SERVICE FOR THE LORD’S DAY
June 28, 2020
WORDS OF WORSHIP Psalm 139:23-24, NLT
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Lord, as we come to worship celebrating the life you give us, we recognize that you know our heart, our sincerity, our fears and doubts, our shortcomings and flaws, our needs and hopes and dreams. We bring all of ourselves to you, Lord God, praying for you to dwell within us and reshape us to receive your blessings and to do your will. Amen.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
Jesus quoted Isaiah saying, “8 ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. 9 Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’” (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13) James’ letter encourages, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:6) Let us confess our sins using David’s confession in Psalm 51.
1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin!
3 Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me.
4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
9 Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit.
14 Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.
John wrote, “9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Thanks be to God!
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
As we come to your Word, O God, teach us and heal us. Amen.
Listen to the heart concerns from this chapter of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 17:1-10, NLT
1 “The sin of Judah
is inscribed with an iron chisel--
engraved with a diamond point on their stony hearts
and on the corners of their altars.
2 Even their children go to worship
at their pagan altars and Asherah poles,
beneath every green tree
and on every high hill.
3 So I will hand over my holy mountain--
along with all your wealth and treasures
and your pagan shrines--
as plunder to your enemies,
for sin runs rampant in your land.
4 The wonderful possession I have reserved for you
will slip from your hands.
I will tell your enemies to take you
as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
that will burn forever.”
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
Because their hearts turned away from God, the people suffered.
Sometimes suffering isn’t because of sin, instead it is simply part of life in this world. Listen to Jesus comforting his disciples the night before his crucifixion.
John 16:17-33, NLT
16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”
17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”
19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.
25 “I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. 26 Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, 27 for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God. 28 Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.”
29 Then his disciples said, “At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. 30 Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.”
31 Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? 32 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
In this life we indeed have trials and sorrows. Some of these are worldwide like the pandemic or violence; some are personal as with an illness or chronic pain.
2 Corinthians 12:6-10, GW
6 If I ever wanted to brag, I wouldn’t be a fool. Instead, I would be telling the truth. But I’m going to spare you so that no one may think more of me than what he sees or hears about me, 7 especially because of the excessive number of revelations that I’ve had.
Therefore, to keep me from becoming conceited, I am forced to deal with a recurring problem. That problem, Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take it away from me. 9 But he told me: “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So I will brag even more about my weaknesses in order that Christ’s power will live in me. 10 Therefore, I accept weakness, mistreatment, hardship, persecution, and difficulties suffered for Christ. It’s clear that when I’m weak, I’m strong.
As humans we are weak; it is through Christ that we are made strong.
SERMON Heart Matters
Whether I want to or not, I remember clearly August of 2003, when I got a disturbing call from my doctor, and then at a continuing education event in Peoria, I ended up in the hospital needing a stent. Because of the location, LAD, the first doctor wanted his supervisor to do the surgery, so I went to surgery twice on the 13th and 14th that month. Once we got through that week, I needed to make a lot of changes, attempt some exercise, more drastic changes to my dietary habits, and there were things I couldn’t do anymore. All of this had snuck up on me, but as I look back years later, the warning signs of clogged arteries were there. I just hadn’t understood them.
We may suffer from blockages or weak valves or unstable heart rates physically and need a doctor’s care. Heart disease is a major medical concern in our world. The same can be true of our spiritual heart matters. We may have blocked or weakened spiritual connections or an erratic, unstable commitment to our faith covenant. We get sloppy about our spiritual diet or exercise and our spiritual health declines as a result. But just as our God cares about our physical heart health, so God cares about our spiritual heart matters as well.
As Jeremiah delivered God’s diagnosis and prescriptions to God’s people in his own day, it related to matters of the heart spiritually speaking. Their hearts became hardened by the ways of the world around them, until God said their sins were chiseled on hearts of stone. God’s concern over human sin goes all the way back to Genesis. Right before the flood it reads, “So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.” [i] God reached out to the people in Jeremiah’s time, “My wayward children,” says the Lord, “come back to me, and I will heal your wayward hearts.” “Yes, we’re coming,” the people reply, “for you are the Lord our God.”[ii] God promised them shepherds after his own heart, but as we said last week, the people still did not listen. They did not return their hearts to the Lord God.
“22 Have you no respect for me? [God asked]
Why don’t you tremble in my presence?
I, the Lord, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline
as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross.
The waves may toss and roar,
but they can never pass the boundaries I set.
23 But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts.
They have turned away and abandoned me.
24 They do not say from the heart,
‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God,
for he gives us rain each spring and fall,
assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’”[iii]
God despaired as we turned away.
As we read in Jeremiah 17 today,
“9 The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”[iv]
Melissa Spoelstra notes that “the word heart is used over 800 times in scripture.”[v] God’s heart is revealed to us in many verses as well as God’s concern for the condition of our hearts and inner spirit.
Many things tug at our hearts in this world. There are stressors that endanger our physical hearts and our spiritual health as well. We endure fear and pain and worry and anxiety. Some of this relates to circumstances we have set up for ourselves and we suffer the consequences. Some has to do with the state of the world around us or situations others have put us in that we are powerless to change. Spoelstra asks a question that could come from any of us as we wrestle with a Christian response to life’s challenges. She writes, “I know Christ calls me to be kind, loving, and forgiving as He is toward me. But how can I get my heart in line with God’s truth when my feelings pull me in another direction? This leads me to bring my heart before God and ask Him to help me sort through pain and perceptions so that He can restore softness in my most vital organ.”[vi]
God is the Great Physician when it comes to healing our spiritual heart, but just as a cardiologist can do me no good if I refuse to make an appointment, so God can’t heal our spiritual wounds if we don’t allow God access to work within us. As Spoelstra puts it, “We stuff our pain and continue living our lives without dealing with it and give resentment a chance to grow…[but there is] the danger of allowing our hearts to get hard and the painful shattering process [is] needed to restore them.”[vii]
I’m watching a drama in which several characters have some mental health concern either born with or trauma related, but the caregiver in the story stuffs his emotions and may be the most wounded character of all. This happens not just in dramas; it is too often true in real life. We just keep pushing. We just keep going, and we don’t deal with the effects of events or memories that are just too painful to resolve. We need God to work in us with healing grace when someone else hurt us.
But sometimes we are the ones at fault, and we still need God’s healing and grace.
The people of Jeremiah’s day had sinned yet continually denied it. They kept insisting there was nothing wrong. They refused correction or to change their ways. They had forgotten God’s relationship with their ancestors and turned away. Their hearts were hard. But as is true with a physical heart condition such as my clogged arteries, it didn’t happen overnight. As Spoelstra suggests, “Gradually, they made secret choices to self-protect, blame others for their problems, and refuse to acknowledge their own errors.”[viii]
Sometimes our heart pain comes from broken relationships. Spoelstra shared personal stories of friendships gone awry. I think most of us have experienced this at some time. Maybe you are in that quandary right now. Spoelstra knows how tough it can be. “The more you risk in relationships, the more you have to lose. When you get burned a few times, it can be discouraging to keep putting yourself out there.”[ix] However, “We can’t change the hearts of others, so we need to put down our microscopes and pick up our own heart mirrors.”[x]
This is a truth counselors have taught me over the years. You cannot change the other person; you can only change yourself. You cannot change the circumstance sometimes; you can only change how you respond to it. So when we are hurting in a relationship, we can go to God to help us take a serious look at ourselves and make any needed changes there. This is also true of our relationship with God.
When we fail to take responsibility for our own attitudes, words, or actions, we cannot heal. Spoelstra encourages us, “we can evaluate our own hearts and repent.”[xi] She tells us to ask questions. I should have asked years before my heart condition was discovered why my arms went numb sitting in chairs with arm rests or what the effects would be of so much stress. Similarly when things aren’t right, we can ask things like, “Lord, why do I feel so sad, distracted, or empty? Why did that person’s words or actions cut me so deeply? Why do I want to stay mad at my husband or friend? What part of my heart has grown hard, and what will it take to soften it again?”[xii]
As we ask such questions, we can move on to confessing our own share of responsibility. Whether it is a fight you had with a family member or friend, or dealing with tensions around the world that have festered for decades, even centuries, “If we don’t acknowledge the hurt or the hate, we can’t move on to the healing.”[xiii] Spoelstra suggests “We should be asking God to help us understand our feelings, seeking wise counsel to help us draw out our heart issues, and repenting and confessing to our loving Father the wickedness hidden in our hearts. [God] already knows what’s in them and wants us to acknowledge it so that He can renew and transform us.”[xiv]
Our hearts can become bitter, broken, deceived, doubt filled, dull, fearful, fickle, hardened, hateful, heavy, hypocritical, overwhelmed, pain filled, perverted, proud, restless, sad, stubborn, or troubled. All of these descriptions and more come from scripture. All of these conditions represent a heart that needs healing. But when our hearts are healthy, the Bible has just as many positive descriptions for them: clean, compassionate, faithful, fully committed to God, generous, gentle, happy, honest, humble, loving, new, peaceful, prayerful, rejoicing, repentant, responsive, right and true, sincere, thankful, understanding, virtuous, willing and able to change. Spoelstra believes that “God cares more about the condition of our hearts than almost anything else”[xv] and that God “wants to help us down the path of self-discovery that leads to healing.”[xvi]
In our desire to change, there is a problem when we try to accomplish this by ourselves. Think about it. I couldn’t even diagnose my own heart condition. I certainly couldn’t perform surgery on myself or prescribe the needed medicines. I could, however, cooperate by making lifestyle changes and dietary changes as needed. So, why would we think that we can self-diagnose and treat our spiritual heart conditions. We need God in the process both to guide us to the truths we don’t want to see and to work in our spirit by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. It is God who transforms us when we are willing. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”[xvii] We can cooperate with that process through a steady diet of God’s Word, worship, Christian fellowship and prayer, and by exercising our spiritual muscles with acts of kindness and generosity. Spoelstra writes, “Heart change happens internally first and then displays itself externally as we acknowledge and respond to the sin we’ve identified.”[xviii] As God works within us, the new creation will be apparent to those around us. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” [xix]
Jeremiah suggests three steps to dealing with our heart condition. We’ve alluded to them already. Spoelstra puts them in three convenient phrases: “know it, share it, own it.”[xx] Socrates is credited with saying, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”[xxi] Such self-reflection requires honesty. Spoelstra acknowledges there are positive things she assumes or pretends about herself that are not necessarily true, but then she admits, “Being honest with ourselves is a necessary first step” to the self-evaluation process. [xxii] This goes back to asking those tough questions and letting God point out to us where we are not in line with God’s intentions, or where we can improve.
To ask God to participate in such an evaluation may be as scary as an employee annual review, and yet without it we cannot grow. It may feel like an annual checkup with the doctor, but that is where we find out how we are doing. Some of the news will be good news! Some of it will show where improvement is needed. This is for our good and not to embarrass us or shame us or reject us.
God desperately wanted the people of Jeremiah’s day to acknowledge their guilt and wrongdoing. God wants that of us in any era or culture. This is what God said through Jeremiah 3,
“O Israel, my faithless people,
come home to me again,
for I am merciful.
I will not be angry with you forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt.
Admit that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and committed adultery against him
by worshiping idols under every green tree.
Confess that you refused to listen to my voice.
I, the Lord, have spoken!
14 “Return home, you wayward children,”
says the Lord,
“for I am your master.
I will bring you back to the land of Israel--
one from this town and two from that family--
from wherever you are scattered.
15 And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will guide you with knowledge and understanding.”[xxiii]
This leads into the second step. To share it means to admit or confess the truth we have come to know about ourselves. Interestingly, the Hebrew word in Jeremiah 3:13 is again shama. We learned last week that shama can mean to listen attentively. Here it is translated as obey or confess. The related meaning is “cause to hear, tell, proclaim”[xxiv] The two meanings work together for me as we listen attentively to the Holy Spirit correcting us; then we must proclaim that truth of where we went wrong, before we can surrender to changing it.
Where do we need to make confession? First, we need to admit our sin to God, and sometimes when we have harmed or wronged another person, we need to also admit it to those affected. With regard to the first, Spoelstra continues the analogy I have been using. “Just as we must admit our symptoms to a doctor, who then can prescribe the right treatment, so we must admit our heart troubles to the Great Physician, who knows the cure.”[xxv] As to the second, from her own experience of confessing and apologizing to a friend, Spoelstra writes, “Sharing my heart of ownership and regret [for past wrongs] brought us closer and took us down a path of reconciliation.”[xxvi]
In the same way, I think of the past wrongs that still plague our society around the world. People don’t understand why it is important to address the wrongs of generations that went before us. You might as well ask why detectives would try to solve a cold case, or why we hear of taking someone to trial for war crimes committed long ago. Because we do not see ourselves personally involved in the case, it doesn’t make sense to us. But on the other hand, those who were wronged will always bear that pain. You know this if someone ever hurt you and went on as if nothing had happened. But it is not only the person who was harmed who suffers. Their family and friends also suffer the ripple effect. This can be carried down through generations. If no one ever acknowledges the wrong that was done, if no one ever takes initiative to say, “I’m so sorry my ancestors did that to yours,” then the old wounds cannot heal. Instead they may fester, or someday something will trigger the old anger, and it will explode. Isn’t that what we see in our world today? Whether it goes back to breaking treaties and taking land from Native Americans, Japanese internment in the US or the concentration camps in Germany, slavery or any other form of oppression, tensions between peoples in the Middle East, if no one ever acknowledges that there was fault, how can we ever heal?
Spoelstra writes, “Many of us walk around ‘bleeding’ from the wounds…God wants to heal our relational strife, but we must be willing to humbly confess our part.”[xxvii] She goes on to say, and this points to an important exception, “There are times when we have been mistreated and we truly are the innocent victims, such as in cases of abuse…Those situations require no repentance on our part but instead the healing is the work of God in our hearts through forgiveness. In all other instances of relational strife, we must be willing to admit and confess our sin.”[xxviii]
The third step, once we have learned and confessed our sin, is to “take personal responsibility for our actions.”[xxix] This is what is meant to own it, to take responsibility for our wrongdoing. Don’t get caught up in the blame game. Your part in what went wrong is your own fault, no one else’s, not even the devil’s. You made a choice. Don’t try to justify it or make excuses; that allows you to perpetuate it. Just own up to it! Spoelstra puts it simply, “No excuses, No blaming. Just say, “I thought/said/did this, and I am sorry.”[xxx] I particularly like this sentence, “Confession is the path to healing, not condemnation.”[xxxi]
God knows when you have blown it, but once you admit it, God offers mercy and forgiveness. That is grace! God takes our brokenness and offers to heal us. Jesus came into the world for the purpose of forgiving us. Many Christians can quote John 3:16, but over the years I have found verse 17 far more important to remember. “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.” Once you confess your sin, don’t hang on to the guilt. That won’t heal you or help anyone else. Once we see and admit our wrongful attitudes or behaviors, we need to accept God’s forgiveness and ask God to help us change, so we don’t do that hurtful thing anymore. It is when we expose our weakness that God can best work in and through us.
Spoelstra suggests, “Our tendency to hide in shame started back in the garden with the very first sin, yet God still seeks us out. [God] never forces us to follow but waits and calls to us, offering mercy and hope. We simply have to run into [God’s] outstretched arms—knowing, sharing, and owning how very much we need Him.”[xxxii]
Whether we suffer physically because of our own poor choices or the effects of a stressful world or an inherited condition, we need a physician’s care when our hearts are not healthy. Whether it is our own sin, or the pain of circumstances beyond our control, or harm caused by someone else, or even the tense relations we inherited from our ancestors, we need God’s care to heal our spiritual hearts. God promised through Jeremiah, “You will search for me. And when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me!”[xxxiii] Let us then truly seek the Lord with our whole heart, and let the healing begin.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version p. 14
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
PRAYERS (prayers were spontaneous but included the following concerns)
Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, war crimes trial
Increase in COVID-19 cases in several places
Continued fight against the disease
Ongoing hard work of reform and justice issues
Those planning ahead for school this Fall or elections
Decisions on summer events to meet or not, virtual alternatives
Those financially stretched because of pandemic
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
THE LORD'S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever. Amen.
CHARGE & BLESSING Jeremiah 29:11, NLT
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
[i] Genesis 6:6, NLT
[ii] Jeremiah 3:22, NLT
[iii] Jeremiah 5:22-24, NLT
[iv] Jeremiah 17:9-10, NLT
[v] Melissa Spoelstra, Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, p. 2093 (because I used a kindle edition, p. # actually refers to location # on kindle.
[vi] P. 2100
[vii] P. 2113
[viii] P. 2136
[ix] P. 2141
[x] P. 2148
[xi] P. 2154
[xii] P. 2155
[xiii] P. 2159
[xiv] P. 2172
[xv] P. 2243
[xvii] Romans 12:2, NLT
[xviii] Spoelstra, p. 2279
[xix] 2 Corinthians 5:17, HCSB
[xx] Spoelstra, p. 2284
[xxi] Quote found on Goodreads website, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/452128-to-know-thyself-is-the-beginning-of-wisdom#:~:text=Quote%20by%20Socrates%3A%20%E2%80%9CTo%20know,is%20the%20beginning%20of%20wisdom.%E2%80%9D
[xxii] Spoelstra, p. 2290
[xxiii] Jeremiah 3:12-15, NLT
[xxiv] Spoelstra, p. 2303
[xxv] P. 2322
[xxvi] P. 2320
[xxvii] P. 2337
[xxviii] P. 2339
[xxix] P. 2360
[xxx] P. 2371
[xxxi] P. 23774
[xxxii] P. 2432
[xxxiii] Jeremiah 29:13, NCV
Jeremiah lived 2600 years ago, but has as much to say to our world today as he did to Judah then. The Bible Study from which I am taking much of this series is Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World by Melissa Spoelstra. A Bible Study to accompany the sermons can be found at Faith Adventures.