Heart Health

Pentecost XIV – Proper 17 – August 30, 2015

Song of Solomon 2:8-3
Psalm 45: 1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27  

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Heart Health

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.


It’s good to be back! My summer plans got turned on their head by my sudden need for surgery, but all is well in the end, and I will say, once again, how grateful I am for all of the support that came my way, for all of the prayers and healing gestures that nourished me through a time of slow recuperation. Thank you. I am glad to be back here worshipping with you… here to wrestle with questions of faith, and religion…. seeking to mine the Gospel for God’s truth that should gets under our skin, that should challenge us, and work its way deep inside. The Gospel is always seeking to break us open in the very best way, to grow our hearts… that we may be well with God…willing and equipped to participate in this new thing that God is doing… even in the midst of all the turmoil and pain and despair that is in our midst in these challenging times.

Today’s lessons are about heart health. We heard the great love song from the Song of Solomon: “My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love my fair one, and come away… From today’s Psalm “My heart is stirring with a noble song.” From the letter of James… “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger… rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” … and the lesson from Mark’s gospel, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out our what defile.”

In the tech world there is the phrase: “garbage in, garbage out.” If you put tainted data into the system, you might well get gobbledy-gook as an output. Spiritually, Jesus flips this concept on its head. He says that no matter what goes in… no matter what our ears hear or our eyes see, the state of our hearts determines what comes back out in the world. If we pay little or no attention to our hearts, if we are unfamiliar with the deep places where God seeks to work in us, what may come out of that central processor that is our heart, has the potential to ugly and hurtful. Knee jerk reactions, the lack of attentiveness, a bypassing of the heart, is the problem. The challenge, therefore, is to invite God in, to spend time with God, to explore and get to know the inner landscape where God desires to work in us and to make us whole… though we may choose to pay scant attention. The challenge is to grow in awareness, to pay more attention, to participate with God in this life giving work… that we may achieve greater heart health …that God’s presence working in us and with us… will be reflected out into the world in all that we say and do.

Jesus has a habit of cutting right through the layers of religious practice that are superfluous, that are extraneous religious practices that do not point to the heart of the matter. The Pharisees try to trip Jesus up. They try to point out that his “religious credentials” do not hold up. … Isn’t it obvious? The disciples are not following the rules! Jesus is living by a different law and he, in no uncertain terms,points out that unwashed hands are not the problem. What goes in is not the problem. What comes out can reveal a desolation of the heart. A sick heart will not filter properly and will allow tainted, toxic words and deeds to spill out into the world.

The Gospel lesson says that “evil things come from within.” I cannot help but think that what is being described is the expression of deep unexamined pain that makes its way back out into the world. It is hard to be with pain, yet pain it is part of life, and some of us seem to have more than our share. The cross itself, Good Friday, is central to the story of our faith. But it is not the last word. We rejoice in being an Easter people celebrating God’s power to overcome pain and death. But we wouldn’t have Easter without first standing at the foot of the cross. To stay with Christ in that place, during the sorrowful days that lead to Easter, is to do heart work that welcomes God in… the God who know the whole spectrum of our human experience….who knows our deep pain and sorrow .To pause in this place… is to invite God to dwell ever deeper in us. When we see the inner beauty of a person shining through we recognize God’s good work at the very core of that person’s being. It is for us to welcome Christ inside, not simply as an abstract idea, but to invite God into those deep places where we may, ourselves, fear to go. To get heart healthy means that we need to come to know our own inner workings more intimately, to come into sync with the heart’s rhythms, to experience God’s holy and healing presence working in us.

A 14-year old girl was tired of hearing of the often tragic outcomes of victims of cyber- bullying that is a harmful, defiling output into the world. When young Trish Prabu read about the suicide of an 11-year-old Florida girl who had experienced unrelenting bullying, she decided that she needed to so something about the problem. In doing some research she learned that brains are not developed fully until a person is in their 20’s and that younger brains don’t have much of a buffering system. Trisha’s contribution was to develop a software application that she calls “ReThink.” The software application identifies words and phrases that might be considered offensive so that when a person types a message that is potentially hurtful, the computer recognizes the inappropriate message and prompts the display of prompt that pop-up screen that reads: “Are you sure you want to send that message?” Since Trish’s software application has been used out in the world researchers have found that teenagers, who were about to send a toxic message, change their minds 93% of the time when they were asked “Are you sure you want to send that message?” This imposed “pause” is effective, not only by preventing the transmission of a hurtful message… it also provides some subtle yet effective feedback to the would-be bully. The pause allows for awareness to be heightened and compassion to find a small entry inside.

There is a yoga instructor named Matthew, who became paralyzed from the waist down when he was 13 years old. The car accident paralyzed him killed both his father and his sister. Though his legs don’t work, Matthew experiences himself to be healed and whole. As a yoga instructor he helps others to become more familiar with their bodies, especially veterans of war who seek continued healing from their traumatic combat experience. In this work Matthew says that he has yet to encounter someone who, after becoming more aware of their body, of their physicality… in all of its frailty and grace… does not, at the same time, become more compassionate towards all of life.1 They become more aware of their whole selves, body, mind and heart.

The physical organ that lies in the center of our chest, pumping blood filled with nutrients necessary for life, symbolically represents the great integration of ourselves… the place where God seeks to do the work of healing and transformation within us. It is also the place from which our inner selves are reflected out into the world. The physical heart beats, at a resting rate, 60-100 times per minute… that is about 100,000 beats per day, and around 35 million beats per year. Between each and every beat there is a necessary pause during which the heart has time to fill with blood in preparation for for the next contraction. The pause is inherent and essential to the workings of the heart. To grow in heart health is to pay attention to this dynamic rhythm of action and pause.

We gather here together this morning to tend our hearts, our minds and our souls. We come here to take pause from the busyness of our lives… to pause and pay attention to God working in and among us… to be nourished in Word and Sacrament that the very life blood of our faith… Christ’s gift to us in the holy meal of bread and wine… may be taken in… that what we say and do in the world, will reflects God’s good working in us. It’s about heart health… and at the center of this heart health regime is a great feast, a holy table that welcomes all. We bring to this table the whole of ourselves… our pain, our brokenness, our fears our hopes, our gratitude, and our joy. We welcome Christ into us, the gift of abundant life. After all, when it comes to worship, we are what we eat. Let us pray:

Christ our savior,
whose feet touched our world,
and whose Word has touched our lives…
You beckon us in our brokenness and you gather us from the edges… You seek to heal us and make us whole.
Help us to open our hearts and welcome you

     ….that we may come to know, ever more, the flaming depths of your love…

     …and show forth that love in all that we say and in all that we do.

God of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name…


1 From Krista Tippet’s TED talk on Compassion.