Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17B)
August 29, 2021
Text: Mark 7:14-23
“Follow your heart,” we are told. We hear it constantly, and perhaps even say it ourselves. We emblazon it on t-shirts and other apparel, so that we wear it on our bodies, and some even tattoo it into their flesh. “Follow your heart.” That is, do what feels right, or at least what feels good, what you think will make you happy and fulfilled, what squares with your own self-generated identity. Go where your passions lead you, and do what they command. And do not apologize for any of it. For you alone are judge of yourself, your motives, your actions, your very being, and you alone are master of your own fate. Other phrases, nearly as prolific, offer similar assertions. “Go with your gut.” That is, follow your instinct, which surely cannot be in error. “Be true to yourself.” “Believe in yourself.” I’m sure you could add more declarations to the list, but you get the point. These are all variations on a theme. And they are, all of them, articles of faith that make up the creed of the world’s dominate religion. That is, secular humanism. And it is the second oldest religion, for it is the religion that rejects all other authority, and grasps what is forbidden because it is desirable, in the quest to be wise, and to know and determine good and evil for oneself. It is the religion of being like God. It is to be one’s own god. And it is the original sin, passed down from parents to children, generation to generation, flowing through the heart of every one of us.
That is why the last thing you should do is follow your heart. For what comes out of your heart? Jesus says, it is all that defiles you. Out of your heart come evil thoughts. That is, sin. And the list is long. Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery. Coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality. Envy, slander, pride, and downright foolishness. And it should go without saying, but it cannot go without saying, that all of these things are bad. They are wicked. They are evil. All the Commandments, God’s good and gracious will for you, are included in this indictment. Every one of them you have broken. And that is what defiles you.
And where will it lead you, this following of your heart? To hell, beloved. Not to happiness. To hell. Because it leads you away from God. It rejects God in favor of itself. It sells the birth right for a mess of pottage. This is what you do every time you allow the world, the culture, your friends, your family, to convince you that things are otherwise than God says in Holy Scripture; that the things the Scriptures say are wrong, are really right; that things the Scriptures say are right, are really wrong; that the old biblical faith is backwards, outdated, outmoded, ignorant, and hateful; that God surely would approve of what you are doing or the new things you believe because they feel right and they make you feel good. And they make others feel right and feel good, and accepted, and affirmed. Just like your mother… you are attempting to know good and evil for yourself. Just like your father… you are listening to the words of another who is not God, and who is not given to speak His Word, and you are taking and eating food God has commanded you not to take and eat, from one who is not given to administer God’s food.
The preacher of this second oldest religion is the serpent, and that ought to tell you something. But there is a religion older than his, and it is the true religion. And the Preacher of the true religion is God Himself. It is our Lord Jesus Christ. And He is Truth incarnate. His preaching does not come naturally to sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who are fallen captives of sin and death. That is, it does not flow from within you, from your heart. All religions that encourage you to look within are the serpent’s religion. But the true religion, the religion of Jesus Christ, comes from outside of you. It is alien. It is foreign. That is why what proceeds from Christ, what comes from His Word, what is true and beautiful and right and good, is so often objectionable to you, and appears to you as untrue, ugly, wrong, and evil. Because it is opposed to the things that flow from within you, from your heart.
In fact, it is as objectionable to you, and about as appealing and desirable, as a man in medical scrubs coming at you with a scalpel and a rib spreader, proposing to rip open your chest and tear out your heart. Because, spiritually speaking, that is precisely what Jesus proposes to do. You need a heart transplant. The old one is no good. It will kill you. It will damn you. The things it leads you to believe and do? Those things are the end of you. But there is hope. And there is healing. Jesus has come into your flesh, where it all went wrong with Adam and Eve and you and me, to be your new heart. And your new mind. And your new life. He has come to be the Word God has given, and the One God sent to preach it to you. He has come to be the Food God has given, and the One to feed it to you. For your righteousness, and life, and salvation.
Jesus, God’s own Son, is born into your flesh to take your heart and all that is you and yours, your evil thoughts and all that defiles you, the wickedness that flows from you, from within, thought, word, and deed… and go where your heart leads Him. Because your heart’s final aim is to kill God. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! So that is where He goes. To the cross. To God-forsaken hell. Bearing the sin-filled hearts of the world. Bearing your heart. But this is just the gruesome procedure that must take place if you are to be healed, if you are to be saved. He goes where your heart leads, and suffers all that it means to reject God and not have Him as your God, so that you go where His heart leads, and enjoy all that it means to receive God as your own God, your Father, and have all His gifts and benefits and His very Kingdom as your inheritance. That is how Jesus accomplishes the heart transplant, the Great Exchange, your heart for His, His heart for yours.
He gives it to you in Baptism. There you die with Christ. And there you are raised to new life in Him. Yes, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Having died your death, death could not hold Him. The tomb is empty. Jesus lives. And so you live, in Him. Now your heart beats with His life. Now His blood, which He gives you here to drink, flows through your veins, and you breathe His Spirit. It is the old religion, the very oldest, and yet, everything about it is ever new. Including you. Now you are in Jesus, and Jesus is in you. And what flows out from Jesus in you? Faith does. And faith’s fruits, which is to say, love. Love for God. Love for your neighbor. A love for God’s Word and His good and gracious will for you and for all. St. Paul calls this love the Fruit of the Spirit. And this fruit is in direct opposition to what flows from the old sinful heart. The Fruit of the Spirit, Paul says, is love, which is to say, “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23; ESV). It is not just a matter of outward behavior. It is the disposition of the new heart given you in Christ. “(A)gainst such things there is no law,” Paul says (v. 23), and he even gives a little commentary on the very heart surgery we’ve been talking about, for “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (v. 24), for they now “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” of Jesus and the Father (v. 25).
Now, it is true, in this life and in this world, the serpent still preaches, and your flesh is inclined to reject the new heart given you in Christ in favor of the old heart the serpent keeps in his pocket. In other words, this life is still a struggle and a battle against sin and temptation. But we live in Christ, and in His perfect forgiveness, and we must never forget it. So we have our Epistle this morning (Eph. 6:10-20), in which Christ outfits us with His own perfect armor, that we may stand against the schemes of the devil and extinguish the flaming darts he aims at our hearts. And what is that armor? The belt of truth. That is His Word, which we no longer reject, but hear and believe and treasure. Even when it is painful to us, we recognize that it protects us from Satan, who would lead us back down the road to death. Then, the breastplate of righteousness. This is first of all Christ’s own righteousness, His justification, given to us as a gift, and received by faith. And then it is the righteousness He works within us by His Spirit as we keep in step with the Spirit and live according to His Word. Then the readiness of the Gospel of peace given as shoes for our feet. For we no longer follow our own hearts, but the very heart of God, revealed in the flesh of Jesus. We go where He leads, which is to life and salvation. The shield of faith in Christ, believing His preaching, and not that of the serpent. The helmet of salvation that protects our minds, taking every thought captive to the Word of Christ. And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word. The Word, the Word, the Word. Always the Word of God. That is our whole armor. And prayer, by which we hold God to His Word, holding up His promises to Him, and placing all our confidence in His faithfulness to that Word, and so to us.
When Jesus calls a disciple, He does it by His Word. And what does He say? “Follow me!” For God’s sake, beloved, do not follow your own heart. Follow Jesus. Your heart leads to death. Jesus leads to life. Do not go with your gut, which is often wrong, and bloated, and as Jesus tells us in this morning’s Holy Gospel, really only good for expelling. Go with Jesus, and His Word, which is always sure. Do not be true to yourself. Be true to Him, for He is always true to you. And do not believe in yourself. You make a very poor god. As Adam and Eve found out right away, your fig leaves are no good when it comes to covering sins, and your faith in yourself will always get you expelled from Eden. Believe in Christ. Trust Him. Have faith in Him. He shed His own blood in order to cover your sin and shame with Himself. Follow Him. Cling to Him. Rejoice in Him. Find your true identity in Him. The Day is coming when the struggle will end, and the old heart Satan keeps urging upon you will stop beating once and for all. But that won’t harm you. That will be your freedom. For Jesus is your heart. And He is, after all, risen. He lives eternally. And He will raise you.
Also, as a result of all of this, and this is important… Go enjoy some bacon, or shrimp, or lobster. Give thanks and feast. For Jesus has declared all foods clean. But more importantly, He has declared you clean, because He has created in you a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.