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Sermon Sunday March 17, 2024 The Fifth Sunday in
Lent
Lessons: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

Read the story of Catherine of Sienna: An Exchange of
Hearts

One day in the fervor of (Catherine of Sienna’s) prayer, she said with the Prophet, “Create within me O God a new heart,” etc. And supplicated our Lord to condescend to take away her own heart and her own will. It seemed to her that her Spouse (God-Jesus) presented himself to her, opened her left side, took out her heart and carried it with him, so that in reality she no longer perceived it in her breast. This vision was striking and her attendant symptoms agreed with it so well, that when she spoke of it to her Confessor, she assured him that she really had no heart. Her Confessor began to laugh, and rebuked her for saying anything of the kind, but she only renewed her assurance. “Really, Father,” she said to him, “as far as I can judge of what I experience in my
person, it seem to me that I have no heart. The Lord
appeared to me, opened my left side, drew out my heart, and
went away.” And as her Confessor declared to her that it
would be impossible to live without any heart, she answered
that nothing was impossible with God, and that she had a
heart no longer. Some days later, she was in the Chapel of
the Church of the Friar Preachers, in which the Sisters of
Penance of St. Dominic assemble: she remained there along
so as to continue her prayer, and was disposing herself to
return home, when on a sudden she saw herself environed
with a light from Heaven, and amid this light, the Saviour
appeared to her, bearing in His sacred hands a Heart of
vermillion hue and radiating fire. Deeply affected with this
presence and splendor, she prostrated herself on the ground.
Our Lord approached, opened anew her left side, placed in it
the Heart which He bore, and said to her, “Daughter, the
other day I took they heart, to-day I give thee mine, and this
will henceforth serve thee.” After these words he closed her
breast, but as a token of the miracle, he left there a cicatrice
(a scar) that her companions have frequently assured they
had seen…

Is this story true? I don’t know, but what it illustrates is what
our lessons for today, this Fifth Sunday in Lent are about—a
change of heart, of not holding onto our lives so tightly that
we los God, and therefore lose who God created us to be,
our true selves. This is where we have God’s law written on
our hearts rather than on tablets of stone or written on a
piece of paper. This is the new of the covenant, that we will
not need the written words on tablets or bronze to love God
and our neighbor, but that they will be burned into our
hearts.

Sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? Perhaps that is why
throughout history, we human beings have often preferred
hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. But, a time is coming says
the Lord, our God… This future language, but also past and
present language.

How do you, how do we, imagine the future? Many of our
movies depict a dystopian future and an apocalyptic
cataclysm as inevitable. Think Mad Max, or the Terminator,
or Divergent, or the Book of Eli. It looks like we are heading
to a terrible, hopeless, dismal future, as a result of our own
greed and selfishness.

Perhaps it is because so often that our hearts are stone that
we assure ourselves of this dystopian future, or we long for a
past that always looks and acts as if it were the epitome of
perfection. Our day-to-day lives are often filled with what
may seem like drudgery, and wo we look back over where
we have traveled and imagine, whether this was really the
way it was or not, that things were so much better back then
in the good old days. This is the danger of the idolatry of
nostalgia. Do we really want to go back to a time before
dishwashers, and before pickle ball, and before solitaire
online? I am being facetious here, and could mention much
darker or difficult things from our past. Sometimes we grant
those of the pas some kind of super hero status and forget to
look at what is right in front of us.

We can also idolize the present. Nothing that has come
before this moment is worth anything, or we can be so
completely dissatisfied with everything the way that it is—
being stuck in a present fear—is also something that fails us.
We have the future with God though! It is not that we pin all
our hopes on an elusive future, decrying all that has gone
before us and wishing the present away so that the future,
that bright shiny future where all will be well, where there are no failures, where there are no difficulties, where there is
nothing but butterflies and roses hurries up and gets here!
No, it is the hope and faith that God brings to us with which
we appreciate the past, live in the present, and are able to
move forward into the robust promise of God’s future. And
ours.

Today’s lesson from Jeremiah reminds us that we shall
know God. We shall know God and not just know about
God or know of God, because God’s law is written on our
hearts. Because our hearts of stone will be hearts of flesh.
Today’s Gospel from John brings to mind something that is
credited to poet W. H. Auden. “Auden once remarked that
Jesus’ conception of glory differed so radically from
anything that has ever passed as common-sense knowledge
that it rendered his witness peculiarly persuasive.”
This means that Jesus is really difficult for us to swallow
often. Who ever heard of loving our enemies? Who ever
heard of giving someone the shirt off our backs as well as
giving them our cloak when they asked for it? Who ever
heard of someone saying, “Father forgive them they know
not what they do?” Absurd!

If Jesus doesn’t disturb us, perhaps it is because we have
remade him in our own image. He forgives us, but doesn’t
ask us to really change. He doesn’t take us out of our
comfort zone. He doesn’t ask us to have God’s law written
in our hearts! Jesus did though!
Still, He really didn’t like the fact that he was going to his
death on the cross. We see Jesus in the Garden at
Gethsemane asking for this cup to be taken from Him. He’s
not happy about it, but he is resolved. We may not be happy
about the law being written in our hearts because we have to
chane, but are we resolved? Are we resolved to having our
hearts of stone turned to hearts of flesh? Are we resolved to
allowing Jesus in enough to crack that stone open, in order
to know him and not just know of him or about him?
And yet, God is there with us, through it all, not one dogged
footstep in front of us, or one dogged footstep behind us, but
right there with us, every step of the way, just like with
Jesus. God brings hope from despair. God brings flesh from
stone, God brings resurrection from death. God’s law is
written on our hearts. We know God and not just of Him or
about Him. And we move forward, into the future, in the
direction that we are meant to. Amen.