Dealing With Hard Hearts

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Thanksgiving/Worldwide Communion
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 2: 18-24 and Mark 10: 2-12
Jesus replied, “Moses gave you this law because you are so heartless. But in the beginning God made a man and a woman. That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married.
Mark 10: 5 (NIV)

THANKFULNESS

Today is an important day. Not only is it Thanksgiving Sunday, it’s also Worldwide Communion Sunday. And somehow that seems most appropriate because if there is one thing that we can be thankful for, it is that we are part of a communion of saints that we call the church. And we aren’t just part of this congregation, we are part of a worldwide body of believers who join together with a common Saviour, inspired by the Holy Spirit to do the work of God. And that’s part of what we celebrate on Worldwide Communion Sunday. It’s one of those days when Christians of all stripes get past their denominational labels and differences in theology and just remember who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. We are children of God forgiven and redeemed by our common faith in Jesus Christ. That’s worth celebrating. So let us give thanks.

There is just so much to be thankful for. I was thinking about that this week. You know, in a world in which there are lots of hungry people, most of us have enough to eat. In a world where people are homeless, we have places to live. In a world where many lack proper medicine, we have affordable health care. In a world where many people of faith are persecuted, we can worship freely and without fear of reprisals. We have so much to be thankful for that if we all went around this room and each of us named something for which we are thankful and then did it again and again and again until we ran out of things, we’d be here all day and the turkey would never get cooked. There truly is so much to be thankful for.

Having said that, some of the things that we’re most thankful for come with their downsides. I know that there are more than a few animal lovers here today. I’m one of them. I happen to love my dog. She’s a four year old German Shepherd and we do lots of things together. I usually walk her. I usually feed her. She runs with me. She goes to the post office with me where she usually gets a dog biscuit. Sometimes I take her in the car when we do errands. In the evening when I’m relaxing in front of the TV or reading, she’s usually on the couch beside me. I love it when she puts her head on my lap and I stroke her soft ears. It’s a bit of peace in a sometimes hectic world.

But she’s not perfect and she comes with definite drawbacks. Do you have any idea how much fur comes out of that girl? I brush her almost every day but every day more and more dog hair seems to accumulate in the corner of the living room and kitchen. Sometimes it balls up under the couch in the family room. And I don’t like that. But it’s part of having a dog. And I can either let it annoy me or I can thank God for it. What it’s come down to is this; dog hair is just part of our decor especially when I think about how less happiness there would be in my life if there was no dog hair to sweep up. So, as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CEV), “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Give thanks for everything including dog hair.  We truly do have so much to be thankful for.

APPRECIATION

One of the challenges we face, however, is that we don’t always appreciate what God has given us. I suspect that all of us know people who always want more. No matter what they have, it is never enough. If they have a car, they want a better one or another one. If they have a house, they want a bigger one. The clothes they wear aren’t stylish enough and the food they eat isn’t tasty enough. You know what I mean. And even their relationships aren’t good enough.

I think Jesus has something to say to these people. I think Jesus would say, “Be thankful for what you have because it is my Father’s gift to you.”

We see that in the Gospel reading from Mark that I want to share with you now. Mark 10:2-4 (CEV) says this:

Some Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. So they came up to him and asked if it was right for a man to divorce his wife.

Jesus asked them, “What does the Law of Moses say about that?”

They answered, “Moses allows a man to write out divorce papers and send his wife away.”

Here we have a group of Pharisees – who were people who opposed Jesus – trying to trap him with a question about divorce. Jesus turns it around by asking them a question. What does the law of Moses say about divorce? And they give the right answer. The law says that man can give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away. That might be the right answer but it’s not an easy one for us to understand because it’s written with 2,000 year old customs in mind so let me give you some context. Back in those days, divorce was possible. It was also quite easily done. All a man had to do was give his wife a certificate saying that he was done with her and that she was free to go find someone else to marry. That was it. Women couldn’t do it to their husbands but men could do it to their wives. Remember that this was a very patriarchal society.

But why would the men do this? It could be for a serious violation of the marriage such as his wife being unfaithful. But it could also be for much more trivial things. A wife could be given a certificate of divorce and sent away because she was not a good housekeeper or because her husband deemed her to be an unfit mother or simply because she burned the bread she was supposed to make for supper. I’m not kidding. “I asked for bread not toast so off you go. Don’t forget your certificate.”

The bottom line is this. A man could divorce his wife for almost any reason. It could be a real issue or it could be a complete fabrication. It really didn’t matter. The man held all the cards and if he was unsatisified with his wife, he’d just put her out and go get another one. That’s the reality that Jesus was facing.

HARD HEARTS

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees answer is quite interesting. We find it in Mark 10:5-9 (CEV)

Jesus replied, “Moses gave you this law because you are so heartless. But in the beginning God made a man and a woman. That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife. Then they are no longer two people, but one. And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together.”

Why does Jesus say that people get divorce? It is because people’s hearts are hard. What does that mean? It could mean a lot of things but I think that in this situation it means that people fail to appreciate what they have.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to dump on anyone who’s been divorced. Not all marriages workout. As most of you know, I was once divorced. Ruth is my second wife in chronological terms but she’s certainly the first one in my heart. I’m not passing judgment on anyone who has gone through the pain of divorce. I’m just telling you what Jesus said because I think he’s on to something.

It doesn’t matter to me that there is often dog hair on the floor of my house. I still love my dog and I’m so thankful for her. And if I can do that with my dog, how much more important it is to do that with Ruth my wife, the life partner whom God has given to me to bless my life. Ruth, I just want you to know that you can burn the bread all you want. I’m not in the market for another wife because I’m so thankful for the one I have. In fact, I posted a meme on Facebook the other day that rather says it all. Here it is. It says, “I’m not perfect but I have a freaking awesome wife.” It seems that everyone who saw that agreed with me as well and they should because it’s true. I do have an awesome wife and I’m okay with dog hair too.

I guess what I’m saying is that God calls us to appreciate what we have and to be thankful for it. God also calls us to understand that nothing in this life is perfect. Dogs aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. Relationships aren’t perfect and life isn’t perfect. Dog shed hair and sometimes wives burn the bread.  But so what? God calls us to look past the imperfections to see the awesome parts of everything God has given us.

The way we do that is to get past the hardness that we often have in our hearts. It is because of the hardness that we don’t appreciate what we have. It is because of that hardness that we always want something more or something better or newer or bigger or shinier. And as long as you approach life with that hardness in your heart, you will never be satisfied with what you have.

I’m not saying that you should not want to get ahead in life. There is nothing wrong with having a good job or a nice house or beautiful family. But you still need to be thankful for what you have right now and appreciate all that God has given you right now. That’s because you never know what tomorrow will bring. You don’t know what the future holds and what you have right now may be as good as it gets. And if this is as good as it gets, then you have to appreciate it and be thankful.

And here’s the other thing I want to say about this. If you want to change the hardness in your heart, you can’t do it on your own. You will need help. The good news is that that help is available through the Holy Spirit. Jesus talks about that in John 14:26 (CEV) where he says, “But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you.” The job of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of what Jesus said and to help us to follow those teachings.

But the Spirit can’t do that if our hearts are hard. And so part of what the Holy Spirit does is soften our hearts so that we can be the people whom God called and created us to be. We can’t do that on our own. That’s why we need to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit. And when we do, the Spirit works on us to remake us into new creations from the inside out. The Spirit starts deep within us and transforms our hard hearts into hearts of love and appreciation for all that we have and all that we are as children of the living God. God opens our eyes to the abundant blessings that all of us have and need to appreciate on a daily basis.

So, how’s your heart? Look within. Is your heart hard? If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you really appreciate all that you have. If you do that’s good. But if you don’t, if you always want something more or something newer or something bigger or better or shinier, then maybe that’s a sign that you need to let the Holy Spirit in to soften your heart.

JESUS’ MORALITY

This past Monday, we began our Bible Study on red letter Christianity. In that video study, Tony Campolo focuses on the words of Jesus in the New Testament. In that first video, I was struck with quite a few things that he said but the one that touched me the most was when he said that the morality of Jesus is far superior to the morality of Moses.

The law of Moses was put in place because of people’s sin. Or as Jesus said, those laws are there because people’s hearts are hard. We see that in spades in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. In that sermon Jesus quotes Moses as saying that people should not murder each other. I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that but Jesus takes it one step further. He goes on to say that if you call someone a fool and dehumanize them, you are just as guilty as if you had murdered them.

Later on in Matthew 5 Jesus reminds the people that Moses said that if someone wrongs you, you can find justice by doing the same thing back: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus says that if someone wrongs you, don’t do anything in retaliation. In fact, he says that if someone slaps you that you are to turn your other cheek to them so they can slap that one too. And then he says, do not repay evil with evil but repay evil with good.

That’s the superior morality of Jesus. It’s the morality that is possible when we allow the Spirit to soften our hearts so that we can life faithfully and courageously for Jesus.

So love your dog and love your wife. Be thankful for your dog and be thankful for your wife. If you truly see your dog as a gift of God, you won’t be bothered by a bit of dog hair. And if you truly appreciate your wife as gift of God, not only will you forgive a bit of burned bread, you will actually learn to like it and appreciate it too.

God wants to soften your heart. Open yourself to that possibility and let him transform your life from the inside out.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

You have given us so much, O God of Creation. Everything is yours and we are privileged to be able to use it for your glory. Thank you for the changing colour of the leaves that grace the countryside like a multicolored quilt. Thank you for the harvest, for the fruit of our labour and for the necessities that are provided by the land. Thank you for all those who work to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Your hand is on everything and we give thanks for the abundance that you provide.

Heavenly Father, thank you for delivering us from the fear of death and giving us the hope of eternal life with you! You paid an awesome price for our salvation. Enable us to better understand what you have done for all humanity by your death and resurrection. Help us to reject fear and embrace the freedom and life that is in you.

We also pray for you blessing upon Jeanette Barriere and Andrew Jones who were married yesterday. Keep them true to their vows and bless them with many happy and full years together.

Our prayers are lifted to you with regards to the current federal election. It has been a tight and interesting race. We pray, O God, for good voter turnout and a government that will provide that tools that all of us need to look after ourselves.

We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We pray for Louise, John, Lyle, Sharon, Diane and others who need to feel your healing hand. Bless them with your Spirit, O God, and help them to experience your presence in a special and powerful way.

Holy God, we come to you with all of our imperfections. In spite of our weakness, help us to so exemplify your character and your way of doing things that, even in the darkest and most difficult of situations, others may come to see your glorious dawn. In the midst of darkness, we thank you for your unfailing light which shines for all of us. Bless us all with strength to help others in their dark places, for you are our light and our life. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

October 7, 2018 / Worldwide Communion / Thanksgiving Sunday

SCRIPTURE

Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Mark 10:2-16; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

CALL TO WORSHIP

Lead us, O Father, into your presence;

Lead us, O Spirit, into your holiness;

Lead us, O Saviour, into your path of peace;

Lead us, O God, in your way.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy God, your mercy is great and everlasting! Thank you that you are always with us, ready to support and strengthen us in whatever comes our way. You are there through the joys and the sorrows, the tears and laughter. You continue to be with us, even when we walk through dry and lonely place. We thank you for your unfailing love which is so vast and limitless. In you, we find renewed hope and the promise of a good day and a brighter tomorrow. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Mercy and Grace, our sins flash before our eyes and we are reminded once again of our need of you. We need to look deep within our souls, and be honest about what we find. Enable us to know without a doubt where we stand in the faith of Christ Jesus. We want to live by the your amazing power and not merely by my own human strength, relying on you for all good things. Hear our confessions that we may be cleansed…

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God did not make us robots and call us perfect. God made us human and called us good. But good is a long way from perfect. That is why we need God’s saving grace in our lives and that is why we need to confess our sins. In honest confession, our spirits are set free and our sins forgiven.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We need to be aware, Creator, that you have offered your unfailing and unconditional love to us without reservation. We do not ever want to take your gifts for granted or treat them lightly. The words of appreciate that we can offer are mere shadows of what you deserve. We want to express our thanks in every way possible, in song, praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and more. Thank you for your many gifts. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

We have offered our thanks. We have offered our praise. Like the smoke of the Temple rising up to the heavens, we have pleased our God and Saviour. It is time to leave and to share the Good News that we have received. Christ has died. Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

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