Jesus’ words to the Pharisees give us pause: “You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me.” Jesus invites us to experience a change of heart that will in fact change every part of our lives.
1Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
2Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
4You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
9How can young people keep their way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
11I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
12Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
13With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
14I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
15I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
22Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
1Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
As I mentioned last week, when we decided many weeks ago on our theme “Making Change” for our Lenten series, we had no way of knowing how timely it would be. It seems like our world is changing every day as we learn more about COVID-19. Since last Saturday, our state has been under the Governor’s order to “Stay at Home.” And many states have since put that order in force. There are some exceptions for essential businesses, but many of us have complied with the Governor’s order to stay home, forcing those who can, to work from home. And that’s a blessing. What’s tougher is for people in the service industry, and other industries, who cannot work from home, and now face unemployment, and it’s caused a major economic hardship for their families. And people are encouraged to practice social distancing. At a time when we need to stay connected and encourage one another, we feel starved for human interaction.
Although the Governor’s order allowed for certain types of stores to remain open, other “non-essential” stores were forced to close. Every business that was allowed to remain open has changed their operating procedures. One local bank has closed their lobby completely, and only drive through is available. Veterinarians have changed their protocols to limit the number of people admitted in the building at one time. Restaurants are staying open if they can provide carryout or delivery.
Yes, much has changed in our daily lives. Parents are trying to find ways to keep their children engaged at home as schools are closed. And out of love and concern for our church family, as well as the community, we continue to adjust to a new normal as a congregation and staff, as we provide worship via video, and stay in touch via phone, email, and text. Know that although we are physically separated, we are still connected in Spirit. And remember that God is always with us and we are never alone. We pray for you and appreciate your prayers as well.
One of our members wrote this in a text to me last week, and I’m sharing with permission: “I am a little worried about the economic effects on society, but usually there is a silver lining, and maybe we will be kinder to each other and the earth after it is all over. God willing we will survive.” I think she presents an interesting thought. In spite of all the restrictions we’re feeling, and the feeling that everything in our world has been turned upside down, I’ve noticed that people are acting a little friendlier, a little kinder. Neighbors are talking with each other. Strangers are talking and waving to each other. More people are out taking walks, riding bicycles, walking their dogs. Many of the animal shelters have seen an increase in adoptions and I hope those turn into permanent forever homes for those pets. Families are finding time to do things together at home and enjoy their time together. And churches have found new ways of reaching people beyond their walls. We need to remember that the church is more than a building. It’s all of us. God calls each of us to go and share the Good News.
This week’s theme is “Change of Heart.” And I’m beginning to see a change of heart among people. Maybe it’s the enormous scope of this pandemic. I’ve never seen anything like this my whole life. Our lives will never be the same. But through it all, God is still on the throne. He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us. We are never alone when we rest in the arms of our loving Father. There’s no better place to be.
Read the words from one of the scripture readings for today, from Ezekiel Chapter 36: “26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
Rest in that new spirit He gives us and remember that He has called us by name and we are His.
Please pray with me:
O God of our longing, strengthen us and dwell in our hearts, that we be rooted and grounded in your love. Help us to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of your mercy shown to us on the cross. Fill our hearts with your grace, that we lead lives that radiate your love to all. In Jesus’ name we pray,
And now may the Lord of peace give you peace at all times and in all ways.
In the name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.