“A little heart to heart”
Sunday 2 September 2018
There are over one thousand texts in the Bible concerned with the word “heart”. Shall we start to work through them? Firstly,……
Maybe we better not go down that road. But, it does make you think doesn’t it? If there are over one thousand different references to “heart” in the Bible, it must be a fairly important concept.
So, what does “heart” mean in the Biblical context? It denotes a person’s centre for physical, emotional, intellectual, and moral activities. In other words, it concerns the very centre of our being as humans. It goes way beyond the lovey-dovey notion that it has developed in our culture. When we are dealing with the heart of a person in the Bible, we are dealing with their very essence as a person.
There are five insights into our hearts in today’s readings. Let’s explore those a little.
Firstly, in the gospel, Jesus’ quotes the prophet Isaiah in identifying that our hearts can be at odds with our lips. We can be paying God merely lip-service. Isaiah wrote: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” There can be a disconnect between what we say and what we really hold at the centre of our being. This is a charge often laid against Christians by those who oppose the gospel. The problem is that it can often be true. People who have had the gospel explained to them can then look at professed Christians and say, “Well, if you really hold this in your heart, at the centre of your being, why do you live and behave much the same as everyone else in the community? Why does it not change your life?”
The gospel has a second reference to our hearts and Jesus suggests that the heart is the source of evil intentions. He names them so that we don’t have any doubts as to what he means: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. The more I reflect upon the list, the more I am struck by the fact that, in every case, these behaviours produce victims. Jesus seems to be saying that, if we are prepared to hurt other people by our actions, it is something that comes from the very centre of our being.
The reading today from the Letter of James made the claim: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” This seems to be an example of a particular failure of heart to be in tune with our words. It seems to be something that the writer of the Letter of James is particularly aware of in the communities to which the letter is addressed. Later on in the letter we find: “Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” So, this is a different kind of disconnect between tongue and heart, but a very important one just the same. This is about Christians gossiping and defaming one another.
The Psalm that we used today, Psalm 45, has heart and tongue in synchronisation with each other. “My heart is stirring with a noble song; let me recite what I have fashioned for the king.” Here, praise and heart are at one. This is how things should be. Our praise of God should emanate from the heart of our being.
And the first reading that we heard today from Song of Solomon might appear to be silent in regard to the heart. In fact, the word does not appear at all. However, we can only imagine the pounding of the heart of the singer as she watches the approach of her beloved and listens to his invitation to come away with him. The image is a metaphor for the love of God for his people. God calls to the heart of the lover, to the very centre of her being. And that is exactly what he does for each of us. God speaks to our hearts. God goes past all the surface levels of protection that we put around ourselves and goes straight to the heart.
So how might we pull these reflections together? What sense can we make of this little collection of “heart” references?
We often hear the image of the layers of an onion used in relation to the way we humans relate to one another. Just as with an onion, we can peel away layer after layer before eventually reaching the heart of the onion, so we say that we can peel away layer after layer of ourselves until we eventually reach the centre of our being, the heart.
We take away different layers for different people. The closer we feel to someone in love and trust, the more layers we are prepared to remove and the more of our deeper selves we are prepared to reveal. This is generally considered to be a healthy approach to self–revelation. If we expose too much of our inner selves to people who will not respect that revelation, we risk being damaged and hurt seriously.
This is all very well with people. But it does not hold up in relation to God. We may kid ourselves that we can keep aspects of ourselves hidden from God, but that is all we are doing – kidding ourselves. What we actually do when we adopt this subterfuge is blind ourselves to God – but God still sees the secrets of our hearts, those things that we might want to keep from God.
The magnificent Psalm 139 reminds us:
O Lord, you have searched me out and known me:
you know when I sit or when I stand,
you comprehend my thoughts long before.
2 You discern my path and the places where I rest:
you are acquainted with all my ways.
3 For there is not a word on my tongue:
but you, Lord, know it altogether.
4 You have encompassed me behind and before:
and have laid your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me:
so high that I cannot endure it.
6 Where shall I go from your spirit:
or where shall I flee from your presence?
7 If I ascend into heaven you are there:
if I make my bed in the grave you are there also.
8 If I spread out my wings towards the morning:
or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand shall lead me:
and your right hand shall hold me.
10 If I say ‘Surely the darkness will cover me:
and the night will enclose me’,
11 The darkness is no darkness with you,
but the night is as clear as the day:
the darkness and the light are both alike.
12 For you have created my inward parts:
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
The fact is that God knows exactly what each of us is like in the centre of our being – and God still loves each one of us immeasurably! God wants us to come away with him just as the poem in the Song of Solomon suggests. God knows us and he loves us and he wants us to open our hearts to him in love so that we might enter more fully into his love.
Our attempts to hide from God are futile and counterproductive. The great Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose feast we celebrated earlier this week, expressed this truth most beautifully when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
As we continue our worship this morning, let’s commit ourselves to being people who open our hearts to God and one another in love and unity of purpose. And as we share the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, let’s be prepared to be consumed by him just as we consume the gifts he has left us as a memorial of his passion, death and resurrection.
The Reverend Allan Paulsen