were Christians could evangelize by saying, “If you want to know how much Christ loves the Church come to my house and meet my family.”

 There is another divine mystery here in St. Paul’s teaching. He points us to a Second Adam whose side was also wounded in order to receive His Bride. From His side flowed water that would birth the Church and Blood that would nourish the Church. Through the Spirit empowered Sacraments His Bride would mature. His one thought and passion is to present her to His Father in all her glory and her one thought and passion is to honor Him in all that she does. Christ and the Church are separate entities, playing very different roles and yet they are one. They are one, so much so, that His Bride is also His Body. THIS is the model we are to follow. The Christian husband and wife are not in competition with each other, nor does one disappear in order to complete the other. As icons of Christ and the Church their mutual love and respect preaches the greatest sermon ever preached.

 What do you do about this teaching if you are currently single or called to celibacy? First remember that just as with couples, this is bigger than you. You live in community. You live in a spiritual household and so what affects the household affects you. If the household becomes sick through following the wrong models then eventually it will have an impact on your life. So your job as a single person is to uphold the correct teaching about marriage and refuse the world’s attempts to redefine it.

 Second pray for marriages. Your enemy knows that if he can destroy marriage then he can destroy the Church. Pray for husbands to cherish their wives and for wives to respect their husbands. Pray that their children will be raised in the love and admonition of the Lord. Pray that their love and respect for each other will preach a sermon that will touch the lives of others for eternity.

 St. Paul gives us some very practical instructions about marriage and so I want to end with a very practical suggestion. By far the best thing that Beth and I have done for our marriage has been to attend and facilitate Financial Peace University. I went to it kicking and screaming. I thought FPU people were weird and I didn’t want to invite Dave Ramsey into my heart.

Not only has it brought us the peace and joy of being totally debt free but also since half of the divorces are due to money problems we have bullet proofed our marriage. They say that Financial Peace University is a marriage seminar disguised as a financial seminar and that has been our experience. We held it for our entire Church and although only about 20% attended our members paid of over $490,000 in personal debt in 9 weeks. As my wife once put it, “If you can talk to your spouse about money, you can talk to them about anything.”

Find a class and strengthen your marriage.

Husbands love your wives. Wives respect your husbands. In this way you will experience a life, as Dave would say, is “better than you deserve.” Amen.

 

The Bread of Heaven

HC

 

Lessons – Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15;  Psalm 78:14-25;  Ephesians 4:17-25;  St. John 6:24-35

When I accepted the call to come to Smyrna to plant a church, we had a house to sell back in Chattanooga. The house was basically sound but it did have some problems. To help us along, each time the house was shown by a realtor, Beth would put some dough in her bread machine and time it so that the house would be filled with the smell of baking bread while folks toured the house. Needless to say it worked. The house sold quickly and we learned first hand of the power of bread. The baking of it evokes memories and emotions for many.

Now I don’t know if the people of the Bible had the same memories of grandma and accompanying good feelings that baking bread gives us. But I do know that they did not see it as the almost poison that the no carb folks do today. For the people of the Bible bread was an essential of life. And nearly every culture has it in some form or another to this day. From tortillas, to hot cross buns that miraculously look like Mother Theresa, it is the universal food. 

But more than just sustenance, bread was a symbol of God’s divine provision and prosperity to the people of the Bible. When they journeyed from Egypt God kept them alive by giving them manna, which the Psalmist called “the bread of angels.”Later when the king of Assyria was trying to lure the people away from following King Hezekiah, he made them this promise. “I come and take you to a land like your own, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards….Choose life and not death” !(I Kings 8:32). Thus it is not by happenstance that Jesus used this powerful symbol to teach His followers more about Himself. In this Gospel, as well as last weeks, He unpacks what it means for us that He is the bread of life.

First when Jesus speaks of being the bread that comes down from heaven, His hearers would have immediately thought of the manna in the wilderness that I just mentioned. Manna was an interesting phenomenon because it came down each day and was collected each morning. It was only good for one day except the day before the Sabbath and then it lasted for two days so that they would not work on the Sabbath to collect it and thereby violate the Sabbath laws.

Just as manna was God’s miraculous provision that sustained them day by day so Jesus is saying that He is that for us now. And the fact that the manna came each day reminds us of the Scripture that tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning. Jesus is the incarnation of that mercy and we are invited to walk with Him new every morning. With Him every day is a new fresh start.

But Jesus also contrasts Himself from manna. He says, “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”

In this comparison manna can be seen as a symbol of the Old Covenant. Jesus came to fulfill the temporary Old Covenant and replace it with the eternal New Covenant. He did this because Manna and the Old Covenant were like tophu. It may be healthy for you but you’re still going to die. The Ten Commandments can show us how to live but they cannot give life. Just as manna was a temporary provision so the Old Covenant was a temporary bread until the coming of Jesus as the true and living bread that gives life to the whole world.    

Next in this same discourse, but a few verses earlier, Jesus says of Himself that He is the “true bread from heaven.” The word true here is significant because it shows yet another contrast.

They say that you are what you eat but if that were true I would be a 6ft block of Velveeta. And yet in a spiritual sense, that saying is very accurate. We become what we consume spiritually. And we also suffer spiritually when we fail to consume the right bread.

In calling Himself the true bread Jesus is implying that there is a false bread , a bread that does us harm. In Matthew’s Gospel, just after He multiplied the loaves and the fishes, Jesus warned the disciples “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” What is the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees? It is a showy religion that looks good on the outside but is dead on the inside. You may remember that Jesus didn’t speak well of this bread. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. (Mt 23:27).

I would suggest that this is one of the greatest challenges of a faithlike ours that is so steeped in history, tradition and our catholic forms of worship. We have a treasurein the Book Common Prayer and in the way that we worship but we all know that itis possible to only say the words with our lips and never have themtouch our hearts

We must be careful that candles and colorful vestments and sweet smelling incense are SIGNS of the beauty of holiness and not window dressings that camouflage cold hearts. We can come into this sacred space and get a good fix of religion but then go outside of those doors and fail to care for our neighbor which the Scriptures tell us would make our religion null and void.

Jesus as the true bread replaces the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He causes the inside to match the outside. When we “feed on Him in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving” we become united with Him. Then our hearts are filled with love and gratitude. Then we find that the Book of Common Prayer gives us the right words to express our love. Then we express true worship that involves lamps and colored vestments and whatever else that represents the best that we can offer. But it goes even further. When we are full and know that there is no end to this bread that comes down from heaven, then we want to invite our neighbor to receive this bread so they too can eat and live.

When I had my first confirmation class at All Saints’ I asked a man who had been an Assemblies of God minister if he wanted to be confirmed. He said that he wasn’t sure because he did not understand why we did all the  “stuff.” When I asked him what he meant by the “stuff” he said, “You know, the candles and vestments and bowing and sitting and standing etc. Why can’t you just worship without all that stuff?”I replied, “Imagine it is your anniversary and you goal is to give your wife an anniversary dinner. You can take her to McDonalds drive through or you can get dressed up, pull out the table cloth and china and light the candles, put on your best clothes etc. In both cases she is going to get fed but in the latter case you are conveying to her that she is the most important person in your world. And that is why we do the “stuff.” We go to all the trouble to convey to Jesus that He is the most important Person in our world.” He got confirmed.

There is another kind of false bread that stands in contrast to Jesus as the living bread. Do you remember when rice cakes became popular? I had a friend who introduced me to them and touted them like they were the best thing since… well, since sliced bread. In fact they were supposed to replace sliced bread. Supposedly they were better for you, had less calories, and were easier to digest.

I gave them a try and I discovered why they had so few calories. It’s because there are no calories in air! I had to pile so much garbage on them to make them palatable that I would have been better off eating a loaf of bread.

The false bread that Jesus warns us about is like those rice cakes.  It is a life that the world tells us to pursue but in the end does not satisfy. We break our necks trying to get happy but happiness eludes us. “If I just find the right career, if I just meet the right person, if I just made more money.”And as we pursue these things with all of our hearts we inevitably neglect our spiritual lives. And still we find that we are empty and hungry and not even sure why.

Please don’t misunderstand. It is not that careers and family and money are bad. They are gifts from God. But they are not the things that ultimately sustain our life nor fill our ultimate hunger. As St. Augustine put it, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”We have been created to first have a relationship with God and then He adds these other gifts as we need them. We are to seek first the kingdom and these other things will be added to us.

We need to also understand when Jesus says He is the bread that gives life to the world that He is declaring Himself to be essential. Just as the children of Israel would have died without the manna, so Jesus is moving His listeners to understand that there is no life apart from Him. Sadly some today treat Him as if He were an optional appetizer that they can take or leave. Others treat Him as a dessert that rounds out their lives nicely. But we need to see Him as our only hope for eternal life and therefore give Him the premier place in our lives that He deserves.

As Anglicans we see the obvious connection that this whole discourse has with Holy Communion. Particularly when Jesus says, “and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” But allow me to unpack this a little more.

Here in the South there is a tradition of something called a “hoe cake.” It is a small pancake type bread that gets its name because it was cooked on an open fire by field hands, using their hoes as griddles. It is a food that was associated with slavery and hard labor. But somewhere along the line that image was redeemed because I have been served hoe cakes in some fancy steak restaurants. And they often offer it to you as a treat before the dinner arrives. This bread is no longer associated with slavery and hard labor. Now it is associated with fellowship and celebration.

The Jews also had a bread that was associated with slavery and hard labor. It was unleavened bread. They were ordered in the law of Moses to observe the Passover feast this way. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste–so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.

At the Last Supper Jesus redeemed that image by changing the unleavened bread from the bread of affliction to bread that is His flesh when He said,“This is My body.”What was once a symbol of their bondage in Egypt now becomes more than a symbol. It becomes an actual conveyer of life. And so we no longer take this bread to remember our departure from Egypt. We take it to be united with Him and He to us. A somber feast that looked back at a past of suffering has been converted to a celebration of the freedom and joy that union with Christ offers us along with the gift of a hope and a future.

Shortly after I was priested I was going down the altar rail serving communion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a little girl standing on her tip-toes staring it me. At first I couldn’t figure out what she was doing and why her momma was letting her stand on the embroidered cushions. But as I got closer I realized that she was trying to see what it was that I had in the silver cup that I was putting in people’s hands. So when I came to her I leaned down so that she could see inside the ciborium. She glanced inside and saw the bread. Then she nodded to me and turned to her mother and said, “Mommy I just saw Jesus.” It took my breath away. It is my rule to not engage with people when they come to the altar rail because this is their time with Jesus not their time with the priest. But in this case I broke my rule and as I gave her mother the bread I said, “I love your daughter’s theology.”

I just wish that I had the eyes of the child to see Him veiled in the bread too. Perhaps one day I will but until then I will just have to take it by faith. As Anglicans we don’t try to understand this glorious mystery, we just accept it. I love how poet and priest John Donne put it. “He was the Word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it, and what the Word did make it, I do believe and take it.” Just know as you come forward today that you are doing more than merely “receiving communion.” You are uniting yourself to Christ. You are eating His flesh that is the life of the world. You are receiving grace that will keep you in eternal life. You are a branch receiving the life of the Vine. So “therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”

 

Hardness of Heart

hardheart

 

“for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

This line about hearts being hardened comes from the scene immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 hence the reference to the loaves. Jesus had gone off to pray and the disciples were in a boat battling a storm when Jesus came to them walking on the water and calmed the storm. But the astonishing thing about this line is that it is not referring to the crowds or to the authorities or even to Jesus’ enemies. This line was referring to the disciples! They didn’t understand about the loaves because their hearts were hardened.

What makes this even more remarkable is that at this point we are over a third of the way through the Gospel of St. Mark. These men were hand picked by Jesus. They had seen Him heal multitudes, cast out demons, raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead and feed well over 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. But still their hearts were hardened.

It occurred to me that if Jesus’ Apostles could suffer from hardness of heart then it is certainly was within the realm of possibility that I too could suffer from this malady. I turned to the Scriptures and was surprised to discover over 45 references to it. As I read through these passages I concluded two things. First that it is an all too common condition and second that it is very dangerous condition spiritually speaking. It requires our constant vigilance to avoid. In order to become vigilant we need to better understand what it is, how you get into that condition, and what you can do about it.

Hardness of heart is resistance to God; resistance to His presence, to His truth, to His Spirit. We see a secular version of hardness of heart in our politics today. It doesn’t matter how many facts you give them they are going to love their guy and hate your guy. No matter what the truth, your guy can do no right the their guy can do no wrong. But this mindset is even worse when it is a spiritual condition because the truths that are being resisted are the truths that make the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

And to be clear it truly is a heart problem and not a head problem. I saw a vivid example of this in a video. The video was of a Planned Parent doctor talking about different ways to kill an unborn baby in order to successfully harvest the organs. She was having this discussion while sipping a glass of wine and eating a salad. She’s a doctor so she has to be a brilliant person but it’s not a head problem, it’s a heart problem and the Lord only knows what has happened in her past to her make her heart so hard.

But what about us? What could make our hearts hard? The first and most obvious thing is willful sinfulness or rebellion against God. Hebrews 3. “Take care brothers lest there be in any of you an evil and unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort on another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (vss 12,13). One of the things that led to Judas’s downfall was that he was stealing from their common purse. He knew it to be a sinful activity and yet he did it anyway and it opened his heart for Satan to enter.

Closely related to rebellion against God is pride. We are aware of the warnings all through the Scriptures against pride and yet we all know that dude. You can’t tell him anything, there is not a topic of which he is not an expert, and anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot. If you don’t know anyone like that then you may want to ask someone who really loves you if it is you.

But there is a more subtle form of pride that also hardens the heart. The person who comes to mind when I think about this kind of pride is the professor on Gilligan’s Island. You may not know that the characters on that show were patterned after the 7 deadly sins. The Skipper is anger, Gilligan is sloth, Ginger is lust. Mary Ann envy etc. Well the professor was pride. But he was a very likeable figure because his pride was subtle. It was in the form of self-reliance. If they needed a tool or a special kind of widget he could take a coconut or a fern and make it happen. He rarely asked for help and he believed that there was nothing that he could not eventually figure out.

Of course there is nothing sinful about being intelligent or handy or even self reliant to a degree. But how often do we try to handle things on our own without first going to God and asking for His wisdom and grace? How often do we treat the Lord as the last resort? A person who is totally self-reliant is rarely one is led by the Spirit because there is too much flesh in the way. Deep down he doesn’t really believe that God’s ways are better than his ways.

Years ago a young man came to me because he was in bad financial shape. As we poured through the details of his life he admitted that he was not tithing and he was working on Sundays even though he was self-employed. I explained the biblical truths of the tithe and keeping the Sabbath and told him that if he wanted the Lord to bless his efforts that he needed to do things the Lord’s way. He ignored my advice and to the best of my knowledge is still struggling. If you asked him to describe himself he would say that he is a hard worker. If you asked me I would say he suffers from pride because his actions say that he knows better than the Lord about how life should be lived.

A third way that our hearts get hardened is when they are broken and bitterness seeps in. You hope and trust and believe and then something happens to break your heart and you decide somewhere deep inside to never hope and trust and believe again. You incorrectly believe that in this way you will never be that deeply hurt again. This pattern happens to us romantically, it happens with people that we thought were our friends, it happens within families. But it can also happen in our spiritual lives. We place our expectations on God and when He fails to meet our expectations we become disappointed with God and if left unchecked it turns into bitterness and hardness of heart. You can see this vein run through the life of King Saul who ends up dying a tragic death. We must act quickly with forgiveness to keep bitterness from taking over and we must remember that it is not our place to put expectations on God.

A fourth way that our hearts are hardened is through stubbornness. And this may be a chicken and egg thing because each causes the other. While my wife says that “Kasch” is German for stubbornness, the Bible has a little different take on it. It also uses the term “stiff necked people” which gives you a wonderful image of what is being talked about. The prophet Jeremiah uses the term “stubborn heart” seven times and reveals it as a very serious condition. It is like an addiction that is impossible to be recovered from under our own power. I will explain later what we can do about it.

A fifth common cause of a hardened heart, which you see particularly throughout Jesus’ ministry, is self-righteousness. His detractors were so caught up in keeping every minutia of the law that they were upset when He healed on the Sabbath. They were so caught up in their piety that they could not see the Messiah when He was standing right in front of them.

A sixth cause of hardness of heart is selfishness. I am a dog lover to the max so please don’t take this wrong. But in 2015 Americans spent $60 billion, with a B, on their pets and yet we have a national problem of kids going to bed hungry.  It would be safe to assume that the average American spends far more on their pets than they do giving to the poor. There is something desperately wrong with that picture.

Listen to God’s perspective. This is from Deuteronomy 15. If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.  Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. (vss 7,8). This thought is echoes by the Apostle John. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”(I Jn 3:17).

Dave Ramsey speaks of building wealth so that you can live and give like no one else. The Scriptures speaks of tithes and offerings and so it is a good goal to come to a place where you not only give your tithe to your local church but that you are able to give offerings to those in need. I read that if Christians in the US simply met the tithe it would add $150 billion annually to do ministry. With just the tithe we could change the world.

So those are some of the causes of hard heartedness. If you feel that I have gone from preaching to meddling then I may have hit a nerve. What to do about it?

First, simply admit it to the Lord. He typically does not fix what we won’t admit is broken. I think that is why Jesus asked people all the time what they wanted even when it was obvious that they needed healing. We will have the general confession in a few minutes and it would be the perfect time to declare your hard heartedness and ask to be healed.

Second, declare your inability to heal yourself. As I said earlier this is a very dangerous condition spiritually and so we are going to need more than a tonic to fix it. What we need is open heart surgery and you can’t perform open heart surgery on yourself. We need the Great Physician.

Third, stand upon the promises of God. This was God’s promise to Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (36:26-28).

Since the Church is the New Israel and God’s goal is for us to be His people, I see no reason why this promise is not extended to us as well. But note that God says, “I will give you…” because only God can give us a new heart. And yet we are not to sit passively by and wait for a surgical date. It is as we seek Him through prayer and Word and Sacrament that He fulfills His promise to us. Recall in Jesus’ parable of the seeds that the soil was the heart and the seed was the Word of God. It was only the heart that allowed the Word of God to take root that produced fruit. In other words we are not going to get a new heart by watching the Kardashians. Prayer, Word and Sacrament.

Here is the good news. Even after seeing Jesus do all of these miracles, including feeding the 5,000 and walking on water, the disciples still didn’t get it. They still suffered from hardened hearts. I would have given up on them by that point but Jesus did not. He hung in there with them until they did get it, until there hearts of stone were turned into a heart of flesh. He loves us no less than He loved them so we can be assured that He will hang in there with us until we get it too.

I’d be tender, I’d be gentle
And awful sentimental
Regarding love and art
I’d be friends with the sparrows
And the boy that shoots the arrows
If I only had a heart

The Tin Man got one. May God grant us a new one too. Amen.