Lord, my heart is full this season. Very full.
Leonard Cohen, that great Canadian poet, was talking on the radio yesterday. In response to Gian Gomeschi’s questions about love, he replied “the heart is always opening and closing, hardening and softening. It’s forever in a state of change.”
Some weeks you go to church on the Sabbath, after a week of your heart filling up with blessings. and you get to let it out in Praise
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God in heaven and on earth below
Praise God all creatures of one kind
Praise Maker, Christ and Redeeming hope
And sometimes, after a week of your heart being battered by abuses and attacks, you come to lament and confess and let the sorrow out…
enough Lord, I can’t take it any more
I can’t even control my own appetites’
how can I possibly be your servant for peace in this world?
I’m failing and it feels like You’re failing too Lord
The Sabbath is a gift – a gift of balance – rest for the weary worker – strength for the failing heart – or a chance to stop and let your heart overflow with thanks and joy - whatever it is you most need.
In Sunday’s Bible story from the second chapter of Mark, the disciples are taking a short cut through a ripe field of wheat. Their leader was way ahead of them – on a mission boom, boom, boom – and his followers are having to scoot to keep up. So they grab some ripe wheat tops as they pass and rub them in their hands to separate the chaff and lick down the kernels for their empty bellies – no time now to stop and rest – drive thru fast food.
But it’s pissing off the Pharisees. They stop Jesus to tangle him up in questions of Sabbath law. He reminds them of the story where David takes his soldiers into the temple and puts the consecrated bread into the bloody hands of soldiers with the High priest Abiathar standing there with mouth open.
But Jesus told the story wrong. 1st Samuel 21 says that it was actually Ahimelech who was the high priest when David was a general in King Saul’s army – Abiathar was Ahimelech’s son – and became high priest after David became king.
Unless, as a master storyteller, Jesus was just using Abiathar’s name because he knew his listeners would know and associate the name – Abiathar – with “High Priest – Grand Poobah” which was a key to his story.
Of course, Mark could have been following 2nd Samuel 8 which records that Abiathar was indeed Ahimelech’s father – and so there’s no problem – except that 1st Samuel where the David/bread story is - has it the other way around.
It’s like you come up to me calling me David, and I say “my father is David and my son is David and so people call me David all the time. But even people who don’t know my father or son’s name call me David. But my middle name is David – so it’s not really wrong – but – what was it that you wanted to say to me?” And by the time I’m finished – you’ve forgotten what it was you wanted to say.
The Pharisees get caught up in such details about Sabbath law and the point of the sabbath gets lost.
What’s Jesus’ point?
He’s talking about the rules men make to try to get God in a box – nail it all down – control it – and use it to control others – “work like dogs all week and rest one day” is the rule. But Jesus offers a better rule - find Sabbath in every day, in every hour, in every situation – find God’s blessing – that something inside of you that needs to come out – happy or sad, good or bad, joyous or lamenting…
Like David who finds bread for hungry bellies – knowing God would never deny a blessing to his children – Jesus takes God’s blessing out of the Sunday box and the hands of priests and shows people how to find it even in the rush and hurry of busy days.
Then, back to back, like a dream that changes but is trying to tell you the same thing – Mark tells the story of Jesus’ healing of the withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus invites the man to stand in the synagogue where all can see the pain and indignity of his situation and invites God to get to work in the man’s body.
What has withered in your life?
What part of your heart has withered?
Don’t we all suffer experiences that make our hearts empty and lost? Even while the rest of the heart functions well -opening and closing and hardening and softening - we harbour a place in our hearts that has given up, lost its will and its way, and has withered – can never risk love again. No?
There are all kinds of Healing to be found.
Time heals. Sometimes.
Finding and sharing with others in your same situation is healing.
Letting friends draw you – engage you in life – so that you find yourself using that hand –that part of your heart - without even thinking about it – can be healing.
But sometimes nothing works. Like Job we shed the good advice of friends and face God. Broken, angry - with nothing to lose - we cry out for an answer. To stand up in church - to expose/express your wound, your failure, your sorrow, your lost hope - to open your heart wide open so there’s blood on the ground -is to invite the Wonder of the Redeemer into that part of your broken, hardened, lost, withered heart.
I was preaching this last Sunday. Standing at the top of the steps in front of the communion table, I said “there’s a river of blood of this congregation’s suffering flowing right down these steps and deep down the aisle” pointing my hand out the back doors.
I went on… “And then the Redeemer comes, the Helper, the Maker of all things new, and turns everything over, new beginnings, new people, new eyes – wonder-full healing…”
Now I’m walking down the steps into the river of blood “and the river of blood is transformed into a pure” my voice cracks and the emotion of the thing I’m seeing and describing comes up from deep inside and I have to stop. The tears come.
It’s a long 30 seconds until I can get the words going again - at first in sobs - then the words start and the sobs stop but the tears keep flowing. “…transforming into a pure, clear, cleansing river of springwater – and it brings the kernel of truth for your hunger and it provides the drink from which you’ll never thirst again.”
“And when that happens to you – you become the light on a stand.” I’m pointing to the Jesus candle on the floor beside me. “You become the light of Jesus Christ for others. You shine so that others can see – the power of transforming love. HALLELU-JAH”
I quickly retreat -the tears streaming down my face- back to my chair and thank God, I have a worship leader to announce the next hymn and I slowly compose myself while the choir sings “Give me Faith Lord”. Five verses and by the end I am back and singing.
On their way out, most people were they’re usual polite selves. Some were noticeably uncomfortable – looking a little sideways at me to see if I had cracked. But I was composed and smiling and wishing people well. A few stopped to say that I was describing precisely where they’re at – struggling to find the way a withered heart can be restored.
A couple came up after the line had trickled down - concerned that I was in trouble. I explained that it was “just the spirit - my heart is full - those were tears of joy – thank you very much.”
I’m sure that many people were lost – Why was he being so emotional? The passion I was expressing - beyond their experience – something that only happens in forgotten dreams. And for those who it struck a chord with - they kept a well practiced face in place to hide emotion and keep judgment at bay.
The ever-changing heart. The ever-changing moon. The tears streaming down my face were simply evidence of the river of joy – as a sign of the redeeming that was happening – as priest - in me – the congregation’s pain and doubts and mourning and troubles being transformed within me as I invoked in the Redeemer’s healing power.
While their faces stayed composed and still – their broken hearts were being transformed within me – and I experienced the passion of that shift deep within – the moon reaching its darkest place and beginning to return; the sun reaching its solstice when the hours of doubt and dark are sent in remission.
Our heart works like our lungs. It fills and empties. If it is only filling, filling, filling then it expands and hardens to a dangerous point. A switch gets thrown that pumps the blood out – circulating that newly oxygenated blood out to the extremities that are waiting for help – fingers and toes, and the nose on our faces - the mission posts of the world – where the action is – where the need is greatest – furthest from the heart and lungs where fear and greed, and love and hope, wax and wane and tides turn in every hour, every day, every season, every age.
And for a season God goes and hangs out with the bears and wolves and chipmunks for a while – away from the two-legged wingless ones – until a little birdy finds Her and chirps in Her ear – “you should see what those humans are up to now – You’d better go help them out.”