Change of Heart

changeA Spirit-filled life means fearless living. We bravely surrender our hearts, personalities, and human desires to God. Through faith, we open ourselves to Divine guidance and the perfect order of God. In prayer and worship, our way is made clear. Our communion with God empowers us to release and let go of our personal limitations. The transcending power of the Holy Spirit within us guides us and reveals in perfect time all this is ours to do and all that we must know. As we release attachments to old hurts and desires, and trust in Divine guidance, we manifest the unfolding pattern of good that is God within us…God within our hearts. Our scripture reading is Matthew  15:3-20

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

That’s a pretty rough text, isn’t it? Typically when we talk about our feelings… or — our heart — we seem to speak more of a Hallmark card sort of situation… “I love you with all my heart.” “My heart is broken.” “ I mean it
from the bottom of my heart.”

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches though in His words to the disciples when He talks about what’s in our hearts and what comes forth into the world from our hearts. He shares no Hallmark sentiments –– instead, He seems frustrated, irritated, maybe even angered by the behavior He sees “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

That’s true isn’t it? What’s in our heart, is typically how we act or what we say. We don’t wake up in the morning with a plan to spread gossip, or take a few rolls of tape from work, or lie about what we did or why we did something. When you reflect on those instances in your daily life, when you didn’t exactly follow the 10 Commandments… was it a conscious, planned event or did it evolve from your heart? From your emotions… be they frustration, irritation, bitterness, longing, wanting to be like (Or have your children be like) the Joneses?

One catechism says that our chief goal in life is to glorify and enjoy God forever. This is true. Scripture says that we were created for God’s glory and to proclaim His praises. We exist to worship God, and in order to be genuine, this worship has to come from our heart. It must be a genuine expression of our real feelings. We adore God above everything else, and we submit to His every command. OR… Do we?

“You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me.” There’s a popular sentiment expressed quite often in our society today – “I can’t believe they did that! It’s terrible how they acted in church…at school…in that meeting. That’s not very Christian!!!” And off we go… judging, criticizing, condemning others…and we can’t even see the log in our own eye. First of all, the fallacy in that particular statement is that “a Christian” is someone who believes in Christianity…believes that Christ was born, died and rose for our salvation. Being a Christian doesn’t change the fact that we’re human…OR the fact that we typically act from our heart, and not necessarily in the most appropriate of ways.

Do you remember the story of God sending Jonah to Nineveh, not to condemn the citizens, but to save them? Yeah, he was to expose their sin in the process, but not to harm them…rather to turn their hearts and actions around to God – In the book of Jonah we read, “the Lord is patient … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Did Jonah act from his heart in a positive way? In a way that glorified God? No! He became angry when the people turned from their evil ways. He was bitter toward them and toward God. Regardless, God worked with Jonah to help him understand that he needed to make a Change of Heart –- This is the scripture text — “When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—?”
What did Jonah’s heart do to him?
What does your heart do to you when it leads you to words and actions that are not in keeping with the Lord’s commandments?
How do we “fix” this?
How do we start the path to a Change of Heart within ourselves? Last week I talked about a Change of Plans, and what we do as humans when our plans go awry. I talked about how we deny God and His Divine Plan and unfailing love for us, how we deny ourselves the peace and joy that God offers us when we allow our human hearts to control our words and actions. When our schedule is thrown off, our favorite TV show is cancelled, our football team doesn’t win we become angry, frustrated, irritated. And where does that lead us? What does that do to us? Does it lead us to kindness, to compassion, to acceptance, or to forgiveness? Do those signs of denial bring us closer to God? Do we feel peace, joy, or hope?

Only when we surrender our hearts to God, do we experience a Change of Heart.

It seems to me that there are several phases to achieving a Change of Heart, and it’s definitely an ongoing, life-long process. First, there’s conversion.  We can read and share the gospel, the scriptures, but ultimately, God is the one who must change our hearts. We must pray and study and share the Word. We must live the Word. We want to be faithful stewards, delivering the REALITY that God so loved the world that he sent His ONLY Son to rescue us from our sin. And with that in mind, we begin to convert our hearts from selfishness, condemnation, and deceitfulness to hearts of love, patience, generosity and understanding.

The second phase is to nurture our developing Change of Heart. We study the doctrine of our faith. What do Lutherans believe? What are those beliefs based on? We explore in our own minds and through discussion with others — what positive role does Christianity play in a world troubled by negativity, poverty, bias, manipulation and bitterness? What do the scriptures tell us about leading Godly lives?

And the third phase is to Practice What We Preach… just as we practice the piano, or sew every day, or work on our tractor or truck whenever it breaks down… we practice our new attitude… our Change of Heart. We share our Change of Heart within our community. When angered or irritated, we take 3 deep breaths or count to 10 so that we can calm our bodies and minds and then speak and act with patience and acceptance. We discuss community and world situations with compassion and an open mind. We put others first. We recognize that God created each of us differently, and in God’s eyes, each of us is perfect!

If, as Christians…as Lutherans, our primary responsibility in life on this earth is to glorify God, then we Change our Hearts to hearts that reflect God into this earthly world — a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God who relents from sending calamity.—A Change of Heart is not an easy process. You will feel and know Change, and then, at the drop of a hat you’ll feel like you’re right back to where you used to be – old habits, words and actions that do not serve to promote a better world. Don’t give up! Remember, one of the Phases, one of the Steps to creating an ongoing Change of Heart, it to PRACTICE. I encourage you to practice your Change of Heart, nurture your Change of Heart, and share your Change of Heart!