A Change of Heart
Change of Heart
Wow! We have had some powerful conversations the last two weeks around this sermon series. I am grateful for all of your candidness, and willingness to tackle such a challenging topic. We find ourselves going many different directions with this. We empathize with the refugees seeking hope and safety where there is none in their home countries. We empathize, and wonder, if it was us, what would we do? We also empathize with the border patrol and all who are just doing their jobs and trying to keep our country safe. We empathize with those who are anxious about the influx of people coming into their communities, wondering how we can help when we don’t have enough to support our own homeless and hungry. We empathize with the people who are in fear simply because they do not know anything about another culture.
Maybe I should say, we attempt to empathize. We attempt to understand and share their feelings, even when we don’t or can’t begin to understand what it is like to run for our lives. We are able to do this because we do share at least one common thing – we are all human. We are all frail, created beings of our God almighty, created with one purpose – to be in relationship not only with God but also with each other. When we witness people not living into this purpose, we feel the things we have been journeying with all Advent. We are hurt. We cry out. We wonder what is next.
This is a powerful conversation to have this time of year. Advent is the season before Christmas. This is the time when we prepare for the coming of our king, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We read stories of the miracle birth, to a teenager, Mary. We read stories of her cousin Elizabeth sharing the pregnancy woes. We hear of Joseph, and walk with him through his fear when the angel greets him and says do not be afraid. We later hear of the holy family running for their lives as Herod threatened to kill the first born boys.
When our faith lives and our secular worlds collide like they do at Advent, we face a border crossing. We face a point of transition and change as we prepare to move from one way of life and thinking to another. The city of Baraboo is a good example of this.
If you have been following the story, a picture surfaced on social media of high boys offering what appeared to be a Nazi salute. Whether it was or not, it prompted lots of conversation and conflict within the city and school. This month, there was some anti-Semite posters made and a video shared as the school prepared for a presentation on tolerance.
The community has been working to create a change of heart. The presentation on tolerance will be held tomorrow, and lead by Pardeep Kaleka, whose father was killed in the Sikh temple shooting in 2012 in Milwaukee and Arno Michaelis, a notorious white supremacist turned anti-racist activist, speaker and author of the book, My Life After Hate. “When you practice hate and violence you crowd out any room for love and kindness,” Michaelis says. “It’s a really nightmarish way to live. I lived it for seven years. I tried to get Pardeep to understand that. As hard as it is for him to look upon the man who murdered his father with a perspective of compassion and kindness, you’re kind of behooved to once you understand the depths of his misery.” (https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-45-fall-2013/the-sikh-and-the-skinhead)
When Kaleka and Michaelis partnered up to teach lessons on tolerance, they began speaking in classrooms and doing presentations like the one in Baraboo tomorrow. After a presentation “Kaleka asked the class a question. “The best way to combat hate is what?” There was silence. “Come on,” he urged. “The best way to combat hate is?” “Love,” several students said. “There you go,” the former police officer said, beaming. “Love.”” (see link above)
This struck me as a powerful example of faith and the secular world colliding to teach us a lesson, that our faith is very much a part of our everyday lives. When our worlds like this, we are at a border crossing. Do we continue to live in the ways that were before: blissful ignorance and familiarity – no matter what the cost, or do we cross the border into a new life: one of uncomfortableness and anxiousness? In this process of discernment, this is where we experience God at God’s best. We experience the movement of the Holy Spirit freeing us from the burdens of sin to live a life that looks more like what Jesus led. The spirit leads us during our change of heart.
In our Gospel passage, we meet up with the crowds of people who were coming to experience a border crossing of their own. These are people who were looking to be baptized by John. As they rush him, as they get caught up in atmosphere, John gives them his first sermon, some harsh words that they needed to hear. He challenges them to not get caught up by outward faith – a false confidence in their religion as children of Abraham. His message emphasized judgement of heart, showing a need for a change of heart.
We pick up the text where they are responding with “What do we do then?” It is almost like what we have been asking these last couple of weeks: what do we do? How can we help our sisters and brothers seeking refuge? John gives them some answers, that they may not have wanted to hear. He speaks of financial responsibilities so that they all can begin to see where their real priorities are.
His greater message is stronger – he is not Jesus. Those who understand this are moved in their lives and in their hearts. They cross a border that many of us are seeking after. Their lives are changed when they live with an expectation that Jesus will change everything. John’s message wasn’t always welcomed. In fact, Herod had him later jailed and killed. Yet, for us, his message is a truth for us today. This kid Jesus, God Immanuel, will change everything. We need to discern how we will respond.
This season we have to look at this change kind of two fold. First, we have to see it has something completely different than what we have been used to. As John spoke of in the Luke text, we get “complacent” or experience a “false confidence” that allows us to take things for granted. We hear of a need, and say oh, we’ll pray, and feel like that is good enough. We feel assured that since we go to worship on Sunday morning or on Wednesday night that that is good enough to maintain our faith lives. The birth of Jesus that brings on change is something that will awaken us from our idle state. Maybe we will still only attend worship on Sundays and pray when we hear a need, but we do it with a changed heart. For example, our intent as we pray is less about us, and looking good and more about helping in one of the only ways that we can – seeking God providence in the lives of those in need.
Which for me, leads to this second part of change that we experience when we cross a border with Jesus. The second part of this change is simply joy. We read words from Paul in our Philippians passage that gives us a definition of joy that looks like a life patterned after Jesus Christ. Joy is that feeling of great pleasure or happiness. It is an action when we find ourselves rejoicing in the accomplishments of others or when we have witnessed God at work. Joy is the direct result of trust, thankful prayer, a mind set on Christ and an imitation of Jesus.
Evidence of a change of heart looks like someone doing something that they have never done before. It looks like a former skinhead working with the local Sikh temple member to teach tolerance. It looks like a church letting go of the past so that a brighter future can be lived into. It looks like practicing grace with another culture unlike your own. It looks like putting humanity above politics. It looks like a change has taken place resulting in a joy that is powerful and contagious. When one practices trust, prayer, and lives like Christ, everyone has the greatest potential to be changed for the better. This happens when we cross borders in our own lives, and its why many people seek to cross borders in our world – wanting a better life.
One other result of a change of heart as we cross borders is that we form a community around us that in the end wants the same things we do. These are people in our lives such as our church family, our close family and friends, the people that we feel the most connected to that join us in this new stage of our lives and faith journeys. These are the people that we can rely on to help us fulfill missions, to challenge us when we need accountability, and to help be a voice of reason when we get overwhelmed by the very expectations that God has on our lives. I think back to the Baraboo story. This community has rallied together to say that we will not stand for hate. Love wins. I think about times when our church has crossed borders. We have changed lives for the better! I think about the migrants crossing borders around our world. We are not directly impacted by that, but through sermons like these, and educating ourselves for better, we are joining with a community that will not accept inhumane treatment of all of God’s children. Just because we don’t have a direct hand in the situation at our southern border, we can continue to seek justice here at home.
Friends, the birth of Jesus will change everything once again. That change has to begin with us as we approach the border that is Christmas. We are not running in fear for our lives. Yet, we are seeking new life, renewal of the good in our lives, and a change of heart that convicts us, and inspires us to persevere.
Let us pray. God it is hard to see the joy today of this season. We turn on the news and find that a child has died in the hands of the government. We hear of the wait that people have to endure as the paperwork for their asylum gets handled. Yet we know Jesus is still coming. We know this season is tough, busy, and long. No matter what we do, Jesus is still coming. Grant us grace God as we show ourselves some grace. May your love move our hearts so that we will know an unfamiliar place of joy. In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.