Your Lying, Cheating, Cold Dead Beating, Two-timing, Double Dealing, Mean Mistreating, Unloving Heart (2)
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Just when you think our culture has sunk as low as it can get, another headline hits the news: “Racial Tensions Heat Up on One-Year Anniversary of Fatal Shooting in Ferguson, MO.” “The Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage,” “Planned Parenthood Sells Tissue from Aborted Babies.” Some would lay the blame for our declining morals on the doorsteps of filmmakers and TV producers. But the media aren’t to blame any more than bathroom mirrors cause our pimples and wrinkles. The entertainment industry simply reflects the moral climate of our age. No, the source of the problem is elsewhere. In the immortal words of the cartoon character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Too often we look to the world around us as the source of our moral problems. If we could just stamp out pornography, we think, we could get rid of sexual abuse. If we could clean up the lyrics to rock music we could solve the drug problem. Of course these issues do deserve our attention; we need to clean up the cesspool, for it is not healthy to live near cesspools. But remember, cesspools aren’t the source of sewage. Neither is the world the source of sin. The cause of moral pollution is found much closer to home. Jesus said: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?… What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:15-23).
This is strong language. It’s tough to take. Reality is sometimes hard to stomach. And this is one reality we need to face head on: every last one of the horrifying sins in the world outside can be found inside our own hearts. The ugly fact is, we ourselves add to the pollution. Our nostrils might be offended by the smell of our moral climate, but the stench of death filters out of our own pores. And its source is the heart—my heart, your heart, “Your Lying, Cheating, Cold Dead Beating, Two-timing, Double Dealing, Mean Mistreating, Unloving Heart.”
If you’re a fan of country music, you might have noticed that this sermon theme is borrowed from the lyrics of an old Patti Loveless song. I know; it’s a pretty long title for a sermon. But it seems fitting for our Gospel for today, where Jesus combines twelve kinds of evil thoughts and actions in a dreadful litany of vices, which leaves no doubt as to the wretched impurity of the human heart.
Jesus says: “Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him… What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man comes evil thoughts, (etc.)… All these evil things come from within, they defile a person.” I know, it seems counterintuitive, not at all the way that we would think about it. We think that what makes us “unclean” comes from outside ourselves. A man becomes a drunkard by taking in drink. A person becomes an addict by taking in drugs. A kid becomes a member of a gang by hanging out with the wrong crowd. From our vantage point, we are defiled from the outside in.
That’s why what Jesus says in our text gives us pause. It’s the opposite of what we might expect. We expect spiritual things to work just like everything else. We expect spiritual purity to come with our own efforts to “keep ourselves clean and pure.” Read the right books, watch the right movies, associate with the right people, stay away from the “worldly things.” That was the whole basis of monasticism: withdraw from the world, set yourself apart from the “unclean things,” and then you can be pure and clean.
That was also the wrong conclusion the Pharisees reached when applying the purity laws of Leviticus. It’s an easy mistake to make with all the rules about “clean” and “unclean” things involving almost every aspect of life. There were certain animals considered “unclean” for food, things like pork and shellfish. If you so much as touched them, you would be ritually unclean. And there were all sorts of other ways, too, to make yourself unclean. So it was an easy, logical step to think that it was what went into you that made you unclean. It was easy to start confusing ritual purity with spiritual purity.
Ritual purity was what set Israel apart from the other nations. God had given them a unique diet, unique rules and regulations governing every aspect of their lives. This was to remind them who they were—a chosen people set apart for a particular purpose, to bring forth in the fullness of time the Messiah. But none of these rules and regulations could purify the heart of the person spiritually speaking. In fact, all the Old Testament rules served to show how impossible purity is. If you could barely keep ritually pure, how on earth could you ever be spiritually pure?
Jesus turns it all upside down and inside out: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach and is expelled? What comes out of a person is what defiles him.”
Jesus gets a little “earthy” to make a point. Spiritual uncleanness comes from the inside out, not the outside in. This concept is so radical, the crowd in our Gospel doesn’t understand. The disciples don’t get it, either. When they are alone with Jesus, they ask Him about it and Jesus seems to be a bit impatient with them. “Don’t you see? Foods don’t make you unclean. Food goes in, it gets digested, and is expelled as waste, never touching the heart.”
It is important to understand that the “heart” Jesus is speaking about is not the muscle that pumps blood to every part of your body. Neither is the heart merely the seat of emotions, but rather it is the center of the will and springboard to action. So, Jesus is doing something more important here than letting you have bacon for breakfast or go to Joe’s Crab Shack. With these words, Jesus points the finger to the real culprit. It’s not the world that makes you unclean, unclean as the world may be. It is the heart—your heart—that is the source of sin. Listen to the filth that is expelled from your sinful heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
Evil thoughts are the beginning of all sorts of evil deeds. Murder includes anything one may do to hurt or harm (or fail to protect) his neighbor or support his bodily needs. Adultery and sexual immorality include all kinds of indecent words and deeds as well as desires. Theft is the consequence of covetousness. False testimony seeks selfish gain or advantage at the expense of someone else. Slander is an effort to promote oneself by running someone else down. All these evils find their roots and beginnings in the filthy, dark recesses of your cold, black heart.
This is not good news; but it is good to know. You need to know this. You tend to look outside and blame others for sin. But the finger of blame needs to point back to where it belongs—squarely on yourself and your sinful heart. It all begins in the heart, a heart steeped in sin, and turned in on itself.
This then is not simply the end of the Old Testament rules and regulations regarding clean and unclean; it is also the end of all “heart religion,” the business of giving one’s heart to God. Why would God want your heart? Your heart is a septic tank according to the words of Jesus. It’s a sewer pipe with all sorts of sludge spewing out of it all over the place. So any religion that includes “following one’s heart,” “praying from the heart,” “the goodness of one’s heart,” or anything “from the heart” is on the wrong track. You need a new heart, a heart transplant, if you will. God promises through the prophet Ezekiel: “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” (36:26).
A pacemaker isn’t going to help. Quadruple bypass won’t do it. Valve replacement surgery is not going to be radical enough to save this old hardened sinful heart of yours. It is too far gone. Steeped in sin from birth, your heart is hopelessly mired in sin and is the source of all the stuff that comes out of you—the corrupt thought, the loveless word, the ruthless deed. This is the whole nature of “original sin,” or as the Lutheran Confessions call it, “concupiscence,” a word that sounds almost as awful as it is. You are conceived and born with an unclean heart that gives rise to unclean thoughts, unclean words, and unclean deeds.
This is a fundamental thing you must remember: You are not a sinner because you sin; you sin because you are a sinner. It’s a heart problem. Sin comes from the heart. Even a tiny, “innocent” baby has a heart capable of all the evil things Jesus lists and then some. The only thing that prevents him from acting them out is lack of development of gross and fine motor skills, of intellect and reasoning. It’s only a matter of time before that little heart begins to spill out bilge, too—from resistance to a parent’s will to the willful assertion of her own will. And so it goes with you. Out of your heart flows your own idolatries, adulteries, murders, lies, deceits; whatever the sin, it all begins in your own heart.
The answer lies not in your lying, cheating, cold dead beating, two-timing, double dealing, mean mistreating, unloving heart, but in the loving heart of God. In the undeserved kindness and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. You need a new heart. A heart that beats to the rhythms of God’s Word and Spirit. A loving heart—a heart that’s alive and burning with faith toward God and love toward neighbor. That’s what God wants for you. That’s what God gives to you in His Son!
And it’s not so much like a heart transplant where one heart is removed and another is put in its place. If that were the case, you would already be without sin because the source of sin would be gone. But then, He would have to kill you and raise you to life, which He will do, in good time.
Instead, God does a kind of “piggyback operation,” and puts a new heart next to your old heart that is the source of all kinds of evil. Those two hearts beat together for a while, the old heart of Adam, the new heart of Christ. Luther called this being at once a sinner and a saint. To be certain, having two hearts is not an easy way to live. It would be much easier to reject that new heart and just deal with the old, dying one. But you know how that turns out, don’t you!
So for the time being, God leaves you hanging in a bit of tension between the old and the new, between death and life, between sinner and saint, a life where by the power of the Holy Spirit you strive to live according to God’s will and Word, but repent and trust in God’s grace when you fail. You pray along with David, and your other brothers and sisters in Christ: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
And the Lord says: “Trust Me, I am your God. You are My child. I have rescued you from your sins in the death of My Son Jesus. I have washed you clean, baptized you with My Word, claimed you as My own. Trust Me, that I know what is best for you. Don’t give Me your old lying, cheating, cold dead beating, two-timing, double dealing, mean mistreating, unloving heart; instead, I will give you My heart, the loving heart of My Son, Jesus, whose heart always beats to My will.”
It’s not what goes into you that makes you unclean. But it is what goes into you that makes you clean. It’s Who goes into you that makes you clean. Spiritual purity comes not from within, but from without, outside yourself. Baptismal water poured on you. Forgiving words spoken into you. Christ’s Body and Blood fed to you. Those are what make the unclean clean. God alone can do it. God alone has done it. And He does it for you here today through His means of grace.
For the sake of Jesus and His ever-loving heart, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.