Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
On December 3rd in 1967 the first heart transplant was performed in a hospital in South Africa by the renown heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard. Unfortunately the patient, Louis Washkansky who was 55 years old and dying of heart damage, only lived for 18 days with his new heart. In the 52 years since that pioneering moment in medical history, the technique has been improved tremendously. It is almost a routine surgical operation these days, only rare because of the availability of functioning hearts that aren’t being used by their original owners. The world isn’t riveted by the news of a heart transplant anymore.
And yet, no one has been able to transform the essence of the person as easily as these internal organ swaps. No one has figured out how cut out that broken part, broken heart, broken will, broken soul, and replace it with one that functions better. Better? Happier, perhaps. Righteous, maybe. Good. Just good. We all want to be good. Don’t we? But there is no surgical procedure that will get us there. Will make us good. Make us more like Christ.
That’s it, isn’t it. We are striving to be more like Christ. It’s hard work, to say the least. Impossible work. Yet we labor on. Striving for perfection. Though that word scares us. Nobody is perfect we say with some relief. We can excuse all kinds of behavior with that line. Nobody. No body is perfect. Except Him. The One we seek to be like. The model and the pattern. Yet always out of reach. Because nobody is ... well, it’s true.
Then why does He ask us to do the impossible? Why does He tell us to be perfect if we can’t? Is He just trying to frustrate us? Just trying to keep us in our place? Remind us how much we can’t do on our own? Well, maybe that is a part of it. That acknowledgment of the need for a savior. If we could do this on our own, if we had the capacity for perfection why would we ever turn to Him?
Luke 6:43-45 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
Good. And bad. We want to be good. And here it sounds like we’ve got to work on it. We’ve got to be so good that no bad comes out. What a burden. Every slip. Every mistake, every time we let our emotions get the better of us, we reveal that we are at heart – at heart, mind you – bad people. I’m not sure that we can carry that load. I’m not sure we can measure up to that standard. We fall into that mindset that claims everyone is just bad, irredeemably bad. It’s worm thinking. Defeated thoughts. I’m not sure it is helpful. Or even Christian.
I know some would argue. Those who put the doctrine of original sin at the top of their list, as the main definer of human existence, would say yes, we are bad. So bad, too bad. Just admit it, just claim it, just accept it and then everything will be better. You sinner you. Because you mess up from time to time, it must reveal that your heart is bad, rotten to the core of your being. Right? Well maybe. Except, if we look closer in this passage we’ll notice something significant.
This isn’t really about good hearts and bad hearts. Yes in the metaphor He talks about good trees and bad trees. And then He talks about producing fruit according to type, implying that we’re one type or the other. Maybe. But when He gets to the heart, He makes a switch. He doesn’t talk about your heart - and it’s goodness or badness. He talks about the treasure of your heart. Or in other translations, about the storehouse of your heart. And do you know what the word is? Thesaurus. That’s the Greek word that is translated as treasure in this version. The “good treasury” the Common English Bible says. Thesaurus.
What words fill you up? What descriptions? How do you define your life and the lives of those around you? Jesus is asking us to watch our language. To build up our vocabulary. To use our words to build up and not tear down. To describe a world that has room for all of God’s people in it, that has room for God in it!
Too easy? Not really. How often do our words reflect the depths of our hurt or our shame? How often do we let the words of frustration and anger take us over in an unguarded moment? The treasury of our hearts hold a lot of both joy and pain, a lot of brokenness and hope. It becomes a matter of choosing, of selecting the attitudes we want to project, the person we want the world to see, the person we want to be. Jesus is asking us to pay attention to who we are, by choosing our words. Deeds too, I don’t mean to imply it is only a vocabulary test here. But that we reveal who we are by how we speak to and about one another.
So, how do we pay attention? Well, that’s what we are doing here at Southport this Eastertide. Our series is titled “A Disciple’s Heart” and we are thinking together about we care for our hearts, or how we fill the treasury of our hearts as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are engaged in what the theologians call “sanctification.” When we say that our mission is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we are not claiming that this is a one time poof you’re a disciple kind of thing. That’s an on-going verb – making. We’re making disciples. And first of all we are making disciples of ourselves. And when we invite others, we invite them to join us in a process, join us on a journey. We’re all in this being made into disciples thing together.
One thing we’ll learn as we go along is that we have a certain amount of responsibility for the making ourselves. There are things we can do to shape our hearts, to fill the treasury of our hearts. Those have traditionally been called Spiritual Disciplines. They are ways of exercising our faith and are both inward and outward acts that we can do for the good of our hearts. We’ll talk more about them later, so stay tuned.
But another thing we will learn is that we can’t do it alone. We need the help of those around us. Family and friends, our church, become vital helps for all of us and each of us on the journey into discipleship. There are things we do on our own, but there are things we do together. And some of the things we do, like prayer and studying the Bible we do both on our own and together. And we find new depths and greater resources when join with others in these disciplines.
Yet, even that isn’t enough to fill the treasury of our hearts. We need another presence, another helper. We need to look back at the beginning of this essay and be reminded what Ezekiel heard. We need the hand of God, the Spirit to enter our lives and help us fill the treasury of our hearts. God promises to help us in this process, promised to take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. Promises to take out of the storehouse all that is hard and unyielding, all that is painful and angry, and replace it with grace. God’s grace and our grace. God walks with us in this transformation process. Filling our storehouse with the treasury of grace. And the promise is that we will live with this new heart a lot longer than eighteen days.