A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon (Ash Wednesday) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Matters of the Heart"

We have just celebrated the holiday of hearts:  paper valentines,  satin hearts of chocolate, pastel candy hearts,  and diamond hearts.  Coincidentally this year Ash Wednesday is just days after  Valentines ,and Ash Wednesday  is also concerned with hearts.

These are some of the traditional Scriptures for today:

      “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord,  and renew a right spirit within me”
“Test me O Lord and examine my heart.”
        “I will take away your hearts of stone”
        “I will give you a heart to know me”

and the Scripture passage just read from Ezekiel:
           “I will give you a new heart”

What does it mean to receive a new heart?  

For the Davis family in South Carolina, for their little 5 year old daughter Natalie, a new heart was crucial if she were going to continue to live. Natalie had a rare heart condition where the heart muscle was weakening.  Her activities were limited; she could no longer  run or play. Thankfully  she was able to receive a transplanted heart. Now almost a year later, she has grown taller and she is much more active. She even chases her  sister around the house.  A new heart gave her new life, a new way of being.

We are beginning our Lenten journey of six weeks where we are thinking about the possibilities of new life. We look ahead to the promise of Easter morning and  remember the reconciling love and grace that our Lord offers.

The “heart “ can be defined  as our innermost character, feelings, or inclinations

How would you describe  the spiritual health of your heart?

Sometimes in daily life, we are surprised by what we discover about our heart.  Heather Kopp writes a blog where she frequently reveals her  “growing edge”,  her long way to go, as a follower of Christ.  This story is from one of her writings:

“My husband Dave can be so selfish. And this morning was a great example. Normally he gets up first, and so naturally, he makes the coffee... But here's the selfish part. Sometimes, Dave gets up super early to work on manuscripts...and by the time I get up, there's less than two cups of coffee left for me- which is obviously not nearly enough. What a coffee hog!

 This morning it happened again. I came down to the kitchen at 7am, plenty early you'd think, but as soon as I went to pour the coffee I could tell the thermos was too light in my hand. Sure enough, there was only one cup left.
Like I said, Dave can be so selfish. Especially when you consider that soon he'll be going into the office where he works and where he can drink all the coffee he wants all day long- while I'm stuck at home without.”

Heather continues her story by saying she headed for the den so that she could confront her husband.  He wanted to know if she was wondering about the coffee. 

She said   Of course not...but I did happen to notice that there wasn't much left for me.”    Dave explained that the coffee grinder broke and so he brewed  the last of the ground coffee just  for her and he was having tea.         Heather writes:

“ I glanced at his mug. It was true. My husband was drinking useless tea....so that I could have at least one cup of coffee to drink this morning while I prayed and meditated next to my candle, reflecting as I'm wont to do on all those gushy feelings of love for God and for all people that help to convince me I really am growing in selflessness. Lord, have mercy.”

Lent is the season for examination of the heart, for being open to seeing ourselves as God sees us.  Like Heather, we may  want to cry out:  Lord have mercy!

In our hymnal,  the Word and Table 1 (communion service) begins with this prayer:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hiddenWe declare together in our worship that God knows us very well, and knows the condition of our hearts.

Lent offers us the daily opportunity to open ourselves, to drop our defenses, and to bring God's light shining into the shadowy corners of ourselves.

What needs might we find in our hearts? a need for forgiveness of our sins      healing of old wounds need for encouragement the cleansing from guilt and shame empowerment greater empathy for others for a stronger faith for acceptance of the truth of who we are.

What does God desire for your heart? 

One of my favorite newspaper cartoons is Agnes, drawn by a cartoonist in Columbus. Agnes is a little girl who lives a simple life with her grandmother.   Agnes has a friend named Trout.  In one of the cartoons, Agnes and  Trout are sitting on a hill and contemplating their lives.   Agnes says “ I'm going to clean up my little corner of the world. I think if everyone did that the whole world could be shiny, clean and perfect.” Agnes asks Trout: “ Are you going to clean up your little corner of the world?” Trout replies”Can I just stay in yours until I can rent a backhoe?”

Trout  is very perceptive; it may seem like we do need a back hoe to clean up our lives. Change seems to be too hard, too demanding, and many times, temporary.
God is willing to help you to transform your heart so that you have more joy, and are more free to love and to serve him.

Lent is  the season of hope where we partner with God to clean up our little corner of the world, to receive in many ways, a new heart.  On this first evening of Lent, we say a simple prayer:  “Lord, here I am. Where do we start?”

Ezekiel 26:  26 And I will give you a new heart—and put a new spirit within you. I will take out your hearts of stone and give you new hearts of love.

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