Heart Matters

Friday, June 22, 2012 — Week of Proper 6, Year Two

Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)

Psalms 88 (morning) 91, 92 (evening)

Numbers 13:1-3, 21-30

Romans 2:25 – 3:8

Matthew 18:21-35

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

It’s a matter of the heart. All three readings today are “heart readings.” In Numbers we have the story of the spies who go into Canaan and return with fearful hearts, except for one, Caleb. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus urges us to forgive from the heart, and he has some fairly extreme things to say about that. But I want to look at Paul’s conversation about real circumcision — a matter of the heart.

In the back of my mind I’m thinking about a conversation I recently had with another minister. We were disagreeing. He was certain that the “only way” to God was through Jesus. I agreed, but I saw Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Spirit manifested whenever God is manifest throughout history, in every age and culture and religion. Wherever there is good, truth, or beauty, …faith, hope, or love, there is the incarnation of God whom we recognize as Jesus. Not so, he said. There is only one way, and it is Jesus only as revealed in the Scriptures. Unless one confesses his name, in a very precise way, the consequences are eternal separation from God.

Paul is having a similar disagreement. The issue is whether the “only way” to God is through circumcision. Circumcision is the Biblical sign of one’s covenant to follow the Jewish law. But, Paul says, look what a mess we who are Jews have made of following the law. We dishonor God with our unfaithfulness. And what about those Gentiles who are faithful, whose ethics exceed our own? It is a matter of the heart. God desires the inner, spiritual transformation of our hearts, not something external and physical.

So, the others say to Paul, it doesn’t matter that we are Jews, that God called us as a chosen people. YES it matters, says Paul. We were entrusted with a precious gift. And God will be faithful to the promises to the Jewish people. In fact, look what God is doing with Jewish unfaithfulness! God is using our people’s unfaithfulness to open God’s grace to non-Jews. If God does something great like that with unfaithfulness, there is no limit to what God can do, especially with any form of faithfulness.

So back away from the distinctions. We are all the same before God. All have failed. God loves all. And even in the face of universal failure, God’s grace abounds. All that is needed is a little trust, a little heart-faithfulness. And you can find big hearts among those who are “in” (the circumcised) and those who are “out” (the uncircumcised). Promote faithfulness-of-heart among all — big courageous hearts; forgiving hearts. It’s okay to back away from some of those outward boundaries. What God wants is our inner, spiritual transformation. The inner faithfulness will then produce outer faithfulness.

A friend of mine says that makes a good church too. Soft at the edges and strong at the core. Or as I saw it recently in a logo: “Deep roots. Low walls.”

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