October 9, 2016
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
St. Timothy United Methodist Church
Hebrews 3:7-9New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Warning against Unbelief
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
as on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors put me to the test,
though they had seen my works
Hebrews 3:7-11The Message (MSG)
6-11 Now, if we can only keep a firm grip on this bold confidence, we’re the house! That’s why the Holy Spirit says,Today, please listen;
don’t turn a deaf ear as in “the bitter uprising,”
that time of wilderness testing!
Even though they watched me at work for forty years,
your ancestors refused to let me do it my way;
over and over they tried my patience.
And I was provoked, oh, so provoked
I said, “They’ll never keep their minds on God;
they refuse to walk down my road.”
Exasperated, I vowed,
“They’ll never get where they’re going
never be able to sit down and rest.”
Last week we talked about the work, the emphasis, and the plan of the human heart and briefly about how it functions.
We all know that without proper exercise, proper nutrition, and in some cases, the “proper gene pool” many of us are subject to heart disease, high cholesterol, and a host of other heart related problems. If we smoke, if we don’t exercise, if our “go to meal” is the Big Mac, Large Fries, and a Large Coke, then we heighten those risks as well.
When we get down to it, heart disease and cholesterol are just nasty!! My father, the heart attack, 10 by-pass story man, was a semi-professional baseball player, health education and PE teacher and looked at what happened to him!! Where is the justice? Where is the justification in living a clean and healthy smart life? My father, the health teacher, before and more so after his heart attacks, always left health text books, pictures, model hearts all around the house. Everywhere you looked, there was a picture of a heart either healthy or diseased. So you can imagine, my life as a middle and high school student was geared toward good heart care! Now in the late ’70’s the American Heart Association put out what was known as a low cholesterol diet. What it was, was a diet based on the taste and texture of cardboard! I drank powdered instant Carnation milk from the 6th grade to the day I graduated high school! We ate Ice Milk instead of Ice Cream. (I’d always sneak over to my friend Craig’s house, he was Catholic and they would go to the Dairy Barn every Saturday after Mass) Hence, my love for the Catholic Church runs deeper than some! We ate broiled fish, baked potatoes, enough salads to fill the state of California with lettuce for a lifetime. All in the name of a “heart healthy” life. Well, so far, it’s paid off. We found out years later, that my father’s cholesterol remained extremely high for a number of years and most of his cardiologists thought it was a genetic marker for his family.
So after graduating high school and headed to college, the watchful eye of the parent not anywhere near, my diet changed. I ate what most college students eat, a diet of unhealthy! I was so conditioned to good eating however, it took me awhile to venture too far off course. Fast forward to several years ago, my health overall good, over weight, and not exercising like I should, I visited my primary care doctor for a physical. Before we even started, the family history on the table, he said you know what to expect, don’t you? A week later, my blood work was back and I received a phone call from him. I knew, the news wasn’t going to be good. He said to me, “Mark, come back in, I want to re-do your cholesterol test.” He didn’t say it was high, I just knew it would be. Upon the revisit we re-tested, I got the same call. I could not get my combined cholesterol numbers above 122. My father’s numbers ranged in the 300’s when not treated. My doctor couldn’t believe it. He summoned my father’s records and sure enough, there was that much of a difference. As of today, my cholesterol is 127, with no medication.
What is the rhyme or the reason for such numbers? Such a difference in a family? As we look at stewardship this month, I want you to think about how “clogged” are your giving arteries? Not just financially, but in time and service? What is preventing you from giving?
Now, hear me people! I didn’t say there wasn’t a justified answer, but let’s evaluate how we see this scenario and what we can do to change it. In my family example, heredity and genetics has probably played a part in my families heart disease; that is something I can’t control. But there are things that we can control and move around in order that we can give.
In our text this morning from Hebrews we hear the warning utterance from the Holy Spirit “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden our hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years.”
Hearing the echo of the Psalmist at this point puts into perspective the understanding of God’s judgement on those who were not heading God’s word. But why were they not heading that Word? Was it because it was too hard to follow, not to their liking, or they just didn’t have time for to live out the command? My guess is that it was all three of those combined. Not one in particular, but all of those combined to make life more challenging to live in the faith.
Paul in this text is making the comparison between Moses and Christ; both being servants and models for the Holy life. Yet at the heart of this comparison is the current of opening our lives in service and giving to those around us when we hear the call! “do not harden your (our) hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day we had been tested.” You see the test had already come to the Hebrew people and Paul was so concerned about the continuation of Christ’s church that he was reaching back to the utterance they knew they would understand, “do not harden your hearts!”
In our lives, we find ways to “harden our hearts” based on our past history, our experiences in the church, and our experiences with God. We are not much different that the people Paul addresses in Hebrews and the people that the Psalmist is mentioning in respect to the rebellion. We find our own ways to “clog our arteries.”
We clog them with the notions of anger. We don’t like the way something is being done in our place of worship so we harden our hearts and other parts of our giving selves. We clog them with notions that “this isn’t the way “I” would do it! We clog them with the notion that “the church shouldn’t act this way.” Then we clog them with “poor planning” on our part. My friends, we can clog our “arteries of stewardship” in so many ways!! Some are like the genetic make up of the body, some are like what Paul and the Psalmist remind us not to NOT DO and that is harden our hearts with what we do!! We have a lot of control over hardening our hearts and our arteries, we have to be on a sacred stewardship diet in order to NOT harden them. It takes work, it takes planning, it takes discipline, not just genetics!
We are reminded that a great deal of this is up to us to control and not make decisions that harden our arteries, our life blood of giving of our gifts, time, talents, and service to the working of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
It’s interesting that in the final verse 9, the utterance ends with the notion that God, the Almighty has not been happy with the previous generation claiming, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.” Hence, the implication is that maybe, just maybe, the old ways were not always the “best ways”. That possibly the new ways of keeping our arteries clean and our hearts pumping are the best ways to give back to God. We must be like those on the cutting edge of heart conditioning, maybe the low cholesterol diet is not the best, but that circuit cardio training and a healthy diet may be even better. Or maybe, it’s a combination of all of them and with a dedicated heart and solid relationship with Jesus, then we come to understand the best ways to give back to God.
Again, our reminder this month is to “Give With our Whole Heart”! Not just part of it, but the Whole heart in all that we do, all that we give financially, and all that we do to refresh the life of St. Timothy’s and the life we lead with Jesus Christ.
Next week you will be in worship with a wonderful lay group of talented and called members of St. Timothy’s UMC. They will give you a shining example of what it means to “Give with Your Whole Heart”! The following week we will examine what it means to “live with a happy heart that makes the soul of our being good for God”.
Therefore, I ask you to prayerfully consider how you will offer your gifts for the following year as we move through October and examine both communally and individually, the need to give back to God in Jesus Christ with our Whole Heart!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.