Friday, January 29, 2010

Third installment: Sermon

I should actually be starting the sermon in chapel as this third installment publishes:

The Head: God's Third Order of Business

Now, The Heart: God's First Order of Business

So what is God’s first order of business? It is the heart, heart transformation. The verse that came to mind is not a particularly Wesleyan verse, but it is a verse that jumps out at me. And, yes, I happen to be Wesleyan.

Mark 7 says that Out of the heart, Evil thoughts come (Mark 7:21). And “What goes out of a person, That defiles a person.

Jesus here is talking to some Pharisees. Not all Pharisees were like the ones pictured in the gospels, especially in Matthew. But the picture we get is of a group of people who are so focused on outward actions (which are actually important, by the way) that they miss the first order of business, the heart. Jesus here sets the record straight. Actions flow from the heart, and if the heart is straight, then the actions will be too.

But it is not only these words of Jesus that lead me to think the heart is God’s first priority, over beliefs and actions. It is looking out at all of you. How is it that godly people from every church and denomination can have a true and vibrant relationship with God and God not bring us all on the same page on the details? Now God has brought us all on the same page on the Apostle’s Creed. Maybe those head things are really important. But God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to correct all of us on the things we squabble over among ourselves. It just doesn’t seem to be high on His agenda.

In fact, for those of us who are Protestants, God let the Church believe a lot of things we don’t believe for a 1000 years! He didn’t seem in too big of a hurry to correct it.

And how many 1000s of years did God wait before sending Christ? It was over a thousand years from Moses to Jesus, a period that Hebrews and Colossians say only involved a shadow of the reality in Christ. Hebrews says the sacrifices of the Old Testament didn’t actually take away sins—even though they no doubt thought they did. God just didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to set Israel straight on the details.

And none of that is even to say how long it was before God gave the Law to Moses. It was all word of mouth before then. 2 Peter 3 reminded the Christians of that time that “a day with the Lord is like a 1000 years.” Setting the record straight in our heads just doesn’t seem to be God’s first order of business.

You don’t need to have it all figured out in your head to be saved. You do need to have committed your heart to God as your king and Jesus as Lord. And I also have a hunch that God will judge those who have not heard—or those whose head is really messed up—according to the light they have had. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

All the studies of the brain and all the recent reflections on human knowing have concluded that we are far more “feeling” and “experiencing” things than “thinking things,” to borrow a phrase from James K. A. Smith. Socrates used to say that “right thinking leads to right action.” That’s a nice idea, that if we have our heads straight, then our actions will be right too.

But it is rarely true. Our minds are, as Augustine put it, “fallen.” It has not been my experience that people will do the right thing if they know what the right thing is. A much better version of the saying—and one that fits with Jesus—is that, “A right heart leads to right action.”

And of course when we are oriented around our hearts, then we will get along a lot better. John Wesley was not perfect or inspired. But he did have a saying I quite like, “If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.”

One thing I like about The Wesleyan Church is the fact that it has a “big tent” on a lot of issues. Take baptism. You can immerse. You can sprinkle. You can pour. You can baptize believers. You can baptize infants. You can decide not to baptize at all. If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.

You can believe communion is just a remembrance of Christ’s death or you can believe the bread and juice actually and literally become the body and blood of Jesus. But is your heart right with God?

You believe in pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, no trib. We haven’t even ever defined exactly what it means to say the Bible is inerrant. But is your heart right with God?

There’s a great saying that some Wesleyans used to say (although they probably didn’t practice it very well): “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” The most essential thing is that you be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is room for many differing ideas within that essential.

That’s what I think. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

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