Who do you have written on your heart? Or, who has written on your heart?
Go out and ask people – Who has made such a positive impact on your life that you feel they have written on your heart? And WHO is written on your heart. Or WHAT is written on your heart – WORK? SCHOOL? GOLF? CRICKET? GYMNASTICS? DANCE? BASKETBALL? RUGBY? Or perhaps FAMILY, or CHURCH in the abstract. Good things, but I want to challenge you today to think about WHO God would like to write on your heart?
Jesus said,“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). What do you invest your time, money and effort in?
My daughter Lucy has two girls, Angel and Angora from Sano Diyo, written on her heart. I know because we pray for them every night.
2 Corinthians 3:2“You are our letter, written on our hearts.” Now it’s interesting because there is a scribal variation, some manuscripts have “written on your hearts.” That would make better sense to me – you are our letter, it’s written on your heart. We don’t need a reference; we are written on your heart. But the original is probably, “You are our letter, written on our hearts.” It would be like me saying, “Andrew, I don’t need a letter of reference to you, come on! You are the letter, you are written on my heart. And you know it! “ It’s a neat phrase. You are written on my heart. Again, who is written on your heart? Or, who’s heart have you been writing on? This as an initiation to deeper community, for church to be a place where we write on hearts.
The original context is about Paul asserting his credentials – why he should be guiding the community, why anyone should listen to him. He’s saying in 2 Cor. 3:1 “Do we need letters of recommendation?” Before Paul became a Christian he had been a zealous Pharisee - you could actually call him a jihadist and you wouldn’t be far wrong. In Acts 9 you can read how he had got letters from the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus so that he could go and arrest Christians. So Paul knew about letters of reference and how the letter can kill. Instead he was concerned to imply “judge me by the quality of the ministry I have done in your life”.
Do you write reference letters? I do them all the time, most are fairly thin if I don’t know the person that well. Sometimes I have to manage truth with grace. Verbal references are much better. You are much more likely to get the truth out of someone in a verbal reference.
I once did a verbal reference for a children’s worker and the referee I rang was really honest and said, “I don’t think the person is right for the job”. That was so helpful. References aren’t always worth the paper they are printed on. That’s the absolute opposite of the reference Paul was talking about in 2 Cor. 3:1. Paul is implying that they did not need some piece of paper, they knew him and his concern for them.
So, how do we write on people’s hearts? Intentionally and unintentionally. Lovingly. Painfully. Honestly. How do we leave an impression on a person? Sometimes our words can leave a branding on a person, but often it’s more than our words.
I worked for Rev. Tom Woods when I was a student, and Tom taught me something about professionalism. I can’t remember the words but I remember one evening service I was down to preach, and I was feeling a bit exhausted and overwhelmed. And Tom said, “You get out there, and you give those people the best that you have, they need comfort and confronting, they need to have the word of God preached to them no matter how you feel.” And I went out and I preached a great sermon. Tom was firm, but he taught me more in that hour than some of my lecturers taught me in a year. Funnily enough I think Tom wrote me on his heart.
Also, when I was a student we did a hospitals course. I missed the first week, and when I went the second week I had been assigned to maternity. I was single and 21 and I was meant to pop in on new mothers and make conversation. I hated it. I sat in the café and made up my verbatims. It was awful for me but worse for any young mums I visited. I got a shocking report, and I’ll never forget what Nan Burgess did. She called me into her office, had a kind chat with me and then threw out that report. Nan wrote something good on my heart that day.
So I want to talk about how we make our church a place where we can write positive messages on each other’s hearts, and on our hearts about each other. And funnily enough I think it’s all about attitude, and our subconscious reactions.
I think it’s so important that church doesn’t become a place of external orthodoxy, where you can’t disagree, you can’t question. Any question must be OK at church, so that we can listen to each other. We can learn from Christ together; we don’t need to pretend that we haven’t made mistakes. If we want to learn to write people on our hearts, we have to let Jesus teach us how to be open and honest.
Our attitude determines how deeply we can discuss and how deeply we can write.
Openness is essential.
There have been waves of people leaving churches in the west for the last few years – done with church, but not with faith. Sometimes it’s because church has become rigid and orthodox in a way that the NT church never was. And when church, or family, or friendships are rigidly orthodox you can’t write on people hearts because you are too busy protecting your heart.
I remember a few years ago if I said I was getting acupuncture some people would overreact and say “O no fear, be careful”. Some people react the same way to hearing mention of Harry Potter, or Yoga, or Pokémon GO, or transgender. We’ve all got our opinions, but we need to grow an open attitude so that we don’t prevent deep conversation.
Church needs to be a place where it’s Ok to have a PD bracelet, or to admit a drunk driving conviction. It’s only then we can hear what’s going on in each other’s lives, and then have deeper conversations
Deep conversations about life, like how do I relate to a gay friend. Can I have a conservative view but still go to a gay friend’s wedding? Or can I ask questions about speaking in tongues? Where can I get support after an abortion? One of the things I feel is such a barrier to deep conversation is the fear that I will be judged, rather than a certainty that I will be accepted, listened to and dialogued with. And yes it’s OK to disagree with me. I change my mind about things. The NT is full of people discussing and changing their mind about things. It’s not my job to judge you if you’ve divorced, if you’ve got a mental illness, if your kids are spinning out. My job is to let Christ write you on my heart with Love. This is part of what Paul is meaning when he says, “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
Let’s go back to the scripture2 Cor 3:6. Paul’s main point is that he and we are ministers of a new covenant. Now that’s a funny phrase, but it’s really cool when you understand it. What does he mean by a new covenant? It’s like a new agreement. God has changed the way that the world works. It’s like he’s the agent of a new insurance company – a new covenant – a new policy. The terms of the deal have all changed and they are much better. Or you could think about Paul as offering you a new employment agreement. Gone is the fixed term, the rigid set of rules. Flexi-time is fine, you can work from home - we just love having you on the team and we want you. Or you might think of this new covenant as a new lease - no longer are you on a fixed-term tenancy, this tenancy is for life, and it’s rent to own. After 20 years you’ll own the house.
Paul is talking about the difference between the Jewish law (God’s covenant through Moses) and the new covenant in Jesus. It sounds like old language and feels dusty, like you’re talking about something 1000’s of years old. But I feel God wants to tell us, NO it’s new, and it’s perpetually new. This covenant is ever new. It is new to you you you. St Augustine had this incredible insight. He said “If you were the only person on earth, Christ would have still suffered and died for you.” It is ever fresh. And it’s about the Spirit not the law. In Jesus Christ, God has made the perfect way to acknowledge that sin and evil and crime are wrong – and deadly wrong – that they destroy people and life. AND he has made a way to rescue us from the taint, the claws, and the consequence of sin by absorbingthe power of death in Jesus so that we can absorb the power of life and forgiveness from Jesus. It’s a new deal.
In 1932, in the middle of a deep recession, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the US and in the first 100 days of his administration he changed the way US government worked. He changed the lives of 13 million unemployed, or ¼ of the workforce. It was a massive change, and presidents ever since have been compared to it. It was called ‘the new deal’. However, in three days God changed far more. He offers us a new deal, and invites you to live in that new deal by putting Jesus Christ in the driver’s seat of your life. The problem is we all slip back to the old deal, the comfortable deal, the predictable deal, the deal where we get to judge and defend and justify. Rather than live in the freedom of God’s new deal.
I love the way Paul talks about a triumphant procession. This is what the Caesars would do after a military victory. Paul uses this to say that Christians serve a different Caesar. Now, when Caesar marched home in victory there would be incense everywhere because those parades were a form of worship. And here Paul talks about the Christian way having a certain fragrance to it (2 Cor. 2:14-15).I like that, it’s very bodily. Do you know that phrase ‘it doesn’t feel right’, or ‘it doesn’t sound right’? This one is ‘it doesn’t smell right’.
Learning to be a Christian is not learning rules, it’s learning the smell, the sound, the feel of Jesus. The way Jesus does things.
To those who are responding to Jesus’ way, that fragrance is fabulous.
But to those who are caught in the way of judgement and revenge, it stinks. They will say things like: How could God forgive that? How could you let a criminal come to your church? How could you let a cross-dressing person come to your church? How can you stand bigots in your church?
I apply a simple test, everyone’s welcome to come, if you’ve committed your life to Christ you are welcome to be a member, but to be a leader you need to be a bit further down the discipleship path.
Paul was dealing with people who had a rule for everything. And he knew that when you have a rule for everything the letter kills, because rules don’t rescue people. However they can set wonderful boundaries. But it’s not all about the rules - if you become obsessed with the rules you miss the people. When the prophet Ezekiel talked about God writing a new law on people’s hearts, not on tablets of stone, that’s about changed motivation. That’s about wanting to do God’s will, not just follow God’s rules. I remember years ago hearing a great sermon that demonstrated this by turning the 10 commandments (the summary of all God’s rules) on their head. Rather than ‘You shall have no other god before me’ instead, you may have God at the centre of your life. Rather than “You shall not steal” you can give away what is yours. Rather than “do not commit adultery’ you may be faithful to your spouse. I think that is a lovely way of understanding the Spirit that transcends the letter of the law. And when you are doing that, you are writing on people’s hearts, or better still, having Christ write people on your heart.
And I want to finish with this beautiful verse. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”(2 Cor. 3:17).
Jesus wants you to be free . . .
To be free from materialism that will suffocate you.
To be free from judgementalism that will crush you.
To be free from selfishness that will destroy you.
To be free to write the people God chooses on your hearts.
Will you let God write someone on your heart?