Written on the Heart

Written on the Heart

March 22, 2015
Stina Pope


I was reading some Kenneth Bailey, the Biblical interpreter that I like so very much, and he used a wonderful saying that shows immediately how important the context, that is, the social environment is. The saying is this: I’m mad about my flat. What does it mean? In one context, it means I’m angry because my car’s tire is deflated. In another context, it means I’m excited about my new living space. They are both correct understandings of the same words, with wildly different meanings. What I like so much about Bailey is that he helps us to understand the Middle Eastern context, which is generally very different from our own.

So I want to lift up two things this morning out of the readings: First from Jeremiah, the writing of the covenant on the heart, and second from the Gospel, the Greeks want to see Jesus.

Jeremiah starts with the interesting words “a time is coming.” In the Hebrew, the verb tense shows that he does not expect it to happen in his lifetime, but within his children’s lifetime. That is, it is not a vague future time a long time in the distance, and at the same time, he does not expect to see it. We can understand this kind of time, right? There are things that we expect to happen, but probably not within our lifetimes. Sometimes that changes, things speed up, and we do see them. But what Jeremiah is talking about here is hope for his people. They were in exile. They had been forced to leave their homes with what they could carry, their leaders had been taken from them, and now they were living in this foreign land. Some of us here have known the pain of this. At the Day of Remembrance, looking at the pictures of people forced out of their homes and businesses, carrying everything in one suitcase, suddenly living in a new and crowded place that they had not chosen, I wonder that they survived, and some of them did not. The question that many of the exiles from Israel suddenly living in the foreign place was: had God abandoned them? Jeremiah says no, that God has given the prophecy that they will return to their land. It will not happen in his lifetime, but soon.

And, the prophecy goes on that God reminds them that God has been like a mother to them, leading them by the hand, and that God has been like a husband to them, and that God is now writing the covenant on their hearts. It is a very intimate God here. This is a God who knows us intimately, and who wants to be felt on an intimate level. And this is a God who wants to be available to everyone, not just the priests in the temple. Everyone will have God’s words written in their hearts.

I wonder: what does it mean to have God’s words written in the heart? Do we feel that God’s words are written in our hearts? What would change if we suddenly realized that yes, they are written there, God has placed them there just for us!

So that is the first piece. The second is about the Greeks. In John, “Greeks” is a way of saying “foreigners.” Now these are foreigners who are here to pay their respects to this God that is not the God of their people. These are people who are already known to us as people who are willing to do different things. They have already come to a foreign country – and they were obviously not forced to come there, they chose it. Perhaps they were merchants. Israel at this time was an occupied country, and so they could not say who could and who could not come in through its borders. One major religious consternation of the time was the raising of temples for and by the foreigners in a land that claimed to be monotheistic. But since foreigners were in power, if they wanted to build temples to foreign gods, they could do so.

These particular foreigners, however, were there to present their offerings to the God of Israel. They were a part of the community enough that they had heard about this new rabbi. They were also enough a part of the community that they did things correctly. They did not come in demanding to see him. No! They found one of the disciples – one who had a Greek name, and they said, we would like to see him. Then you see the social movement. The one that has been asked talks to another, and they decide, yes, they will go ask someone who is further up in authority. When I see something like this, I think, ah, this really happened. This is exactly what would have happened, and the way it would have happened. They would not have had to have all the details written down to know exactly what would have happened – this is simply the way things work. The other important piece of this is what it means.

Stay with me here. If I say, I talked to Bishop Kato last week, you know that most likely I did not just pick up the phone and call him directly. You probably would think, oh, she talked to someone, who talked to someone, who translated for her. And then you might wonder, what was I calling about? What did it mean that I was calling him? What was the purpose of this call? Was I calling on behalf of SKK? Or myself? Or this diocese? There are many possibilities. And then, what was the result, which is another way of asking what did it mean?

In John, telling the story about the foreigners asking for Jesus was a way of saying that Jesus is opening his message to the whole world. This was no longer a small focus group, this has gone public. We have to remember that this book was written over a hundred years after Jesus’ death. The church had had a long time to think about everything that had happened, and to decide what was important and why. For John, this was a major turning point.

We know about turning points, don’t we? We all can look back at our lives and see places where we made decisions to do or not do certain things that determined the course of our lives from then on.

I read a meditation by Bp Charleston which suggested sitting down and looking at those things, and then, making the decision to look at them without regret, but to find places of gratitude instead, and from there, peace. This seems to me to be incredibly profound as a practice, so let me walk it through with you. What he invites us to do is to bring up a time when we made a decision which we have some regret about. It may be huge regret, or perhaps just some regret. When we find that time, he says lift it up now, and make the conscious decision to release the regret, even if it is a huge regret, release the regret, and find some way to find places of gratitude. This is not easy, but when we choose to let go of the regret and fill that empty space with gratitude, something shifts inside, and moves us toward a state of peacefulness. The more regrets we release, the more gratitude we bring in, the more peace we feel. It all starts with choosing to release regret.

Can we do that? Can we look at a situation and realize that the very choice that we made at that time has in fact given us gifts – gifts we might not have chosen, to be sure! For example, I know of people who have given thanks for a heart attack – because up until that time they had chosen to work too hard and had neglected their families. Giving thanks for a heart attack is not to say that a heart attack is a good thing, but it can be accepted with gratitude which can lead to peace. A young man looked back with regret at the years spent in prison, and realized that if he chose to release the regret, that he could be in gratitude for staying alive, which might well not have happened if he had been outside. What gifts have you been given that you did not want, but which you came to see were really gifts?

Next week is Palm Sunday. This is the last week of Lent, the last week of contemplation before the stormy events of Holy Week. If you have engaged in a practice for Lent, I hope you will be diligent with it this week. If not, perhaps you will try this practice of releasing regret. The steps again are to lift up the regret – we call that “examination,” choosing to release the regret, find places of gratitude around the situation, and accepting the peace. So examination, release, gratitude, and acceptance. It can be a very powerful practice.

There is, of course, the classic release, it is called confession.

One of the powerful steps that AA recovered was confession, not the child’s confession required in Catholic grade school, but adult confession, which starts with looking seriously at those things we have done and those things we ought not to have done, the people we have damaged, the pain we have caused, and saying these things out loud to another person. It is very powerful.

And, as we say in the Episcopal church, all may, none must, and some should. If there are things that are getting in the way of God writing on your heart, perhaps it is time. If there are regrets to release, perhaps it is time. If you need some help with that, let me know. There is a form in the prayer book that you can look at, just to get started, if that is helpful.

Jesus calls us to the way of life. That way of life includes examination, release, gratitude and acceptance. What will you choose now?