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'From The Heart'

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'From The Heart' 

Read : Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33 (NIV) 

In the prophecy of Jeremiah we read 'I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people

How is Lent going for you? If you have decided to 'give up' something for Lent or indeed take up something for Lent how are you getting on? Perhaps you are finding that Lenten discipline has led to a renewal of your faith, a deepening of your prayer experience and a transformation of your life! Or perhaps, like me, you have struggled and stumbled somewhat with your Lenten regime! 

I certainly affirm the value of spiritual discipline and of seeking to follow the practice of fasting in whatever form during this season of Lent. In and through these practices we identify with our Lord in his testing and his suffering, our spiritual senses can be sharpened and our prayer life deepened, and we can perhaps address certain lifestyle concerns. 

However, there is a danger too . . . the danger is that we imagine that it is through giving something up or any other outward practice that we are truly changed, or spiritually renewed or genuinely transformed. But no sacrifices or spiritual practice, no rituals or rules, no amount of penitence or prayer, no fasting from this or foregoing of that can ultimately bring us the inner spiritual transformation that we need and for which we long. 

Only God changing our hearts can do that. 

'I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people

Do you recall that in challenging the nitpicking preoccupation of the Pharisees and scribes with ritual hand washing before eating, Jesus said to his disciples that it is out of the heart that come evil intentions and the things that defile? To eat with unwashed hands, he said, does not defile . . . but the state of our hearts is what matters. 

Our hearts are not changed by outward rituals but only by the inner working of God's grace.  

On Friday past, the Feast day of St Cuthbert, we were reminded at our Communion Service of the fact that it was the transforming grace of God in Cuthbert which made him attractive and winsome to others. The inner working of God's grace. 

Today's Psalm is that powerful and poignant outpouring of confession and plea for cleansing by King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, arranged for the death or her husband Uriah and (crucially!) been found out! 

David cries out to God, 'Have mercy on me O God!' 'Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity . . . cleanse me from my sin . . . purge me', he pleads. 

And he acknowledges that neither sacrifices nor burnt offerings are what will make a difference! No, the clue is in verse 10 of the psalm when he prays 'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me'. 

The change begins in the heart. And it is God who can effect this change and not us. 

Our misguided and misaligned lives, our dissatisfaction and desperation, our longing and looking for something else, something more, something different, our failures and our fears, cry out for more than mere outward rituals or offerings of passing self-denial. A more radical, far-reaching and fundamental change is required. We need a change of heart for it all comes from the heart, and only God can effect such a transformation; all we can do is abandon ourselves to his love, open our hearts to him and allow his Spirit - to transform us and renew us. 

'I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people

In the Psalm, we hear the shame and contrition and the desperation of David. Only God can forgive him. But more than this, only God can change him!  

Create in me a clean heart . . .  

Put a new and right spirit within me . . . 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation . . .  

David cannot do these things for himself. Sacrifices and burnt offerings are not the answer. Only a changed life and a transformed heart will do. And only God can do that for David . . . for you . . . for me. 

Jeremiah saw that a day would come when God would make a new covenant with his people . . . when He would enter into a new relationship with us. This new relationship would not be based on written codes or ritual actions, but would be based on knowing God and on the inner transformation of our hearts.  

And this is the new relationship that has been made possible through Jesus, his life and his death and his rising again. Through that grain of wheat which fell to the earth and died, a rich harvest has been brought about. A harvest of transformed lives and changed hearts! 

The freedom we need, the forgiveness we seek the fullness we look for come when God dwells within. The transformation of our lives will come about not through what we do outwardly, but what God does inwardly. 

'I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people

And so, in the words of the hymn by Bishop Handley Moule we can pray; 

Come, not to find, but make this troubled heart
a dwelling worthy of Thee as Thou art;
to chase the gloom, the terror, and the sin:
come, all Thyself, yea come, Lord Jesus, in!

And now glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever.  


Rev David Denniston, March 2015


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