Sunday, April 29, 2012

God is greater than our hearts

Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Catholic archbishop of Manila who played a key role in the People Power revolution there, liked to tell the story of a woman who attended his weekly audience to inform him she had a been having visions and conversations with the Virgin Mary. He brushed her off several times, but she kept coming back. Finally he said, ‘We Catholics have strict rules governing visions and message from God. I need to test your authenticity. I want you to go back and ask the Virgin Mother to ask her son Jesus about a particular sin I recently confessed in private. If you ask Our Lady and she tells you the answer, I’ll know your vision is genuine.’

“The next week she returned and he quizzed her, a bit nervously, ‘Well, did you ask Our Lady to as her Son about my sin?’ ‘I did’ she replied. ‘And did she answer?’ he asked.  ‘Yes’ she responded. ‘What did she say?’ ‘She said that Jesus said that he couldn’t remember.’

St John writes: ‘...We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything...’

If we step outside the the life of love God calls us to, the good news is that God loves us back. If your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart. If something we said offends someone, God is greater than that offense. If something we did hurts someone, God is greater than that hurt. If we let someone down, God is greater that that let down.

This morning’s Gospel reading reminds us of the close relationship that the Good Shepherd has with His sheep.  God loves us each intimately.  The whole of the scripture is part of a love duet that God tries to sing with humanity over millennia. The words are very simple - God sings to us again and again, ‘I love you, I want to be with you, will you be with with me?’  If your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart.  Such is God’s love for us that He does not hold sin against us, but forgives, forgets and renews relationships with His people.

Friends, you probably know that there are 3 sorts of love mentioned in New Testament - philio, love for fellow men and women, brotherly love if you will. It is love that builds community.  Eros, erotic love, sexual love. Love that builds families.  Agapé - self sacrifical love, love in action, love that goes thee extra mile. It is the love that takes off outer garments, wraps a towel around their waist and washes feet, even those of the one who betrays...

If your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart.  It is this transforming love that flows from an uncondemned, a forgiven heart transformed by God’s love for us and presence in us.

There was someone I was at theological college with who had spent quite a bit to time learning with and from the Mennonites. She is called Rita. For those of you who haven’t come across the Mennonites, they have a particular renown for teaching and living lives of non-violence and love. Anyway, after some time at the Mennonite centre in london, Rita and a member of the community were making their way across London on the tube. As they came down one escalator, they saw a man being mugged. As quick as a flash, desperate to put into practice what she had been learning - as the attacked man lay on the floor - Rita loved the mugger hard by beating him with her handbag. Much to everyone’s surprise though, the Mennonite brother she was with, didn’t do that same, but lay down on top of the other man, protecting him and getting a good kicking in the process.

This is the love of Jesus the Good Shepherd in action in the heart and life of another.  The love of the Good Shepherd sticks with us through thick and thin.  It is with this love that He knows and loves each of us individually and intimately. It is this love we are called to love and live. But that’s not good news.

How often are we ready or willing to love like that? To put someone else’s needs before our own? To love the extra mile? I really want that sort of love in my life. I want stories like that to be about me. Don’t you?  When did you last love like that?  Hardly ever? Never??  The good news is that if your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart.

We need heart transplants. When we cannot love others as we know we should; when we cannot love ourselves as He loves us. It is in those moments of utter failure and brokenness that we literally and metaphorically cry to The Christ the Good Shepherd whose heart is full of agapé, and it is He alone who can lead us from the barren landscape of our hearts into lush and living pasture of His love. Amen.

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