Sunday’s Sermon: A Gift of the Heart

  • This may surprise you, but when I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly the athletic type.
    • Involved in other things: band, choir, speech –> And all my friends and all the older kids that I knew who were involved in these activities were also involved in the plays, so I thought that, by extension, I needed to be in the plays.
      • Major barrier here: shyness
        • Idea of being on-stage ≠ appealing
    • But I thought that, because everyone else was doing it, I had to do it, too. So when the next production rolled around, with great anxiety and trepidation, I signed up for an audition time.
      • Didn’t work out very well –> audition was a disaster
        • Story of trying to run lines with Joe
      • Outcome ≠ surprising –> I have to admit that my heart wasn’t really in it. I was more distracted by the thought that I had to do what “my group” did that I forgot to listen to what my heart was truly saying.
  • And today, we find both our Old and New Testament readings addressing a similar predicament. The characters in them have allowed their hearts to become distracted by the world, thus preventing them from giving their whole hearts to the God who treasures them.
    • OT – Israelites
      • Text (God speaking): The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. … They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. … My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.[1] –> Now, God is speaking to the Israelites through Hosea during “the final days before its conquest and destruction by the Assyrians,”[2] and this passage makes it clear that the Israelites have once again turned away from God.
        • Sacrificing and calling out to other gods
        • Aren’t relying solely on those other gods –> The text does say, “To the Most High they call,” but their hearts aren’t really in that call. But the point is …
          • Not putting their whole faith in God
          • Not giving their whole hearts to God
        • Scholar pinpoints issue: Whenever we take something out of its rightful place in our lives and raise it to the status of the ultimate, we break the harmony of life. … Only God is ultimate, only God can secure us, finally, against the need to be secured.[3] –> The Israelites were feeling that need to be secured, and they were looking to a lot of other places for security instead of simply turning to the God that had led them, protected them, and loved them throughout their history.
    • NT passage – 2 e.g.s: man who asks Jesus to arbitrate his family dispute and rich man in the parable –> people putting their faith in everything but God
      • First man approaches Jesus – text: Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.[4] –> Doesn’t this feel a little trivial? I mean, at this point in the gospel, Jesus is beginning to be recognized by a few people as the Messiah. At the very least, he’s revered as an important religious teacher.
        • Others ask Jesus about eternal life or interpreting the Scriptures or how best to follow
        • And yet this man approaches Jesus like he’s tattling, like he’s asking the biggest kid on the playground to force his brother to play nice. His heart isn’t in Jesus’ message. His heart isn’t in God’s love or the breaking-in of God’s kingdom on earth. His heart is wholly distracted by this worldly issue of inheritance.
          • Jesus makes it clear that this man’s heart is in the wrong place: Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.[5] [repeat last line]
      • Rich man in parable also puts his heart in the wrong place – his response to an abundant harvest: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’[6]
        • Important cultural context behind this slip-up
          • First, Jewish law – at least some of your abundance was supposed to be used to care for widows, orphans, and those who couldn’t care for themselves –> no indication that this man is planning on doing this with any of his surplus of grain
          • Second, rich harvests like this – considered blessing from God –> no indication that this rich man is planning on giving thanks to God for such a blessing
        • Like my ill-considered excursion into that play audition, these people’s hearts were distracted by wealth and material things, so they gave their hearts up to those things instead of investing them in their faith and in their relationship with God.
  • Outcome revealed in text
    • NT is stark
      • With the man who approached Jesus – text (Jesus’ words): Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?[7] –> This may sound like a harsh reprimand from Jesus, but sometimes that’s what we need sometimes, isn’t it? We need someone or something to snap us back into focus.
      • Even more startling outcome for rich man at end of the parable: But God said to [the rich man], “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.[8] –> This response leaves no doubt: What do you truly treasure? Have we given our hearts to the fleeting and broken things of this world or have we given our hearts to something more permanent, more fulfilling, and more eternal? If you were to die tonight, what would the contents of your heart say about you?
  • Other side of this – OT passage makes it clear that God has already given us a special place in God’s own heart –> hear God’s true desire clearly through prophet Hosea
    • Somewhat rare show of emotion from God –> speaks of God’s tender and enduring love for us – text: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. … It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms … I led them with the cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.[9] –> We hear warmth and affection in this. We hear compassion and attentiveness and steadfastness.
      • God speaks in beautiful imagery – mother tenderly caring for her baby: teaching, scooping up into her arms, cuddling and cooing and gently caressing, glowing with love and protection
    • Scripture also reveals pain God feels over Israel’s abandonment – text: How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.[10] –> Can’t you just hear how God is torn apart over this rejection? God knows that the “right” thing to do is to leave Israel. They have forsaken God time and again, and even though they have sworn in the past, “You will be our only God, and we will be your people,” here they are agai, chasing after foreign deities, sacrificing to false idols, and turning their backs on the One who has cared for them through it all.
      • Scholar (poignantly stated): At the core, this is one of the oldest stories there is. … God loves us, entirely. God creates us, delivers us, and tends us. The more God pursues, the more we turn away. It is the story of our shame. It is the story of God’s grace. We know how it ends – God does not give up.[11]
  • Our texts for today deal with times in which the people of God gave their hearts over to the wrong things, but as the scholar pointed out, this failure isn’t the end of the story.
    • End of my story – may not have found my place under the bright lights on stage but found my place in the theater dept. (stage manager – behind the scenes) –> This was where I found fulfillment and joy. This was where my heart was supposed to be.
    • And the ultimate end for our hearts – the ultimate way in which we give of ourselves – is in God. We give our hearts to God because God’s love is an unending love and a love that leads us back to a place of true fulfillment in God’s presence. We give our hearts to God because God’s grace is a grace that forgives our slip-ups and welcomes us back into the fold. We give our hearts to God because God has already unequivocally given God’s heart to us. Amen.

[1] Hos 11:2, 5, 7.

[2] “Hosea” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed. With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1278.

[3] Anna Case-Winters. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 Inclusive): Hosea 11:1-11 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 296.

[4] Lk 12:13.

[5] Lk 12:15.

[6] Lk 12: 18-19.

[7] Lk 12:14.

[8] Lk 12:20-21.

[9] Hos 11:1, 3-4.

[10] Hos 11:8-9.

[11] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 Inclusive): Hosea 11:1-11 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 292.

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