Repenting Hearts

“Repenting Hearts”

Jer 17-9 heart deceitful, script

Jeremiah 17:5-10 – July 31, 2016

I just came back from my study leave at the New Wilmington Mission Conference. Wonderful conference, again. (It always is!) I sat in bible class, and mission hour, and morning and evening meetings all week, learning about the marvelous ways believers are reaching out, locally and all over the world.

However, I also learned about many, many places in the world where believers are persecuted and in danger. Where the government has tight control, or where different groups are fighting. Where believers, especially church leaders, have been imprisoned, even killed. Countries like Syria, Egypt, South Sudan, Iraq; parts of Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. One of our bible passages for the morning is from Jeremiah 17. It tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Humans can be particularly inhuman, sometimes. Human hearts can be deceitful above all things, sometimes.

We are continuing with our summer sermon series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. I am sad to say that the sentence of the week is: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

Natural humans without God can be inhuman. They can treat each other abominably. Not only through evil deeds like fighting, destruction and war, but also through general chaos and death—just as our sentence of the week from the Statement of Mission says. Many people want power and control. Many people strive to maintain power and control at all costs. They trust in humans’ own strength, and Jeremiah says their hearts turn away from the Lord.

What an awful thing! To have people in control—police, mayor, other government officials—whose hearts are completely separated from God. These people are controlled by the forces of evil, of chaos and death, according to the prophet.

Yes, these verses contain poetic language about humanity. As one commentator says, “To ancient peoples, the heart was not only the center of emotions, feelings, moods and passions, but also of will and motive power for the limbs. The heart discerned good from evil; it was also the center of decision-making. Conversion to God’s ways took place in the heart. In verse 9, it is said to be where evil begins.” [1]

At the mission conference this week, we had a chance to put our words into action.  Interested people had the opportunity to sign a petition to request Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede on behalf of the people of South Sudan, and to allow humanitarian aid to come in to the regions of the country under conflict and war. That is a concrete way to come up against the forces of evil, of chaos and death, and to show the love of God in a tangible way.

Evil. Chaos. Death. Just what the sentence from the Statement of Mission for today says. Natural humans—humans without God—have deceitful hearts, hearts that turn from the Lord. Our scripture passage for today tells us: “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”

Well, I am not a deceitful person, an evil person. I know God. In fact, God lives in my heart! Where can I go wrong?

One problem there: according to our Statement of Mission, we are to “repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

You mean, being silent can be a problem? Maybe, even a sin? The statement tells all of us to repent. That certainly sounds like sin language. What is more, the statement mentions “all of us.” Not “some,” not “most,” but “all.”

            Albert Einstein said, ““If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Can anyone relate? Horrible things happen every day. People who live next door, or down the street, or other places nearby find themselves in a difficult situation. They can be seen as vulnerable. Observers can turn out to be ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand. Hoping against hope that the problems of domestic abuse and its connected trauma might just go away.  Or, when there is racial tension in your side of town, to do nothing. In fact, to say nothing, to look the other way, and to stand on the sidelines with your mouth shut.

            What is wrong with that picture? That kind of behavior telling us what the sentence from the Statement of Mission tells us. The deceitful people who actively do terrible things to others? Are they at all like the quiet people who shut their eyes to injustice, or pretend that violence, bitterness and inequity never happen…at least, not in my world. Not on my block. Not in my part of town. Something to think about.

            This past week, I had the joy of learning about mission aspects of the Lord’s Prayer from a coworker for the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Rev. Jen Haddox. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed all over the world. In a multitude of languages, and numerous settings. This prayer can cross boundaries—just like believers. Believers can, with God’s help, cross the boundaries of unbelief and of chaos. Believers can bring the love of God into an evil and traumatic situation.

            Jen Haddox spoke about areas of Vietnam, where the government has tight control over everything—both everyday life in the villages and towns, and over the house churches and Christian leaders. And, some believers live in fear of government oppression and even prison. Yet, as Jen said, believers in Vietnam have a joy and a freedom that overcomes the forces of chaos and death.

            In both bible passages this morning, both passages give us the good news from God. Both passages have a compare and contrast section: natural humans, without God, and humans who strive to follow God. We can see what can happen when God intervenes.

Yes, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as the Statement of Mission says. And, yes, we can pray for believers throughout the world, as well as in our backyard. We can pray for South Sudan, for Vietnam, for other areas of war and conflict. Remember, conflict and trauma can be anywhere. Not only physical conflict, but psychological and emotional, too. Here in the Morton Grove area, and in Chicago, as well as far away in large parts of Africa and Asia.

The prophet says: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” We can bring that blessing to those under the forces of chaos and death. Yes, we need to repent our silence in the face of evil. We can tell God we are sorry for our silence, and strive to bring words of blessing and peace into situations of trauma and chaos.

What an opportunity to strive to become believers who transcend boundaries! Praise God for the chance to spread the love of God into lives of people near and far. Through prayer for faraway places, and through tangible means like food from the Maine Township food pantry for those who are nearby.

Won’t you join in the mission of God? Let’s all strive to pray, go, and do, in the name above all names, the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

[1] Chris Haslam, Anglican Diocese of Montreal. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cpr06m.shtml

Generous With Our Purpose

“Generous With Our Purpose”

John 2:10 – February 22, 2015

Big events can be a big headache. Taking care of the venue, and preparing where the big party is going to be celebrated is one big concern. The entertainment, the decorations are more challenges. So is keeping track of all of the food and drink. How much is too much? And what if I don’t have enough? What happens if I run out?

This is exactly what happened at a wedding at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, in Cana of Galilee. Let’s zoom in, and take a closer look. Jesus was invited to the wedding as a guest. His disciples were invited, and probably many other people He knew. And His mother, too.

In the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows an affluent Jewish family—with some servants and a household steward. We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation.

What about today? What are some challenges or needs that we might have right now? People all over the world have lack of funds, logistical problems, or miscalculations and find themselves lacking provisions every day. What about lacks or needs due to physical situations? Unemployment, illness, or suffering of other kinds? These things are nothing new, sadly. They can be overwhelming. I’m just one, puny person on this whole planet. Billions of people live today! Who am I to expect that Jesus even knows about my needs for food and drink?

Let’s go back to Cana, in Galilee. A couple of days of partying had already passed. It was the third day of the big wedding celebration, and a few people found out they had run out of wine. They ran to tell the chief steward. Oh, no! What was to be done? With a big crowd like he had in the house, I suspect he couldn’t just send out to the local liquor store for more supplies.

It was then that Mary, the mother of Jesus, got involved. Somehow, Mary heard about the lack of wine, too. She hurried to her son Jesus and told Him about it.

What about us, today? When we have needs or lacks, what do we do? Do we try to be tough, and go it on our own? Are we self-sufficient, not needing or asking for any help? Are we frozen by the need, unwilling or unable to budge? Or are we open and willing, like Mary, ready to trust Jesus, to go to Him for assistance?

Mary asked her son Jesus to help out. “They have no wine,” is what she said. There was some back and forth between mother and son. Jesus says, clearly, “What does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”     (Just wait, I’ll get to that comment, in a minute.)

Here we have Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in human form. God the Son, the Logos, the one who spoke at the beginning, and created the universe. Who formed our world and placed the stars in space. Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, is asking Him to change His mind, to change His plans, to change His timetable.

Mary eventually told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary trusts in Jesus. His mother trusts that whatever He will say or do is going to work.

Nearby were some large containers, for ceremonial washing. That’s stone containers, holding about twenty to thirty gallons apiece. With such a crowd of people, a lot of water was needed for everyone to wash before eating. Jesus told the servants to fill the large containers with water. After doing so, Jesus said, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

What the servants brought to the steward was no longer water. It had miraculously changed to wine. And not any garden-variety wine, no! The good stuff. The best wine to be had!

Here we have Jesus—willing to change His plans, change His timetable. Willing to change His mind—because generosity puts people first!

Our Lord Jesus offers compassion and generosity to the people at the wedding celebration in Cana. And not only to them, Jesus offers a practical, tangible demonstration of compassion, generosity and kindness to all of us, today, as well! Here in this passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus shows Himself to be all this—so that anyone who reads these paragraphs will be able to see that this kind, generous, miracle-working God is the kind of God who is available to them, too!

Jesus caused this superior wine to be made available. I find it interesting that Jesus is sometimes portrayed as the True Bridegroom for the Church, after His resurrection. The True Bridegroom provides the best wine for all the people at the wedding, showing them His rich abundance and generosity.

What about us? When we finally come to Jesus with our need, with our problem, what then? Do we trust in Jesus with all our hearts? True, some are held back by many things. Fear is a big hesitation. Insecurity and doubt are two others. Will we offer what common things we have (the containers of water, in this case)? Jesus miraculously can change them to wine. Jesus can help us wherever or whenever we need it, providing for us out of His abundance!

The assistance can come directly from God, but this help may come from another source, too. Wherever or whomever the kind, generous help comes from, praise God! Jesus is generous to us, comes alongside of us and provides miraculously for our needs, too.

The six large containers held a whole lot of water. So Jesus changed it into a whole lot of wine. The good wine, at that! Jesus provided generously! He provided out of His abundance, His extravagance. Wonderful job, Jesus!

What is going on in your life today? Where do you need a touch from God? Jesus and His abundance, His extravagance, His generosity can come into your life today. Jesus wants to give you and me joy and blessing. Even good times and laughter, in abundance. We can see from the good wine He miraculously provided at the wedding at Cana that He can and will.

What a generous God we serve!

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)