Sermon – 03-19-17 – Lent III – Cycle A
Scripture – Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Sermon Title – “Harden Not Your Hearts”
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, wh have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” This from the Roman’s passage. Would anyone know that by knowing us? Have we hardened our hearts after God’s love flowed in? When in your life did you realize that your heart was full of God’s love?
That is a tough question! Can you remember when you felt extraordinarily exhilarated? Maybe when you met your mate for the first time. Maybe when you received your first paycheck. Maybe when your child was very sick and then got better. Maybe you know when God’s love was poured into your heart the first time or the second time or the fiftieth time.
What happened in between those pourings? Why did your heart freeze over like a skating pond? Maybe a very, solid, safe, skating pond? A hard heart! Did someone hurt you big time? Did you lose a job by no fault of your own? Did your relative connive to grab all the inheritance? Did your siblings leave you to care for a parent alone? Did your son or daughter become a tricky thief in your home and in other homes and businesses to support addiction? Good cause for a hard heart! No way out! Pressed against the wall until you are a flat pancake with no coping mechanisms, no relationship with God or any source of love. Did illness – yourself or someone you love – cause your heart to gradually shut the door?
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 95 admonishes the reader to listen for God’s voice as God declares, “Harden not your hearts…!” Once there was this scene in the wilderness – that forty-day trek that went in circles as a test. It seems that God was so upset with these Israelites whom he had rescued as slaves from Egypt, that he waited until the first generation died to open the gate into the Promised Land. It seems to me that even God had developed a hard heart!
At one stop on this journey, there was no water. No water? If you were one of the Israelites, how would you have handled the situation? I think that I would have curled up in a ball on the ground and waited to die. But, then again, what if I had young children? No, I can’t just take the easy way. Oh, I know. I will become angry at our leader. Yes, that is how it works. Everyone around me is shouting for our leader, Moses, to do something. Moses must be very frightened and weary by this time. Moses must feel like a flattened pancake himself; maybe a flattened manna cake. What does Moses do? He cries to God, “What am I supposed to do? Do something, God!”
God actually tells Moses to go to a certain rock and to tap the rock with his staff. When Moses does this, water pours forth like a waterfall! Great, God! Thank you, God! It seems like a miracle! One source suggests that Sinai limestone does retain moisture.
Believe it or not, this one incident of complaining to God prevents Moses from entering Canaan, the Promised Land, when God finally brings the second generation and on down to the entrance of this longed-for completion of the promise that was given to Abraham roughly 700 years earlier.
From The Taize Picture Bible we read, “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “In the past you failed to trust that I could make my holiness plain to the eyes of the people of Israel. For this reason you shall not lead this people into the land I am giving them.”
In the Zondervan Handbook of the Bible, we find: “God tells Moses to climb Mt. Nebo in order to see the promised land. He cannot enter it because he failed to honour God in the matter of water from the rock at Meribah (Numbers 10:1-13) – an incident that became an example forever of the stubbornness of God’s people (Psalm 95:8). (The account is also found in Exodus 17:1-7.)
Right there in Psalm 95, verse 8, is where we started. “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah…” Where is the love, the love of which Paul writes in Romans 5:5. “… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Paul is a New Testament writer. The New Testament is full of love. Where is the love in the Old Testament? Is it there? Can you think of an incident of love as compared to justice? Justice or love? Is that a marriage? Does justice require love? Is love always attached to justice? Does God display love in the Hebrew scriptures? Does God save Noah and his family because he loves Noah or because God is not ready to give up on his creation plan and process?
Moving to the New Testament and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we have this tension between the Samaritans and the Jews. One ethnic group feeling superior over another group. Differences in religious beliefs. But look closer. Is there a difference in the love quotient? Think of our Bible stories: the Good Samaritan, the father of the Prodigal Son, and this woman at the well. This Samaritan woman was even an outcast of the Samaritans because her life had become sordid with many husbands. We are not told how this came to be. It does not matter now. She is forgiven by the master of love, Jesus. And does she claim the news that Jesus is the Messiah and keep it to herself as some kind of revenge toward the people who did not accept her? No. It seems that love sent her flying to the village to share the good news. She needed and wanted to share this phenomenon.
If the New Testament would be extended to our very day, what examples of love would shine from the pages? In our very own time, we cringe with all the hate and anger that is being accepted as okay, to be permitted, to be emulated. But, if we really take notice in our own lives, in our various media, we are hearing and seeing deeds of kindness, deeds that are pure love. You can probably think of one right this minute.
I confess that I succumb to the temptation to zoom through the AOL news each time I start my computer. You may know that there are scandulous, sinful pictures and stories there. However, I honestly skip right over them. There are stories of kindness lurking between the sordidness, stories of people helping people and people helping animals, in astonishing ways.
I have a propensity for political news. I look and listen for movements of justice, of a well-oiled government process with fairness as the goal; government personnel genuinely wanting to help people and not their own images. I pray through all of this, including newspapers and Christian magazines.
Whoever and wherever we are, we are models for other people, especially young people. Let us remember that God has poured love into our hearts. Will we allow our hearts to be hardened because we have prominent bad examples in our world today or will we keep our hearts soft as we pray for God to soften the hearts of these bad examples who are in our faces at every turn?
Jesus said, “It is not healthy people who need a doctor, but sick people. . . . And indeed it is not to the good people that I came to give my message about changing their way of living, but to the bad people.” In which group are we – the healthy people or the sick people, the good people or the bad people?
Oh, Lord God. So many questions we have. Help us to examine ourselves. In the assumption that each of us falls in both categories as we walk the line between healthy and sick, between good and bad, between loving and sinning, heal us, not just once but over and over as needed. Help us to keep our hearts soft and loving. Amen.