Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Perhaps you remember the children’s song that goes like this: “Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see. Be careful, little eyes, what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love. Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see. Be careful, little ears, what you hear; be careful, little hands, what you do; be careful, little feet, where you go.” Now besides being one of the most terrifying children’s songs I can think of—does it really sound like the Father is “looking down in love”? Be careful what you do! The Father is looking down in “love”! Besides that, it makes a mistake that we are all prone to make, and that is that sin and evil are “out there,” “over there,” in those things or those people or those places.
But Jesus says exactly the opposite. He says there is nothing outside a man that, going into him, can defile him or make him unclean. The problem isn’t really “out there” at all. Instead, it’s in here, in my heart. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, Jeremiah says (17:9). And Jesus says that it is what comes out of man—not what goes into him—that makes him unclean. Out of the heart comes all sorts of evil: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, slander, envy, pride, foolishness. All of this comes from within, not from without.
How do I know that’s true, that the problem really isn’t “out there”? Because Jesus lived in this world. And Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, but without sin (4:15). If the problem were out there, then Jesus would have sinned, because He was tempted in every way as we are—but without sin. St. Peter says that He committed no sin, neither was there any deceit in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22). It would do you no good, as far as sin goes, to get rid of everything out there. You could have lived in a blank room from birth, with nothing but a Bible, and you would still be full of sin.
The problem isn’t out there; it’s in here. I recently re-watched a movie called The Machinist. The main character, Trevor Reznik, works in a machine shop and is losing extreme amounts of weight and not sleeping. Then he meets a man called Ivan and he starts to think that Ivan is orchestrating a conspiracy against him. And Ivan looks kind of evil. He is bald, with a big scar. He’s got two different-colored eyes. He wears black and drives a red car. He smokes. He’s always laughing sort of an evil laugh. He’s got an ugly, deformed hand. Maybe he’s even the devil. But Trevor discovers that the evil really isn’t out there at all, and that Ivan doesn’t actually exist, except as the evil within himself. The evil was always, only him.
Jesus says in another place that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. But what if it’s not really your eye or your hand, but your heart? You can’t cut that out, unless you die. Where are you going to go to get away from your own heart, your own self? Nowhere. You can’t flee anywhere.
So God comes to you. The Son becomes man and takes on human flesh and a human heart beats in His chest. But it beats only with the love and holiness of God. He was tempted in every way as we are, but without sin. His heart is without deceit, His mouth without evil, His eyes without lust. But He is hanged on a cross, and St. Paul says that this is where He becomes sin who knew no sin. He knew no sin, except on the cross. Because on the cross, He became sin, became a curse. All of those evil things that Jesus says come out of our heart, were poured out on Him. He became sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
They pierced His heart, and out flowed the blood and water by which He purifies this whole, unholy creation. Because out of His heart comes only the Love of God, only the Life of God; only righteousness, purity, and holiness. And it comes directly from the cross to us, by way of the means He has chosen to deliver that mercy and grace. And so God gives us new hearts, hearts of flesh in place of our old hearts of stone. Hearts of flesh that love both God and other people. But, unfortunately, our old hearts are still beating. Now we are double, as long as this creation lasts or as long as we last within it. We have two hearts, divided: the old heart of stone, from which comes only evil and the new heart of God, created by the Holy Spirit within us, from which comes only good. That new heart will have the last word, but we will continue to struggle until then. So we confess that we are “poor, miserable sinners.” Miserable not in the sense of pathetic, but miserable in its true, original, literal sense: a miserable person is a person who is need of mercy. So you don’t have to confess that if there is no evil in you. If your heart beats in complete purity and no evil ever proceeds from you, then you don’t need to confess it and, frankly, you don’t need to be here. But if you’re like me, and you are still double, with a divided heart, then you’ll confess with me that we are miserable, still in need of the mercy of God in Christ. Have mercy on me, a poor, sinful being!
And He does. Today. Here. The heart of God beats for you in the resurrected Christ, and it is to you that the mercy flows from the cross. No food that goes into you can either defile or purify you. It just keeps your body alive. The bread and wine here on the altar go through you exactly like every other food you eat and every other thing you drink. But the Body and Blood that Christ has attached to the bread and wine by His own Word—that is nothing like any other food. It is the Bread of Heaven that gives life to the world. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink, and those who eat and drink in faith have eternal life.
We always need His mercy and He always gives it. And He will continue to do so until these old, dying hearts stop their beating and our bodies lie in the ground. And then He will raise up our bodies and—finally—these bodies will be animated by an undivided heart and an eternal life. We will see with purity for the first time. We will love God and other people fully and completely. Our ears will hear nothing but Him, and our mouths will speak nothing but His praise.
This is the High Priest whom we have, who is able to sympathize with the weakness of our hearts because He has been tempted in every way as we are, but without sin. So we can, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
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). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/31/18