The ‘Final’ Version
Psalm 119 starts: Happy are those whose way is blameless
Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we could change our hearts and follow all God’s laws and be blameless for the rest of our lives. We would be profoundly happy, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength! Nothing would defile us from within or from outside ourselves.
But we confess that we are all sinful and unable to free ourselves. Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther and many others have made it crystal clear that no one can be entirely blameless. If anyone were able to be blameless the whole course of human history would be changed.
What then can we do to change our hearts? Can we change our hearts of stone for healthy hearts filled with God’s Spirit?
Since 1967, when Bernard Christian transplanted the first human heart, we can have surgeons transplant our diseased hearts with new hearts. Heart transplant patients report it is more than just a physical experience. Something more changes, as another person’s heart gives them life. The other person has met an untimely death. The transplant patient carries on with life, for themselves and in a small yet noticeable way for the donor.
Though our meaning tonight for changing our hearts is hardly physically accurate, we are talking about changing the seat of our emotions, the centre of our wills, and the motive behind our thinking and doing.
First off this is a very complicated idea. Secondly it is nearly out of the realm of human possibility. We so often get it all wrong.
Once a well-heeled congregation decided to look outside themselves and do something really good for a poor neighbourhood nearby. After carefully looking through the neighbourhood they found a deserted chunk of land, filled with weeds, stones, and syringes. They decided it would make the perfect neighbourhood playground. They bought the land, and brought in topsoil, sod, and playground equipment. Then they headed to the community centre to invite the community to make use of it. The community leaders said only a very polite thank you.
“What’s wrong?” a congregation member blurted out.
“Well,” said one of the community leaders, “we had plans for that land. We had been saving money and applying for grants, gotten corporate sponsors, and invested in getting drawings made up. We were on track to break ground in 6 months. Our plans included a picnic area, a play area, community gardens and even a basketball court on one end.
“Now we’ll have to let all that go and enjoy the playground.”
We can try to fix the world with our privilege, power, and wealth. Or we can use our ears to listen to those in need, our minds to discern what the real issues are, and our hearts to empathize with their plight so that how we act will actually meet the real needs of the people we try to help.
There are things we can do to change our hearts, to change how we feel about another person, our situation in life, and the events that happen around us. While we cannot change our individual emotional responses to events, we can slowly, through diligent practice of habits, change the range of our emotions. We can over time move ourselves from a destructive, disengaged range of emotional responses, to a hope-filled, engaged range of emotional responses to the same kind of events. It takes lots of time, diligent work, and a motivation that only the Holy Spirit can maintain in us.
The first thing we can do is forgive others. We act as if the other has not sinned against us. We treat them special, even giving them gifts they really want. When we behave as if they were precious, they become precious to us again. In time we will realize, we have actually forgiven them.
Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we truly change our hearts. We need God to send people to help. Hearts change the course of our lives, and the course of our communities, our churches, our countries, and even the course of human history.
St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of Christianity’s early thinkers, writers, preachers, and practitioners of faith, did not start out a Christian. Born of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he was denied baptism. He spent his youth as a Manichaean, and according to his own account lost himself in pleasures and wanton living. He was befriended by Ambrose, who he met since they both shared exceptional skills as orators. While Ambrose’s preaching was exceptional and his message was the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, it was Ambrose’s friendship that deeply affected Augustine’s heart and drew him to convert to Christianity. St. Augustine gave himself to the work of Christ on earth, ending his life serving as the Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, where he wrote and preached. Imperfect, rescued, and saved Augustine steered the course of Christianity to be the faith we recognize today. He also steered the Roman Empire towards Christianity.
Because there was one human, Jesus, who lived entirely blameless before God, the whole of human history is changed. Yours and mine, and each of our lives are inexorably changed toward God, toward life, and toward giving everything we have and are in order that others may know God’s Grace as well. Augustine was one piece of this course of history.
Our hearts inform and equip us to turn our lives in new directions. As the Holy Spirit moves our hearts to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, then we focus on faith, ideas, words, and actions which can affect others’ hearts with the same Grace that saves us each day.
We trust that God is always with us. We can be blameless and joyful therefore, not because we are perfect, but because Jesus steps in for us and we are reckoned to have Jesus’ blameless track record.
There is something spectacular to being the donor of Christ’s heart to those in need. It is to give to another the seat of our will and passion, the centre of our life, and to give our hearts to another in order that they may live, and that living they may have life abundant.
Have a heart. Have a change of heart. Because the Holy Spirit helps us surrender our hearts to the will, passion, and purpose of Jesus Christ, therefore we live, heart and all, as God calls and equips us to live.
We live as never before. We live the fast that is acceptable to God, the fast that through our sacrifice others receive justice, freedom, food, and homes.