If our heart...
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity, June 26, 2022
“If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”
WE Christians have an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are. Are we good, because He is good? and can feel great about ourselves for being chosen, redeemed out of this world? Or are we evil, sold under sin, and if we are saved, then only as smoldering sticks rescued from the fire just in time? Either way, expect arguments, for Christianity has grown two wings, one positive, one negative. Can they both be true? Are either of them true?
We all remember reading of the antediluvian world—just before Noah’s ark and the Flood. “The Lord saw how evil humans had become on the earth. All day long their deepest thoughts were nothing but evil. The Lord was sorry that he had made humans on the earth, and he was heartbroken.” Gen 6:5-6 GW God’s heart ached because people’s hearts were violent and greedy. “Why, oh why did I ever make them?” If destroying life on a planetary scale strikes you as God having a really bad day, then think just how horrid those people were—that He should have such a reaction. Were they worse than any people today?
Solomon, millennia later, as king of a Jewish nation in its heyday, observed, “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.” Prov 6:16-19 Of the sins he lists, all of them pertain to wicked hearts: pride, dishonesty, murder, conspiracy, lust, perjury, and divisiveness. Solomon saw all these in people, and knew that God hates these character flaws.
Time passed, the great kingdom fell into God’s disfavor, successive kings dabbled in the occult and led people into idol worship. At the fall of Judah to Babylon, Jeremiah speaks for God in saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” Jer 17:9-10
Can we defend ourselves against these accusations? When I was in Jr. High, I tried to create my own character. I wanted to be a nice guy. Not a high aspiration but—a person others trust, girls feel comfortable with, guys don’t pick fights with. In college, I got a look at my relationships and saw how I treated people, especially where I had the upper hand. I was not a nice guy. I was cruel, cutting, careless—anything but nice. I was proud, and also massively insecure. It would be many years before I got any control of those wild horses of my sinful nature.
If mankind is truly abominable, and our real nature is evil at heart, and if we are, as Calvinism says, totally depraved and all our ways contrary to God, why do our hearts ache when we hear about it? A good man who fails in some way notices and feels awful about it. Guilt shows discernment, the knowledge of both good and evil. But a truly evil man, one whose heart is only evil continually, doesn’t bother accusing himself. He laughs it off. Evil, for such a one, has become good. There are such people. We call them sociopaths. Sometimes we lock them up.
No, we are not creatures of dark, moonless nights, for whom even the memory of the sun fades into a myth and we believe only in darkness. Rather we are creatures of the dawn: we see sunrays streaking over a magenta sky. We believe in light. Light and shadows play across our path. We can choose to stand in the first light of day, or hide in transitory patches of darkness. But if we choose the shadows, we know it, and it feels wrong. This actually speaks well of us. It is why God was right to come find us, and to send us not another flood, but His Son.
We cry out with David, “Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right spirit within me. Don’t cast me away from Your presence, And don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Ps 51:9-12 A really evil man has no such care when he sins. The word ‘sin’ is a joke to him. He calls it ‘strategy.’
The old kingdom was fallen, Babylon captured the children of grace, and God called his people, promising a new kingdom and new hearts. God, through Ezekiel, wrote that someday: “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezek 11:19-20, 36:26 Christ came to give us, not only forgiveness, but new hearts to love Him as we are commanded. Today, those new hearts have arrived.
St. John, in today’s Epistle, writes, “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” 1 John 3:16-21 Love is the fulfilling of the law. John said so. Paul said so. Jesus said so. So, what is love? When we love, we seek the good of everyone. We want good things. When we love God, we lift Him in our hearts where He is rightly enthroned. How do we do that?
Imagine that in front of you there’s a carton from Amazon, just dropped off by UPS. It’s addressed to you. Pull the tab and see the top open. What’s inside isn’t very big, but it looks valuable. What is it? Open the bubble wrap. Take it out. Wait a second: this is a heart! Somebody sent me a heart! It’s only about the size of my fist, but it’s beautiful.
Now ask: Where is the love I need to love God and love others, and my neighbor as myself? In these newly unpacked, factory refurbished, lifetime guarantee hearts is where. Go on. Take them out. Set them in place and now… start them up. You feel that?
Before you had these new hearts, you never understood what I’m about to say. Love is the key, love is the way, love is the answer, love is your new, true nature. Listen again to St. John: “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” These new hearts have been reprogrammed. They don’t believe we are totally depraved, our thoughts only evil. And knowing that wickedness is only a product of a bad heart, your new heart is able to deliver the goods. You don’t have an evil heart. God has given you a new one.
When Jesus said to love God with all your heart, you used to wonder how to do that. You used to think that was just religious talk. Now you’re beginning to see that it’s possible. The new heart likes to love God. Let out the throttle a bit now and see how much love is in there. Wow. Fairly purrs, doesn’t it?
Something else Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Matt 5:8 That used to be another theoretical Bible verse, I know, but now you’re beginning to think it’s possible. Pure in heart—unthinkable with the old one. But now… what does that mean? Pure means something that is all one thing. Pure water is water—free of impurities, that is, of anything else at all, even strawberry syrup: just H2O. Pure gold is 24k, no alloys. Pure hearts are hearts for one thing only, just goodness, just God’s love. Pure hearts don’t want bad things. The urge to jump in filth just isn’t there anymore. With these new hearts, the power and potential for living God’s way just arrived this morning.
What if I fail? What if I stumble, and sin again? Will my new heart be ruined? Here again is the old see saw, the dynamic tension that has Christians sometimes speaking through both sides of their mouth. Sin and grace, forgiveness and obedience—the terms aren’t as important as their content. St. John said in the same Epistle that if we confess our sins, God is faith and just to forgive. Say ‘I have no sin’ and you’re lying, calling God a liar. We know we’ve sinned, and that others sin: and we are forgiven, and are to forgive as God forgives.
The postmodern world doesn’t like this language. ‘Sin’ sounds judgmental. ‘Good and evil are relative. Everyone has their path and must judge for themselves if their steps are working for them. No sin, just life lessons. No absolutes, just shades of grey.’ Christians can swallow such nonsense, and have done so. ‘Don’t feel guilty, Jesus took care of it all, you just relax and have a good time in the Lord.’ Mmm-no. There is right and there’s wrong. There are circumstances, yes. But there is always God’s will, or going against God’s will. Elective abortion was murder. 49 years later, we got it right. In some circumstances, a medical abortion can and must be used to save a woman’s life. We understand the difference. But Roe needed to go.
For saying that, churches are defaced. The culture doesn’t like sin-talk, even if it’s sin forgiven. Sin is what we do against God and His design. There are absolutes. There is good and there is evil. It’s no help to redefine terms and escape the issue that way. If we run from feeling guilty, we may kill our hearts again. We’re still talking love here.
You have new hearts. You may yet sin again, and if so, God will hear and God will forgive. Don’t play games: fess up. Keep short lists. Get back to Him right away, knowing for certain that He is always ready to have you back, 100% forgiven. He doesn’t want you to return to the shadows, so He gives you His own Spirit to speak into yours, and inform your new heart where the path now leads.
Our identity crisis is over. We are not evil. We are good. Our new hearts are very, very good.
Feel them loving, loving, loving, loving…