Monday, 27 March 2017

Follow God's heart

Sermon preached at a service of prayer following the marriage of Sarah and Vanessa Elliott-Hart.

I think that one of the mantras of 21st century western society is ‘follow your heart’. We are encouraged to chase our own dreams, live according to our own desires, define meaning in life according to our own emotions. It’s well intentioned in some ways – following your heart requires self-awareness, and that’s good, and it suggests a loving attitude, which is also good. But it’s also a profoundly selfish and self-centred way of being – it is a way of being that asks you to do what you want to do. It doesn’t reference anyone else. So it isn’t a loving way of being and it isn’t, despite what some people think, a recipe for a good relationship.

So I want to suggest a Christian variant of this mantra, which I hope will serve you better: ‘follow God’s heart’. God’s is a heart of love. A heart that loved the world so much that he sent his only son so that all who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life. A heart that loves so much that the process of giving us eternal life meant willingly going to the brutality and humiliation of the cross. Jesus told us to love as he loves us – and that is a sacrificial, other centred, self-giving love. The complete opposite of what the world requires, but when you look at our heroes, it is what the world often admires – people like Edith Cavell, Mother Theresa of Calcutta or Truus Weissmuller-Meijer, a Dutch Christian who risked her life on multiple occasions to bring hundreds of Jewish children out of Europe to escape the death camps. These women followed God’s heart and lived sacrificially to show God’s love to others. Of course, most of us do not live in such difficult times or places, and are not called to do such large scale acts of heroism, but it doesn’t change the rule of life for Jesus’s followers: follow God’s heart.
photo by Sebastian Unrau.

How do we do this? How can we possibly know what is in God’s heart, how can we bring the song of our own hearts into tune with God’s heart song? The clue is in the psalm, 139, and especially in verse 23, which we all said as a refrain throughout the psalm: ‘search me out, O God, and know my heart’. Throughout this beautiful psalm we are reminded that God knows us, thoroughly, completely, intimately. The writer invites God to search him, using a verb – haqar – that suggests an in-depth, intimate exploration. We’re not asking God to give us a quick once-over. No, we are asking God to give us the spiritual, emotional and intellectual equivalent of a fingertip search. And he’s never going to stop looking at us, wherever we are; whatever we do; he will know every moment.

In verse 3 the writer says ‘even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely’. That’s an interesting thought for when you are sitting down to write a sermon! From the moment of our conception God knows everything of us and loves everything of us. If we choose to respond to this intimate knowledge of God, then it moves from a one-sided approach by our all knowing, all present, all powerful God and becomes a relationship in which we can be touched and changed by God, and in which we can come to know God too. Verse 17 reads ‘how deep are your counsels to me, O God’. I love another translation of these words: ‘how precious to me are your thoughts, O God’. Actually, I find that awesome. The creator of the universe is yet so intimate with me that, if I’m prepared to listen, I can hear his thoughts. I can hear God’s thoughts – his counsel, wisdom, guidance, for me and for others. That’s astonishing – who am I, who are you, who is anyone, to hear God?

The big risk in this rule of life, following God’s heart, is that God expects to change us. As he searches us he cleanses, purifies, improves, directs and redirects. And God’s thoughts are new every morning. Yes, in essence, in love, God does not change. But as humanity grows and changes, as we individuals grow and change, the rules and conditions around us change. We must listen very carefully to God to make sure we get it right. Some people say that certain things can’t change. If it says something in the bible, it is fixed, an unchanging rule. And yes, changing things from what the bible says is very risky. We have to listen hard, be absolutely certain that we are hearing God’s deep counsel, his precious thoughts- that we are following God’s heart and not our own. When Jesus and St Peter and St Paul were here on earth, the bible consisted of what we now call the Old Testament. It set out clear rules for who could be included in God’s people and how they had to live. The people of those times, who read this psalm, would never have dreamed of adding sour cream to a beef stew, or eating a prawn sandwich, or a bacon one, or getting a tattoo, or changing the rituals that identified you as God’s child. And yet we think nothing of any of those things because the Holy Spirit showed the early followers that things could and should change. Peter and Paul faced years of opposition and hassle from others who didn’t want to risk changing what they found in scripture, who didn’t hear God’s thoughts as he told them to include people who had been excluded, and to change in order to welcome them. Paul and Peter faced a lot of abuse and harassing from fellow Christians as they argued for change. But they did it anyway because they were following God’s heart. It took courage, determination and a lot of prayer, but we benefit from that today.

I believe we live in such challenging times of change today. God’s precious thoughts, his deep counsel, challenge the church to see and do things differently, more inclusively. In a way I’m an example of that change as an ordained woman. I’ve had to deal with a lot of opposition and unpleasantness and I’m sure I have plenty more ahead of me. I’m hopeful that if I’m ever blessed with grandchildren they will grow up seeing that women and men as equal leaders is completely normal and obviously God’s will for his people. But we aren’t there yet. And there is a long journey ahead in listening to God as he shows us how to follow his heart when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. You are in the early days of change. I believe and hope that a new way is coming for those who allow God to search us and change us, those of us who really mean it when we pray ‘search me out O God and know my heart’. And we need to be as courageous, determined and prayerful as Peter and Paul. We have to be sure of our ground, sure of what God is showing us, and ready to live it out despite the opposition of people who see God’s precious thoughts limited to what we find in scripture.

God asks us to follow his heart because he loves us and wants us to love in the same way. Vanessa and Sarah, in marriage that means being committed to being changed by God and by each other. Being committed to seeking together, listening together, changing together. In marriage what changes and affects one person always changes and affects the other person – and in a marriage in which both people follow God’s heart, both people are changed and affected by God, and both live together to bring that love not just to each other but to everyone they have contact with. God’s design for humanity makes us much stronger, much more able, when we live in community – two are a lot stronger and a lot more able than one person to bear God’s searching, to hear God’s precious thoughts and to follow God’s heart.

So that is my prayer and my request to you: let God know your hearts, and together, follow God’s heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment