Change in our hearts

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Change in our heart 6pm 9th September 2012

An Amish boy and his father were visiting a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his dad, 'What is this, Father?' The man (never having seen a lift) responded, 'Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don't know what it is.

While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, an old lady in a wheelchair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady passed between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched as small circles with numbers lit up above the walls. They continued to watch as the numbers lit up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful young woman stepped out. The father, not taking his eyes off the young woman, said quietly to his son, 'Go get your mother.'

Oh if it were only that easy to change - I guess we'd all be down in the nearest shopping centre jumping in and out of the lifts all the time. But of course it isn't - and in any case that story is just about changing 'externals' isn't it? It seems to be getting easier to change our 'external' nowadays doesn't it? In various TV programmes in a short space of time - a few experts can transform either us or our surroundings dramatically. But again we're only talking about externals.

Tonight's Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount - was preached by Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry. This Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes was like His manifesto for how the Christian should live. It is of course longer than the passage we are having tonight and in it He describes what human life and human community should look like after a true repentance that brings about a complete change that puts our hearts and minds under the gracious rule of God.

In this part though the message is very much about us paying more attention to the inner working of our faith so that it brings about a greater authenticity. He is talking a lot here about how the 'hypocrites' pursue their faith.

Its funny how different sins have their sort of 'heyday' isn't it. Hypocrisy is seen as a very big and terrible sin nowadays. The original Greek word means an actor who wears a mask - the person seen on the outside is not the 'real' person on the inside. An actor playing a role that we all know to be false.

Jesus talks about those who show a faith to the world that is not genuine in their heart. He's talking to all those who come to church - pray, praise etc here with everyone else but then don't go home and pray in private too. If we want to change to grow more Christlike then it really is about changing inside isn't it?

Matthew 6:1-18

You might think that there are some contradictions going on here because Jesus also taught that we should pray communally - OUR Father and let your light so shine before others. And that's right too because our light shining before others should come from that inner change INSIDE us.

Jesus had to make some big changes in His life as he began His public ministry and He started by going out into the wilderness on His own to be with God - to fast and pray. He needed that private time alone with God.

Jesus says that its not being seen out at prayer that matters - what matters is that secret meeting in our hearts that nobody else sees. He's not saying that it is wrong to pray in public - indeed we should - but it is wrong to pray in public if we don't also pray in private. Private prayer is where our relationship with our Lord grows. Where we get to know Him. And how, if we have once met with Him, how can we not want to go on

doing it over and over again. A real meeting with the risen Christ. There's nothing else like it - and its through that relationship that we can ask God to change us.

The way Jesus tell us to live in this passage might occasionally prove hard to do – probably most of us at some time have felt that rosy glow that comes from someone else admiring our piety. But equally it is something we all can do when we come to realize that it is Christ that saves us and not ourselves. Personally I claim that quite literally as a blessed relief!

The righteousness described is an inner righteousness. It shows itself outwardly and visibly in words, deeds and relationships, BUT it is essentially a righteousness of the heart. It is what a man thinks in his heart and where he fixes his heart that matter. It is Jesus who changes us - it is Jesus who does the work in us not ourselves. And it is when we fully realise that He is the Christ, that He is our Saviour, that He desires to be with us in our hearts that we will be able to truly bow down before him in humble worship, love and trust.

Jesus went on, your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The Greek word for the 'room' into which we are to withdraw to pray was the same word used for the store-room where treasures might be kept. The implication is then, that 'there are treasures already awaiting' us when we pray.'

The hidden rewards of prayer are too many to count. In words of St Paul, when we cry, 'Abba, Father,' the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are indeed God's children, and we are granted a strong assurance of his fatherhood and love. He lifts the light of his face upon us and gives us his peace. He refreshes our soul, satisfies our hunger, quenches our thirst. We know we are no longer orphans for the Father has adopted us; no longer prodigals for we have been forgiven; no longer alienated, for we have come home. What a blessing, what a reward. It should spur us on to want to know Him more.

And the reverse of this is that hypocrisy robs us of spiritual benefit: instead of the eternal approval of God we receive the shallow praise of men. We pray but there are no answers. We fast but the inner man shows no improvement. Our spiritual life becomes hollow and lifeless. We miss the blessing of God here and now, as well as the reward of God when Christ returns. Which spectator matters to us more, earthly or heavenly, men or God?

Are we as in a theatre giving a performance, is our religion only conducted in public? The Christian should be very aware of being watched - by God. A different audience seems to cause a different performance. We can bluff a human

audience; they can be taken in by our performance. We can fool them into supposing that we are genuine in our giving, praying, fasting, when we are only acting. But we cannot deceive God. For God looks on the heart. We must choose our audience carefully. If we prefer human spectators, we shall lose our Christian integrity.

The same will happen if we become our own audience. Bonhoeffer said: 'It is even more pernicious if I turn myself into a spectator of my own prayer performance... I can lay on a very nice show for myself even in the privacy of my own room.' We must choose God for our audience. As we pray and fast secretly He is in the secret place. He hates hypocrisy and loves reality. He is there and His presence rewards us.

God loves us and wants our relationship with Him to grow and it cannot do that without some quiet and private time with Him. Yes we must come to church and pray with others - but that has to be matched by prayer and worship in the quiet of our hearts.

When a couple fall in love they want to be with each other. They don't usually want to just spend one hour a week in public with each other do they? That's what should happen with us and Jesus. Loving / knowing God doesn't just take place in church.

Think back to that joke about the lift at the beginning: when we walk through that door we do not automatically walk out again changed. Rather what changes us is allowing God to walk in to the door of our heart. That's where the change happens. Amen.