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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Matters of the Heart

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
            Many parents remember the first time they heard the heartbeat of their yet-to-be-born baby.  The experience is powerful, full of emotion.  The rhythmic beat that begins the symphony of life brings so much joy.  That beat is vital as it determines the tempo and demeanor of the music.  After a baby is born doctors continue to listen to that beat as the symphony marches on, as children grow into adulthood.  It’s amazing how this beat that brings so much joy also brings so much sorrow comes when that symphony reaches its conclusion and that rhythmic beating finally comes to a rest.
            We can imagine what it must have been like when God breathed life into Adam and heard his heart beating for the first time.  What joy our Heavenly Creator and Father must have felt when He witnessed His creation come to life, yet how much sorrow He must have felt when He witnessed Adam choose death over the life God had given him.  Satan’s words taunted and tempted, “You will surely not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Sure, on that day their hearts did not cease beating inside their chest, but the beat that once was a beautiful symphony strayed from the sheet music God had written and was reduced to a cacophony of volatile notes and off beat measures.
This is because we are more than mere physical beings.  God fearfully and wonderfully created us with not only a physical existence, but a spiritual on as well.  In all creation, we are unique because God carefully crafted us in His own image.  He gave us an intellect to know Him and a will to follow His.  He gave us a heart by making us intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual beings so that we could love and adore and worship and praise Him, yet when Adam ate that fruit in the garden, he rebelled against God in the heart that God gave him.  In that moment, both his will and his intellect were corrupted.  His heart no longer aligned with God’s.  He lost the reflection of his Creator by rejecting the life that God had given him, and in doing so condemned himself to a life of misery and suffering.  God cast Adam and Eve out from the garden, barring them from the tree of life, lest they eat of it and live forever in their desolate state, forever dying yet never truly living.  In this merciful act, God allowed their suffering to end in death, but He took no pleasure in their dying.
In His foreknowledge, God knew that Adam and Eve would, condemning all humanity with them, so before He even created them, God planned for their salvation.  He refused to let sin and death have the final word over His creation.  He refused to let the life He gave and loved so dearly be lost forever.  This is the Gospel that we know and cling to, for it gives us life once again.  God sent His only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn, but to redeem.  Christ took on our flesh, submitting Himself to the Law of God, and lived a perfect life so that He was the perfect sacrifice.  God cast all our sin upon Him, condemning them in the flesh and putting sin to death once and for all.  In doing so, Christ set us free from the burdens of the Law and gave us a new life, creating in us a clean heart and renewing a right spirit within us.
But the question remains, what now?  What do we do with the freedom earned for us on the cross?  What have we been freed from, and what have we been freed for?  Last week we read in Romans.  Paul asked, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
In our baptism we were united with Christ not only in His death, but also in His life.  We live in grace, not so that we may keep on sinning, but just the opposite.  As Paul says, the death Christ died He died to sin, so in His death we too die to sin, and the life He lives He lives to God, and so the lives we live we also live to God.  The freedom we gained on the cross was the freedom from sin, and though we have been freed from sin we are not our own.  As the redeemed, we have been bought with a price: the holy and precious blood of Christ and His innocent suffering and death.  Freed from the bondage of sin we now belong to Him, and as our Master Christ would have us do His Father’s will.
Just as Christ did not come to condemn but to save, Christ also did not come to abolish the Law but uphold it.  Though we have been freed from the burdens of the Law, God’s Law is still written on our heart.  When challenged by the Pharisees, Christ declared the greatest commandments are loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets, He says, hangs on these two things.  In other words, the grace we receive through Christ does not send us out with a blank check and a get out of jail free card, but He wants us to live with God’s Law always before us, for following the Law is the Father’s will for our lives.
We look towards God’s Law then, not for our salvation, for our salvation was and is made complete through Christ alone, but instead as a guide to show us how to live godly lives here in time in light of our salvation.  Though our good works do not earn us favor from God, they do serve as a testimony before men.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructs His disciples, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Our works witness to our faith.  They show others the new heart God has given us, a heart that loves because God first loved us.  They are an expression of our thankfulness toward the gift we have been given.  They reflect what Christ has done for us on the cross.  Since we have been reconciled with God through Christ, we seek to reconcile with one another and bring others to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
It makes sense, then, that Christ continues on teaching about our relationships with one another.  He begins by teaching the fifth commandment.  How appropriate for the Sanctity of Life Sunday: You shall not commit murder.  Even more, this commandment does not simply forbidding taking another’s life.  Christ explains “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  While this commandment forbids murder, it is also a matter of the heart. 
Luther explores this commandment further in his Large Catechism.  He comes to the conclusion that this commandment concerning life has two parts.  In the first part we must not hurt or harm anyone by our words or deeds.  In the second part it requires us to do good to our neighbor and prevent any evil from befalling him.  At first this seems simple, but Luther explains that the first part forbids even putting anyone in a position where they may be harmed, by our words or deeds, by our means or methods, or even hating them or being angry in our heart.  The second part includes see those in need and clothing and feeding them or seeing them suffering or in danger and intervening.  If we withhold our love in any way, we break this commandment.
In this way, we are called to serve God and obey His commandments.  We are to use them to serve one another and bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  This is our calling.  Just as God called Samuel and the disciples in their own callings to serve Him, God also calls each one of us to lead a godly life in light of our salvation.  This can be hard though as our rebellious hear constantly struggles against the will of God, but we, as the redeemed, know that our Father and Christ our Lord has not left us alone to do this task, but They have sent to us a helper, Their Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives all our sins and cleanses our heart so that each time we fail He picks us back up again and gives us the strength to go on.
Sin no longer has a hold on you.  Your sheet music has been wiped clean, and Christ has stepped in as your conductor.  Under His guide your symphony returns even more beautiful and majestic than it was before.  Where sin once ruled, you now have the desire to do what is good, what is right.  As a church, we have great ministries: we support Interfaith Ministries, we are partners in education, we serve vision clinics in Kenya, we fund foreign missionaries, we aid seminary students, we reach out to hospice and the fire station, we do a bunch of great things here at Our Redeemer that help advance the kingdom of God.  Yet there is always more work to do, there is always a need for workers in the harvest.
So ask yourself, particularly on this Life Sunday, is there anything more you can be doing: at home with your kids, at work with your co-workers, among family and friends, here at church, or anywhere else you may be to honor the gift of life that God has given us?  Are there conversations you can have?  Items you can give?  Things that you can do?  People you can support?  In this broken world there is always need; opportunities to serve our neighbor and advance God’s kingdom are always surrounding us.  Don’t be afraid to jump in and help out, because YOU are the redeemed and this is YOUR calling, for these are matters of the heart.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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