Sunday, October 15, 2006

God's harvest in our hearts

This month, we continue our Sermon Series on the theme of God’s Harvest: giving as we have received. And we are reminded that God is the planter—that is, he plants things in our lives like family, relationships, love, the Gospel, seeds of faith, challenges to overcome, and a mission to accomplish in his Name. And even more than that, as a careful planter, God looks after what he’s planted. He strengthens and provides in abundance for what he has planted. With his grace he gives the seed soil and nutrients, water, sunshine. The harvest is what comes out of that process.

We might say that sprouting and “growing up” tall and strong like a little plant is our gift back to God the planter. We give back generously, just as we have received. And so we will take a closer look at God’s harvest . . . in our homes, our hearts, our church, and our world.

Last week, Fr Kresowaty talked to us about God’s harvest in our homes. God made people for each other—the man and woman, children and parents. Marriage is God’s idea. The family is God’s creation. But he not only provides the framework. He gives the things we need to make it work.

He gives us his will about how a husband and wife should love each other. God shows us how husbands should give totally and sacrificially for their wives just as Christ did for his bride the Church, and how wives should fully receive and embrace their husbands just as the church opens herself to Christ as Savior.

Children are God’s gift and parents are entrusted with their nurture. They should in turn honor and obey their parents. God gives us his grace to help these things happen. But God also takes it one step further. God not only makes families, he makes us a part of his family. And what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Today we turn to the thought of God’s harvest in our hearts. The human heart (both physically and symbolically) is truly the center of our being. Life comes from the heart. To be "heartless" is to be dead, to be inhuman. God asks that we come before him with a clean heart.

Each time we begin Holy Mass, we pray, “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” One of the Beatitudes is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God warned through the Prophet Malachi that unless you set your heart to honor me, your blessings will become curses. And by the Prophet Joel (2:12-13), God tells us, “tear your heart, not your garments; repent and return to the Lord.” The heart is what is really important. Each of us needs to understand that just as God make marriage and the family, God made the human heart, and he made it to be his dwelling-place.

Now, I was raised in the Baptist tradition, where our lingo to express conversion often centered around this metaphorical language of the heart. “Have you received Jesus into your heart?” is the way it was usually put. While the Bible doesn’t explicitly use that same language, there is a beautiful image from the Revelation to St John.

In the last of the seven letters to the churches (this one to Laodicea—Rev 3:20), Jesus says this in John’s vision, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” This is the language of the heart.

God made the human heart to be his Temple, his dwelling place, his vessel of love. Might we pose the question to ourselves—Is Jesus at home in your heart? Is he welcome in some chambers of your heart, but not in others? If not, it would not be the first time. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus says, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’.”

The problem is that while the heart was made to be open to God and his grace, the heart has both the potential to become hardened and softened. It can become hardened to his will like rocky soil that won’t receive seed. It can become hardened to grace like a dried out field that will no longer soak in the rains.

The heart is hardened by our resistance to God—to his will, to his presence. The only thing that can soften the heart again is God himself. It is the role of the Holy Spirit working in one’s life and circumstances. And sometimes that means that the heart needs to be broken, as the hardened ground needs to be broken up with a plow.

In Ezekiel 36:25-28, the Lord’s message to the Israelites in captivity should speak to us: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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 body 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. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” This is what God has done for us in Christ—through the cross and the resurrection. We are sprinkled clean with the waters of baptism where we receive new life by sharing in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God takes out that heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. He writes his laws, his will, on the new tablets of our hearts. He puts his own Spirit on the inside of us to dwell in us as his Temple. And he brings us back home to God so that his home is our home. What wonderful blessings we have in Christ Jesus! That is God’s harvest in our hearts—to have the kind of heart that is enabled to love God entirely, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

You may feel like that’s a distance promise in your own life. Some of you may feel like your own heart has started to harden again. Some of you may feel like your heart is turned into stone. Some of you may now be realizing how the Holy Spirit has been working to break that thing wide open.

What none of us should feel is that it is impossible for our hearts to soften again. In our Gospel today, there is a wealthy man who is devout and very blessed. He has a heart for God and he wants to know how to be with God. But Jesus sensed that this man has a divided heart. He loves the Lord, but he also loves his possessions.

I imagine Jesus had a tear in his eye when he looked at this man and told him, “There’s one thing standing in the way. You need to let it go. Put your treasure in heaven by giving away all that stuff to the poor and come follow me.” Jesus’ words cut to the heart. Hearing this truth was more than the man could bear.

When the man left, Jesus commiserated with his disciples: How hard it is for someone with great wealth to put God first in his own heart! Some thought it might even be impossible. But Jesus corrected them: “For God, all things are possible.”

As we close, I’d like us to consider where this saying came from. I suspect that it was something that Jesus heard repeated throughout his life. It sounds just like something that his mother would say. For once, an angel had said the same to her.

When Gabriel told the blessed Virgin that she would become the Mother of God, Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Unlike the man in today’s gospel, Mary surrendered to the will of God with singleness of heart. As a result, Mary saw exactly what God could and would do in her son Jesus. When she heard his words and saw his actions, she treasured them in her heart. And I imagine there were many moments when she was raising Jesus that she would look at him and nod her head and repeat Angel’s words, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, by your grace, you have removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart of flesh, with the loving sacred heart of Jesus, and you have put your Spirit in our hearts to dwell on the inside and to be at home in a new Temple: purify our hearts, we pray; soften them to your grace, that we may have a godly harvest in our hearts, to bring forth the fruit of your love that knows no limits. Stir up in us the flame of that love which burned within the heart of your Son as he bore his passion, and let it burn in us to eternal life and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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