Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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“Divided Hearts Made Whole”
Matthew 22:34-46

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Chief priests, elders, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, experts in the Law.  They believe many things and have various concerns, but in the Gospel of Matthew they are all after the same thing: the destruction of Jesus.  After every parable, every answered question, every attempt to test-or tempt-the Lord, they are exposed, embarrassed, and reduced to silence.  Like the undressed man at the wedding celebration, they have nothing to say.  All that’s left is for Jesus to push them even harder and call them clearly and plainly what they are: hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, white-washed tombs, and murderers of God’s servants (Matthew 23:1-36).  All that is represented by Jerusalem and her leaders will be left desolate and empty; not one stone will be left on top of another (23:38; 24:2).  This is so because they rejected the one God, who is revealed forever in Jesus.  So goes the story of Matthew 22: “The Pharisee exercises himself over tax and tribute paid to Caesar.  The Sadducee hatches out [logical formulas] to quash the resurrection.  The scribe fumbles with his 613 commandments and seeks to sort them out according to size” (Franzmann, Follow Me, 167).  All of this to avoid the single fact in the history of the world that means anything at all in the end: Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord; to whom every person owes his existence, under whom all enemies of God will be crushed.  He is God in flesh, David’s Son and David’s Lord.  No love, no law, means anything if it is unconnected to Him.  He is Love and Law, and the source of both; on Him the Law and the Prophets hang.  This is what His friends know and what His enemies have missed.  Jesus does not only talk about love and law; He did not come to tell people how to love, how to keep the law.  We don’t need a person to do those things; a book would do just as well.  But “Jesus knows the Father and is minded to reveal Him to men; Jerusalem is lost in its own concerns and cannot see and prize the proffered gift” (Franzmann, 167).  Jesus is the Law kept in full and perfect Love for His Father and for you.  His is an undivided heart that beats in unison with the will of the Father, who sent the Son so that you, too, might have a new heart that has no barrier of sin running through the middle of it.  Your love for God and for your neighbor must be made whole, because God’s love for you is singular and unbroken.  “Hear, O Israel: [Yahweh] our God, [Yahweh] is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV).

And here we are, with our divided hearts, in the presence of a God who is fiercely jealous.  “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, ESV).  What is it that is tearing your heart away from God this morning?  Is it some sickness, some pain, some injury, some illness?  What lack is there in your love for God?  Are you hiding a sin, holding back from God what only He can heal?  Perhaps you are clinging to it because to admit it aloud to God would be to admit it to yourself.  What deficiency is there in your love for your neighbor?  Have you lost the desire to serve your wife and settled into the lukewarm water of simply living together?  Have you ceased to serve your husband and settled into the comfortable discomfort of simply taking him for granted?  What of your children or your friends or your co-workers?  In what labyrinth of concerns are you lost, so that you cannot see and hold dear the gifts of God in Jesus Christ?  What division runs through your heart?  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV).  But: “If we really did love God at heart, we would not flee from Him in this shameful manner; indeed, we would gladly hear Him spoken of, and to be with Him would be a delight.  We would rejoice if we could come to Him as soon as possible” (Luther, What Luther Says, 1695).  And there is the hardest evidence that our hearts are hellishly divided: that we would rather be elsewhere than here in the presence of our God.  We have all sorts of excuses: we don’t like the hymns, we don’t like the pastor or the people, it’s the same every week, we’ve got other (better?) things to do.  But when we absent ourselves physically-more likely, spiritually or mentally-from this holy House, we actually expose our unbelief.  Faith sees past these surface concerns to the God who is hidden beneath them in mysteries too deep for words.  It is unbelief that sees worthless bread and wine; it is unbelief that hears only human words; it is unbelief that sees a Church full of sin and sinners, rather than the holy Body of Christ.  All that’s left is for Jesus to call us clearly and plainly what we are: sinners, with hearts pulled in a thousand different directions.

There is only one thing to do with hearts and souls and minds as divided as ours, and that is to fall down in bitter sorrow before our Creator.  The only thing to do is to get a new heart, a new soul, and a new mind, over and over and over, daily.  And that is what Jesus came to do for you.  That is why He is here this morning.  Pray with David to David’s Lord: “Teach me your way, O [Yahweh], that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11, ESV).  Give me an undivided heart!  Give me a heart that fears, loves, and trusts You above all things!  Beloved, your prayer has been answered.  Here, today, is the undivided heart of the Son of God, pierced for you and given to you.  Eat His Body and drink His Blood and be made whole again.  There is no other way to the perfect keeping of the Law and the perfect Love of God and neighbor.  The only one who is holy as the Father in heaven is holy gave Himself on the cross, and “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…. Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 24-26, ESV).  Friends of God in Jesus Christ, it is your death from which the sting has been taken, and it is death itself that will be destroyed on that great Resurrection Day.  That grinning skull, that death-mask, is being crushed by the weight of the cross.  Your divided hearts, your muddled mind, your separated soul, your sinful flesh-these are your enemies and the enemies of God, and they have all been put beneath the feet of the Lord, who conquered them by His death and resurrection.  Rejoice, holy ones, in this infinite gift; love God, love your neighbor, and keep coming back to have your fickle heart replaced.  Sometimes the constant and daily renewal of divided hearts can seem repetitive and tedious, but that only shows how necessary it still is.  Do not worry and do not lose heart: on that day Christ will deliver you over to His Father and your heart will finally be made whole, loving your Creator with everything you are and loving your neighbor as yourself.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/21/08

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