In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A reading from St. Matthew, the 15th chapter.
10 And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" 13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." 15 But Peter said to him, "Explain the parable to us." 16 And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."
This is the Word of the Lord. R.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Out of the heart. There's the rub. Your heart is your "wanter," in the Bible way of thinking. It's the seat of your desires, the originator of what you want. And it's where the problem arises. You got a heart problem. Me too. And Jesus is at pains to show the Pharisees and us that while we can control a lot of outward stuff, modify this or that behavior, learn to deal with this or that handicap, triumph over this or that bad habit, if there's one thing we cannot get a handle on or actually ever control or govern, it's what we want.
So what is it that we want? Jesus looked into our wanters and what he saw wasn't very pretty. Out of our wanters came evil thoughts of all sorts, and murder, and adulteries and sexual immorality and stealing and false witness and slander. If you boil them all down they amount to this: I want what I want when I want it and I really don't care about you and what you might want; you just need to get out of my way, let me use you as I see fit and then you go by-bye.
I remember getting into a discussion with my brother-in-law about Genesis 6 years ago. He thought it HAD to be an exaggeration, that the Lord looked at the wickedness of man and saw "that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Seriously? Only evil? Every intention? Continually? And I remember telling him I know. It seems so over the top, but I think he meant it. That we really are that evil in our hearts, and part of our evil we just can't believe we're as bad as He says we are. I want what I want and I can't fix wanting what I want.
And God deals with us by what's in our hearts, by what we want. You can't see what I want, although sometimes you might get an idea of what's in it by what we say, what comes out of mouth. And then its usually pretty ugly. But God? You don't need to open your mouth. It's the most terrifying collect in the liturgy: "O almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid." Yeah, He reads your wanter like a book and that's where He wants to deal with us. Jesus tells us that no prettying up the outside, no washing hands, no cleaning the outside of the cup, can begin to address this hideous corruption in the center of our being. I want what I want and I can't fix that. And it's evil.
He doesn't let his disciples in on the evil of the human heart to leave them in despair. He is the one talking after all. He is the one who has a true human heart just like us, and yet His heart was 100% aligned with the will of His Father. How did the Psalmist put it? "In the volume of the book it is written of me, I have come to do your will, O God." A human being who willed from His conception to His death the will of His Father. It wasn't a cake walk. Remember Gethsemane. Remember the struggle to receive the cup from the Father's hand. But remember the triumph of His human wanter: "Not my will, but thine be done!" And what was that will of the Father? But that a heart-remedy should be provided for all us hopeless wanters, who are so evil and corrupted we can't even believe we're as bad we are (though, if we took the time to ask the people we live with, they'd probably give us a brand new insight). And so to remedy your heart problem and mine, He walks away from the garden and hands himself over to suffering and death. He could have willed it to end at any moment, but He did not. He rested in His Father's will all the way, even until His body hung dead on the tree and Roman lance ran through His side and opened His sacred heart so that healing streams of blood and water could gush out; blood and water, Eucharist and Baptism, the Spirit's power carrying to you the gift to you of a new heart. A new wanter. His wanter within.
Ezekiel foretold what would happen but not how: I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Only we know that the way He choses to do this in us is not simply all at once yanking out the old heart and inserting the new, but we have as Christians this absolutely bizarre condition of two wanters battling inside of us. Through your Baptism into Jesus, you have the heart of Jesus within you that prays: "Thy will be done, Father! Thy will be done. Teach me to love, to not regard any person as an object for my manipulation and use, but as gifts from your loving hand to be honored and treasured and help me to trust Your merciful love in all things" and it desires that with its whole heart. And you have that old wanter still kicking, and I do mean kicking and screaming and protesting, "No, not that! What I want be done; I want what I want! I, I, I!"
St. Paul's agony in Romans 7: "The good that I want to do I don't do and the evil I don't want to do I end up doing. Oh, who will deliver me from this body of death?" or Galatians, the flesh battles against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh and these two are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do (on either side!).
In summary, to be a Christian is to be a mess. Two wanters in a death battle. But there is also this: God alone can do the surgery. God alone can take out the old wanter and He is in the process of doing it. He started the surgery with that sprinkling of clean water in your baptism but He only completes it when your baptism is done, when that old wanter dies with your flesh dying and then IT does not come back alive with you again. Ever. It will be gone. Your Baptism gives you into this life of conflicted wanters, but it also promises you that this is God's surgery and He's the one doing it and He we who began this good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.
Until then you wait. You wait and you deal with the mess. You can't fix your wanter. This you confess. But He can and this you also confess. He can give you a new heart and He has. And He is. And He will. And you will finally live with that heart beating in you wholly. Then you can sing "Lord thee I love with all my heart" and it won't be a lie. And so to be a Christian at all is to pray without ceasing for the sacred heart of Jesus to be formed in you. For God to create in you a clean heart and to renew you with His free Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: "Create in Me" #956
Of the Day: Lord, we implore You, grant Your people grace to withstand the temptations of the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow You, the only God; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Almighty and most merciful God, comfort with Your Holy Spirit all who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity, especially those who are in suffering for the sake of Your name and Your truth. We commit into Your hands those we have been asked to remember before You: Al, Amy, Allen and Jan, Grant that they may receive and acknowledge their afflictions as the manifestation of Your fatherly will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Most heartily do we ask You, kind Father, to rule and govern Your holy catholic church, with all its pastors and ministers, that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Your saving Word by which faith toward You may be strengthened, love increased in us toward all people, and Your kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest and sustain those whom You have sent, especially remembering today Pr. Gary and Steph Schulte serving in Burkina Faso. Grant that Your word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Taught by our Lord and trusting His promises we are bold to pray: Our Father
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.