Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sermon for 14th Sunday after Pentecost: "Divine Heart Transplant"

+ 14th Sunday after Pentecost +
Series B, Proper 17: Deut. 4:1-2, 6-9; Eph. 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach and is pooped out?  What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man come, come all kinds of evil…
            That’s what my grandma would’ve called barnyard talk. But Jesus says it to make a point. The same point illustrated by a conversation between two pastors from the Hammer of God, a delightful series of short stories about Lutheran life in Sweden. Take a listen:
            “So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that. What do you believe in?”
Fridfelt stared dumbfounded at his superior. Was he jesting with him?
            “But, sir, I am simply saying I am a believer.”
            “Yes, I hear that, my boy. But what is it that you believe in?
            “But don’t you know, sir, what it means to be a believer?”
            “That is a word which can stand for many things that differ greatly, my boy. I only ask what it is that you believe in.”
            “In Jesus, of course”… “I mean – that I have given him my heart.”
            “Do you consider that something to give him? “
            “But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”
            “You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved…One does not choose a Redeemer for one-self…nor give one’s heart to him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is” (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, p. 122-123).

            And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees, his disciples and us. Jesus simply repeats what the prophets before him knew to be true:
            Jeremiah says “the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).  Ezekiel says we have a heart of stone.  And Jesus pulls no punches either. Out of the heart of man comes all wickedness.

            According to Jesus, you have a fatal heart condition. Clogged by a self-righteous, curved-inward, love of yourself. Notice how Jesus bookends this list of sin with the 1st commandment. Self-righteousness, pride, foolishness. And then, the Great Physician takes the scalpel of His Law his hand and begins to cut us to the heart –we’re all thieves and knaves; murderers, adulterers, coveters, liars, slanderers and fools in our heart.
            Not a one of us is left unscathed by the Law.
            Jesus is right. You’re not sinful and unclean from the outside in. It’s the other way around; you’re unclean and sinful from the inside out.  And even though his word kills us, we need to hear it. The atheists are right, the church is full of hypocrites; but there’s always room for more. The church is the place for sinners: proper diagnosis given: dead in sin; and the only treatment available is received: Christ Crucified for you.
            Here the Great Physician operates: first with the razor’s edge of the Law and next with the healing of the Gospel. First by putting you to death, then by raising you to life. No other procedure will do: no bypass surgeries, pacemakers or jumper cables. No defibrillator in the world is going to save you from your old sinful heart condition.
            The Pharisees failure to understand the true heart of the matter is their failure to understand who Jesus is and what he’s come to do. They fail to see that in the Scriptures, Holiness in is received, not achieved. Cleansing and righteousness before God are given, not earned.
            And in failing to understand the wicked nature of their sinful hearts of stone, they fail to see the saving heart of Yahweh in human flesh standing right before them, the very one who promises to give them a new heart, cleansed of sin.

             This was the genius of the Reformation. Perhaps even its greatest contribution. That before justification (saved by grace alone in Christ alone) could be recovered and taught rightly; the doctrine of original sin must be taught clearly. Not that there’s a spark left to ignite. Some good left to kick start into something better. Some flesh wound you can stitch up. Some blemish you can simply wash away. Sin is not a behavioral problem. Not that you’re not a sinner because you sin. But that you sin because you are a sinner. Dead in trespasses apart from Christ. If we fail to understand Genesis 3 we fail to understand Christ Crucified and risen for us.
            This is why the Church is neither a gymnasium for the spiritually fit nor is it a rehab center for our sinful addictions, nor is it a hospital where the spiritually healthy tend to the sick to make them better. It's a hospice where the dying tend to the dying. No one gets out alive. Dead men don’t pull themselves off the operating table. There’s only one Great Physician for that kind of operation. That’s why the Church is for sinners and Jesus dwells only among sinners.

            For the answer, the cure, lies not in our hearts, but in the heart of God, in the undeserved mercy of Jesus. Only God can touch the heart, only God can shape the will of rebel man, only God can take the unwilling and make him willing.
            You need a radical operation: a divine heart transplant. A new heart. Hearts of flesh instead of stone. Hearts that beat to the rhythms of God’s Word and Spirit. Hearts that are alive with faith toward God and love toward neighbor. That’s what God wants for each of you; that’s what God gives to each of you. "I will give you a new heart," says the Lord. "I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."And your new heart comes to you one way: through death and resurrection. Dying and rising in Jesus.

            The 10 commandments aren’t your spiritual 24 Hour Fitness, meant to pump you up. They’re your executioner and your death certificate. A sniper shot to the head. The Law double-taps our old sinful nature. Dead in sin. But alive in Christ. And when you see Christ on the cross you see all the 10 commandments perfectly fulfilled for you. All the Law you couldn’t do, wouldn’t do, refused to do. It is done. Finished. For you.  Christ’s death is your life. Christ’s cross is your glory. Christ’s defeat is your victory. Out of the heart of God comes something much different. All of the Law and the codes from the OT that the Pharisees were dead set on keeping, Jesus keeps for them. For you. The Great Physician lays down his life to rescue yours. He’s dead set on saving you.
            Jesus’ entire ministry was one of taking all the uncleanness and defilement of the world upon himself: touching and healing lepers and demoniacs, touching and raising the dead, eating and drinking with sinners, healing on the Sabbath – and finally cursed on a tree. He becomes the curse to free you from it. Christ defiles himself and you are declared holy. Christ becomes unclean and you are blameless. Christ becomes sin and you are the righteousness of God. He binds himself to your death and raises you to new life.
            And this merciful heart of Jesus is heart of His Church.
            The same heart of Christ pierced on the cross still courses in crimson streams from the cross to the font for you.  Baptism is your divine heart surgery. You are given a new heart and a new nature. The washing that the Pharisees offered began in self-righteousness and ended in defilement; but Jesus Baptizes you and washes away your defilement leaving you righteous and clean. “He creates a clean heart and renews a right Spirit within you.”
            And that same blood of Jesus poured into the font also fills the chalice for you. No, it’s not what goes into us that makes us unclean. But it is what goes into us that makes us clean. The Pharisees were so worried about what went into their mouth defiling them; but here in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ body and blood goes in to your mouths and gives you Jesus’ holiness.
            Baptismal water poured over you. Absolution spoken into your ears. The body and blood of Jesus placed onto your lips. Here who you who were unclean from the inside out are made clean from the outside in. This is what makes you clean.

             In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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