Knowing the Unknown: July 19, 2020

Good Morning Church,

Theres a story about three religious leaders who were standing before the altar, beating their breasts with great humility, saying how, before God, they were nothing. Shortly, one of the lowly acolytes in the church approached and started to beat his chest, professing that he, too, was nothing. When the three bishops heard him, one elbowed the other and said, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

The human heart is a complex machine that is capable of both beautiful and destructive thoughts. As humans, we have the capability of living a life of purpose and meaning, as well as a life of greed and self-deprivation of the heart. We come before Jesus in prayer, conversation, or study, so that we can better understand our faults and find solutions to correct these short comings. I think we can all agree that the bishop who made this comment was struggling to recognize this own shortcomings in his hypocritical thoughts and actions.

Last week we spoke about being there to help one another like Jesus has and continues to love and help us. We spoke about how it can be difficult to remain faithful to God, or see God, but how the people of ancient times were able to find comfort in stories like Abraham’s. These ancient people were able to find solace in that they were not alone, if God had been faithful before, God would be faithful again.

Today we are looking at a passage that challenges all of us at the deepest parts of our hearts because it challenges the very nature of our hearts. As humans the struggle for all of us is freeing ourselves of the burdens that wall up our hearts so that we can be the love of Jesus we need to be.

The author of Jeremiah tells the reader that the heart is deceitful above all things. We do not like to think this way about humanity, and we struggle to find hope in a position like Jeremiah’s. And so we must stop and ask, what does that really mean? This passage, considered in connection with what precedes, may be understood from two points of view: First, we ask whether or not we can even trust one another, because we are weak and frail and may look for ways to take advantage of each other. Secondly, we live life by proceeding with caution, both in listening to our own hearts, but also the words of others. As Christians, we are taught, often to the point of exhaustion, to not trust only in ourselves. It is easy for us to deceive ourselves or to create some fictional reality in our own minds. This is true even to the point where many Christians throughout human existence have believed that they were following the will of God when they were really just following their own lies.

Yet, even when taking all of this into account, we also know that Christianity is a communal faith. It is not meant to be a personal faith that you practice completely alone. Are there moments for silence and personal contemplation, yes, but when we are completely alone it is extremely easy for us to rely on our own understandings, something that Paul warned the early church against doing.

Ultimately a passage like this comes back to one thing, the heart. As Methodists, we have always been a movement of the heart. Yes, we believe in good education for our leaders and our people, but what good is education and knowledge if you do not have the heart to go along with it. So, when we examine a passage like this, I believe that John Wesley’s commentary on this would be extremely helpful for our exploration. John wrote, “There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us; unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked, so that neither can a man know his own heart, nor can any other know that of his neighbour’s.”

It is for this reason that we are in desperate need of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We need that little tugging on the heart, or as John described as a heart strangely warmed. We need the Spirit to break down our uptightness and our defense systems, in order that we can see each other as Jesus does, a beloved creature of God. When we can look towards the heart of another with love and receive their love in return, we will find rest for our souls. This begins with our relationship and trust in the Holy Spirit. We are incapable of doing this completely on our own, and so we need the Holy Spirit’s help. The good thing for us is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t wait for us to give the go ahead in beginning that work in our souls.

The Holy Spirit has always been at work in our lives, molding and shaping our hearts. It’s because of this spirit residing in us that we can fall and stand back up again. All humans were made beautifully in God’s image, but we can easily slip away. The first step for us to return to God is to let go. Let go of our own understanding. Look to the church community that is looking to Jesus for help.

Reflecting on the story from the beginning of my sermon and on the lack of honor for God and ill-fated motives on the part of the Bishop, who clearly is in need of some redirection, I was reminded of this old hymn. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” We, as a part of this great celestial ball, must understand that we can not rely simply on our own understanding. We must turn our eyes back to Jesus, or else we will lose the humility that can be a staple of our lives. It is for this reason that churches pray for guidance or Christians pray for wisdom. We recognize the need for the Holy Spirit’s leading, and we will not be able to find the truth in each stage of life without the love and care of God. Amen.