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

Our Stronghold, Our Peace

“Our Stronghold, Our Peace”

God, stronghold for the oppressed

March 9, 2016 – Psalm 37:39-40

Most everyone is afraid, at one time or another. And, there are some really powerful things in this world to be afraid of! Worry, anxiety, fear. Those are all things that threaten to take away any peace and serenity in our lives.

One of the enemy’s most powerful weapons that he uses against us?  Worry, anxiety, fear can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, threatening our every move and decision. Not only the huge things, but also the little things. The personal things. I know we, here at St. Luke’s Church, have a good deal to be concerned about. Things just happen.

Just when I think I’m going in a definite direction, with a specific goal in mind, things can happen. These things can just be accidental, minor bumps along the way. Or, sometimes the situations or accidents can be catastrophic, life-changing. Maybe even life-ending.

Take our psalm for the evening. A psalm of King David, David wrote about evildoers, and about the evil people seem to routinely do. Yes, there’s lots to worry about! Yes, there’s lots for us to be anxious about! Look at all the evil in the world!

No matter what kinds of things happen in our lives—and good things happen as well as bad!! —the psalm we read today is talking about the evil things that happen. Evil things complicate our lives. Make our lives messy, even confront us with dangers. Things to worry about, endlessly.

What can we do when we get into an anxious predicament like this? What if the evil, worrisome things complicate our lives beyond all imagination? It is then that we feel separate from others. What’s more, we can feel separated from God, too. Any peace we had is hopelessly gone. Worry, anxiety and fear take its place.

I have known people who do not face evil, trials, and tribulations very well. I usually didn’t ask at the time, but I think one of the reasons might have been because they were not sure whether God was really in their lives. I know for a fact that several of my acquaintances do not really care about God, and don’t want much to do with Him at all. They are totally separated from God.

There are several ways to face evil; this way is not the wisest way, to my way of thinking.

The psalmist, King David, certainly had cause to be anxious. He had been up against real evil, many times. He had been in a real mess over and over, and he had come through it repeatedly. What’s more, David knew God had been at his side all the way. And, David knew that the evildoers would get their comeuppance, sooner or later.

Remember what David said in the first two verses of this psalm: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” This theme runs through this psalm, all the way through. David tells us not to worry! Yes, the evildoers might be prospering right now. Yes, the evildoers might have lots of money, and property, and power, and control. The evildoers might be doing awful things to people. But, that is not the end of the story!

Some scoffers might say, what about things that are even worse than we can imagine? Things like violence, war, rape, bombing. Why do godless people seem to get away with all these horrendous acts?

Marjorie Nelson, a Quaker nurse served with a Friends medical team in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. She is a pacifist. This is part of her story. “Our project was located six miles from My Lai [the site of a massacre by U.S. military forces]. We treated at least one survivor from that massacre. Vietnamese friends told me not only of that event but of five similar incidents perpetrated by American or Korean troops in our province alone. I saw children injured by NLF rockets which exploded near their orphanage. I treated patients in our rehabilitation center who had extremities blown off by land mines planted by both sides in that conflict. Do I under-estimate the power and influence of evil? I think not.” [1]

Some scoffers consider Christians to be naïve and easily manipulated. I don’t think so. I don’t think Marjorie, that Quaker nurse and pacifist, was naïve. Yes, we are aware of the evil that people do. Sometimes, horrible things, so awful we cannot even imagine how horrific. But we are not naïve. We have sin within ourselves, too. Plus, God’s message is to love our enemies, and be kind to them. Even when we are our own worst enemies.

David finishes the psalm with the verse “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; God is their stronghold in time of trouble.”

A stronghold is not only a refuge, a place of safety, but a stronghold is also for our salvation, for offensive purposes, too! We can see that God is not only a safe place for us to hide, but also God is also a strong place to keep us free. No matter the situation, God is there for us.

God is our salvation–and we can come to the Lord at any time. We have not only the ability to come to God, but we have the privilege, too! What an opportunity. And what a thing to celebrate–we can echo the psalmist’s words, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you the desires of your heart.”

 

[I’d like to thank Catherine Whitmire and her excellent collection of thoughts on peace found in Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007). ]

[1] Whitmire, Catherine, Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007), 126.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!