Grace, mercy and peace be unto
you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Beloved
in the Lord!
The text from this morning comes
from the Gospel reading.
A man who had spent 45 years in
the office of pastor, preaching and proclaiming faithfully. I was introduced
to him when I first got out of the Seminary. He was in our circuit. Watching
this man I was thinking, “Man, he seems to have his stuff together.” His
parish and he seem to be working in a beautiful union like husband and wife.
Things seem to be going on there that weren’t going on elsewhere. Financially,
they were very secure and doing some great things. Education program and
confirmation program was booming! Parent involvement in those kids coming were
And so I thought there must be
some sort of secret kernel of truth that this man had. And all that I needed
to do was to find out what this secret kernel of truth was and then I, too,
would be able to accomplish the things that he had accomplished.
It’s like that in all of our
lives, isn’t it? A co-worker, a parent, a friend, a family member that you
look to and you see their life and it seems as if everything they touch turns
to gold. And it looks as if there aren’t any struggles in that individual’s
life. It seems to always turn out good. They seem to always accomplish much.
You and I seem to pale as we compare ourselves to them.
What is it? Why is it that way?
And how then do I get that which they seem to have?
Well, the problem in going such a
place is that if we were to succeed in the same things, to what would we owe
then the success we had garnered? Would we then end up looking inwardly to
ourselves and to our accomplishments as to why that which we touched turned to
gold? Or would we really be all that humbled to say it is only God who has
And if we fail, if we fail to
what then do we blame? God? Or do we go right back searching this dead and
decaying heart trying to find something there that was the reason why it failed?
And then we get out the whip and beat ourselves.
We have very sincere desires to
accomplish great things for God in our lives, but we forget – we forget that
with which we are dealing – and that is a dirty, decaying heart.
In this morning’s Gospel reading,
Jesus speaks very clearly about our heart when he says, “From within, out
of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immortality, theft, murder,
adultery” and so on. The laundry list of bad deeds.
Well, if someone does not
struggle with the deed of adultery, have they really beaten adultery within
their heart? If someone has come upon and triumphed over alcoholism, have they
really beaten it within their heart? If someone has been able to curtail their
tongue from sarcasm, cursing, or other things, have they really curtailed it
within their heart?
Moses, in the book of Genesis
said, from God’s obvious proclamation: “Every inclination of the thought
of man in his heart is only evil all the time.”
We can polish the chrome all we want,
there is still rust beneath it. We can strip it bare and put on primer, but
it’s still an old chunk of steel. We can refurbish it with wallpaper and with
fantastic paint, but it’s still an old house.
Jeremiah even said, “The
heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Finally after a few years of
discussing and talking to this senior pastor who seemed to have his whole stuff
together, and I finally had the courage to say, “You seem to have all of your
stuff together. There doesn’t ever seem to be frayed edges.” And he
laughed. He goes, “You’re only judging by what you see on the outside. If
you only could see what was in here, you would be ashamed of me, as I am
ashamed of me.” Because he knows his own heart.
Do you know your heart? What
really is inside of your heart?
We are tempted to think that this
struggle and battleground within our heart is merely the ability to polish,
repaint and refurbish. Discipline and reform. That’s all that is needed. And
woefully shy and lacking is such a mindset because it does not deal with the decrepit
nature of what lies within your bosom and mind. Damnable, is it?
In the collect that Pastor prayed
in the very beginning, which is a great summary prayer of the entire service,
one of the petitions in there was to, “Keep us from sinful pride.” And
if you look at one of those mentionable sins of the twelve that are there,
pride is one of them.
If I had achieved that nugget, to
what would I give glory to then – myself or God? And how long, if I gave it to
God, would it last? For when God would choose to pluck that glory and pluck
that pride, then unto which would I go? Back to that empty dead heart and
blame myself again?
The turmoil in which you and I
find ourselves is not flesh and blood. That’s legalism. Trying to make
sure we can keep everyone from seeing that which what we really are in the
inside. That’s Pharisee, self-righteous legalism. But boy does it feel good
when our stuff shines. And boy does it feel bad when we are revealed as to
what we really are on the inside.
Paul said it very clear in the
Epistle reading: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood.”
Then it would be nothing more than crossing your “t’s” and dotting your “i’s”
each and every time. Discipline, discipline reform, reform, fix and fix and
fix. That would be all that a Christian life would be and it is not,
for Paul would not have said such things. It is with spiritual matters of
which we are in a battle, of which your heart is continually struggling.
Paradox indeed, listen:
If the heart is as our Lord
described it, “Deceitful above all things, inclination is only evil all
the time” and yet, we are supposed to love God with all of our heart.
That is a paradox.
And it is your unresolvable paradox
until you are resolved of such paradox when you close your eyes in faith and
die and are freed from this life in Christ. That we live in this world and are
free not so much from that, as it is from the spiritual things with which we
Now being bent already, we are
already curved in to look upon ourself so that when things go well, we end up
looking, “It must be because of my understanding of this kernel of truth.”
And if things go bad, “It must because I am not doing something that I ought
to be doing.” Either way, the focus is where? Not on Christ. Get over
yourself. Get over myself.
Listen and gather around of what
our Lord speaks. David, in the 51st Psalm said, “Create in me
a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy
presence; take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy
salvation; uphold me with Thy free spirit.”
The only kind of heart that God
loves is a broken and contrite heart, a heart that sees itself for what it is
and sees its peace and its forgiveness outside of itself. There is no kernel
of truth that you can be successful and glory filled in this life. There is
only one truth.
Well, the problem is when we look
at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we’re thinking, “Put on an armor.” That
sounds warrior-like and that gets us pumped up like guys banging heads with
their helmets in football season and popping those shoulder pads and grunting.
Sadly, if you want to be putting
on the armor of God you’ve got to lay down on the gurney as a dead and dying
soul and you’ve got to have that sleeve rolled up to receive the chemotherapy
for your dead and dying flesh. There. Here in this word.
To be a warrior does not mean you
go out in your strength, it means you realize what you are. And therein is
peace. Therein is peace. For the secret isn’t within you, it’s within Christ
and what he’s done for you.
There’s the food that brings
eternal life. That’s a broken and contrite heart. That’s one that’s empty of
itself. And that’s one that says like that pastor, “If only you could see
what I know and see within myself. My glory is not in what I’ve accomplished,
it is what God continues to take me back. The chief of sinners.”
When you look at that armor, look
at everything that is mentioned. It is all things that come to you from
outside of you! Nothing that you do, nothing that you stir up, nothing that
you create or fashion. You received those pieces of armor. They’re not yours that
you’ve created, but have been bestowed upon you in faith to wage such a
battle. Not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual things.
But the world does not see. It
scoffs at it. And intellectuals deny.
Every sermon end with this
statement about your heart:
“The peace of God which
passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
And peace, there is no peace, except that which is found in your forgiveness and
in your reception of God’s life and salvation. Eat and drink such peace and
know that your heart is cleansed, that heart with which you wage battle until finally
your Lord says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come inherit the
Kingdom prepared from the foundations of the word.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all
understanding keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus until life