Sermon March 18: Heart Healthy

Posted by on Mar 21, 2018 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on Sermon March 18: Heart Healthy

Faith United Methodist Church

March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-12

Prayer of Illumination:                       

God of love, through Christ you have written the ways of life on our hearts. Guide us to be your covenant people, to follow as you call, and to be a light of love for all to see. Amen.

Sermon:  Heart Healthy

Every year at Annual Conference in June our Conference health insurance provider offers clergy an incentive to have blood-work done. Early morning appointments are available to have our blood drawn and, for doing it, we get a $100 pre-paid credit card. Now, I hate needles, and faint at the sight of blood, but for $100 I can usually get myself down to the appointment room before meeting Tricia and Julie at the breakfast buffet. There was only one time I nearly fainted and they propped me against the wall and made me sip orange juice for 15 minutes.

In addition to the $100, about a month after Annual Conference a full color booklet arrives in the mail detailing the results. They run about 30 different tests and for each there is description and a color-coded dial. Green is good, yellow is borderline, and red is the danger-zone. Now, I like to think I am healthy. I try to eat well and exercise. I take the stairs whenever possible and wear my fit-bit everyday. But each year when that booklet arrives in the mail I am reminded that ~ while I am mostly healthy ~ there are some areas that need my attention if I want to stay healthy and maintain a healthy heart.

Over the years my cholesterol numbers have inched closer to red, along with those pesky triglycerides, whatever those are. So I try to avoid Ben & Jerry’s and bike around town when the weather is good, rather than take the car. But I really do love Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Peanut Buttery Swirl.

Thankfully, in addition to exercise and a healthy diet, prayer is good for a healthy heart. It is proven that a regular prayer life reduces stress. And less stress is good for hearts, both spiritually and physically. As the Psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” The Psalmist didn’t know about coronary artery disease or cholesterol, but he did know about getting his heart right with God. He knew what it was to have hope that even the most desperate situation could improve. He knew what it meant to despair and he knew what it meant to give his heart to God.

Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah knew that the God he followed was a God of the heart. I’ve heard Jeremiah described as a true Lenten prophet. Jeremiah’s situation was desperate. He foretold and watched the city of Jerusalem fall. He pointed out the sin of the people over and over again. He despaired at the pain and sadness all around him. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. Yet, even through his tears, he was able to share the beautiful words of promise that we read today. Even after all he endured, Jeremiah hadn’t lost hope. In speaking the words of the Lord, he proclaimed, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts…. they shall all know me… I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah shared a vision of a grace-filled God who made his home in the very hearts of his people.

And, we must remember, these were the very same people whom Jeremiah had warned and rebuked in the face of their misdeeds and sin. These were the people who had turned from God and cursed God and rebelled against God’s love. It was to these people that God promised, I will write my law on their hearts…. I will remember their sin no more. Even if the people were not ready to forget their sin, God was. As Charles Aaron Jr. put it, “Here God promises to heal them from the inside out. God will change not only their outward circumstances, but their very hearts.” And, in doing so, God would not longer be seen as apart, far-away, or out-there, but right here, near, even within.

That God transforms hearts gives me hope. Hope for myself. Hope for the world. As much as I would like to declare my heart pure and my spirit willing, I know that my prayer is with the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” My motives are often mixed. I’m not always as generous or as patient or as forgiving as I would like. I am not always proud of my actions, my words, my thoughts. During Lent we are invited to examine these things and repent.

And our world, also, is in great need. Who can help but mourn with the students of Parkland Florida, who faced death by simply going to school. We live in a world where children die for seemingly no reason, relationships break down, despair overwhelms us into inaction and fear takes over our lives. “Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put new and right spirits within us.” To all despairing hearts ~ ancient and new ~ Jeremiah offers a much needed promise of God’s grace. God will transform our lives. God has forgotten our sins, but not our hearts.

So how is your heart? Physically? Spiritually? One question I like to ask myself is if I am nourishing myself with things of the spirit or trying to get by on the spiritual equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s. When I am taking good care of myself spiritually I feel more connected to God’s presence in my heart. Spiritual Disciplines aren’t practiced as an end in themselves, but to bring us closer to the movement of God in our lives. When we recognize God’s laws as written on our hearts there can be greater continuity between God’s will and our lives. I’ve also found that when I pay attention to my spiritual life I take better care of myself physically. While the people of the Hebrew Scriptures knew nothing about heart disease, triglycerides, or cholesterol, they did know that a heart aligned with God is a healthy heart.

So, what about God is written deep in your heart? What spiritual renewal do you seek as we approach the new life of Easter? Does the promise that God can transform hearts give you hope?

As Christians we affirm that the covenant that Jeremiah spoke of is continued in Christ Jesus.   As Jeremiah affirmed God’s law to be written on the heart, we affirm that it is not longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead we become one with Christ and one with each other. Our despair is overtaken by God’s overwhelming grace. As our Seasons of the Spirit put it, “Imagine a community where God’s people know the promises of God deep in their hearts – where God’s people sense that the power of God’s saving love is at the very core of their identity.”

That God can transform hearts gives me hope. That doesn’t mean that I can ~ or should ~ eat whatever high calorie, high cholesterol meal is on the menu. Neither does it mean that I should neglect the hard work of spiritual practice. What it does mean is that my heart, my spiritual growth, is God’s concern. God cares about my heart. God cares about your heart. Jeremiah and the Psalmist got it right. It is important to get our hearts right with God. In fact, it is probably the most important thing.   So in that spirit, let us pray in our hearts: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Amen.