Are we Christians truly earnest in what we believe? To paraphrase Jesus, “These Christians honor me with their lips, but is their heart far from me?” (Matthew 15:8).
I thoroughly enjoyed my time yesterday at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mattoon, Illinois. The appointed Gospel, the text for my sermon, raises the question of earnestness in spiritual life. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell” Again, “If your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.” Here’s the puzzling thing. The Christians yesterday still had two hands and two feet. So do I. Are we really heaven-bent on following Jesus? Jesus moves closer to our inner being, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out” (Mark 9:42-49).
If you mutilated yourself, would you stop being a sinner? No, because sin comes from the heart. “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). Your hands, feet and eyes are instruments of what is most deeply within you. Jesus is zeroing in on the real problem, you, me. “Pride and sin lurk within, all our hopes to shatter; Heed not when they flatter” (LSB 663, 4). We need nothing short of a heart transplant. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
God does the transplant through His Word and Baptism. “We were buried therefore with him (Christ) by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The old heart still lurks, still wants to control you. Whose heart will beat in you today?
“Take my hands and let them move / At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be / Swift and beautiful for Thee.
“Take my will, and make it Thine / It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own / It shall be Thy royal throne.
(LSB 783, 2, 5)