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Wednesday
Sep052018

Heartlands

 

HEARTLANDS

Mk. 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

9/2/18

This morning, my last Sunday at Saint Andrew's, I want to talk about the heart, or more specifically, the landscape of the heart. Today Jesus tells us, "For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Now, how many of you have a namesake saint, someone who shares your name? It used to be customary to name children after saints, e.g.: Mary, Joseph, Margaret, etc. and for people to have a patron saint, one who watched over you.

Last Monday was the Feast of St. Bartholomew, more or less my patron saint. He was a disciple, but not much is known about him. Sometimes he is called “Nathaniel.” (But that’s all right, my mother-in-law, Mary, and my father-in-law, Paul, were called Gladys and Charlie.) St. Bartholomew may have journeyed to India, or he may not. He may have been a martyr, or he may have died of old age. He may have been significant, or he may have not have done much at all. There is a church in New York named after him, but no one really knows why. Moreover, no one can figure out whether the church is wealthy or broke. So St. Bartholomew is really, my kind of guy.

Although I am called, Bart, my full name is Bartlett. So in a sense I am not really named after Bartholomew. In fact my Swedish grandfather's name was originally Bartelson, which means "son of Bart". My grandfather, Fred Bartelson, came over from Sweden in the late l800's, was a harness maker, but worked in a factory as a cabinetmaker. His boss couldn't pronounce Bartelson, so he called my grandfather Bartlett. Why "Bartlett" was easier to pronounce than "Bartelson", I'll never know. I do know, however, that "Bart" means, "beard". Hence Bartelson means "son of the man with the beard." So my genealogy goes back to a man with a beard. That is kind of weird, since I do not have much facial hair and no matter how hard I try, I can't grow a beard. Instead of having a full bushy beard like Eric the Viking, I look like Frito Bandito. It is over this landscape of my heritage and genealogy that my patron saint, Bartholomew, resides.

Now the point of my anecdote is that our lives are shaped both by our genetic heritage, such as our genes and DNA, and by external forces, such as economics, language, social conditioning, and the mores and folkways of society. On the one hand, Fred Bartelson had the genetic components of Swedish black moods, plus amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other physical attributes. But Fred was also shaped by economics and even ended up changing his name. The landscape of Fred's heart was shaped by external and internal factors, including the Swedish Lutheran Church. The results of Fred's life, his virtues and vices were likewise shaped by internal and external forces. What I am saying may seem obvious and part of modern scientific theories of human nature and behavior. But it is really quite ancient, and goes back at least to the time of Jesus.

Jesus' disciples were criticized for eating with unwashed hands. The issue was not hygienic cleanliness, but ritual behavior. The Jews understood themselves as a people with a strong genetic heritage, plus a covenant heritage of observing the Torah. Their nation had been disciplined repeatedly for disobeying the will of God, for not keeping the Law. To live in a right relationship to God meant to keep the moral, priestly, social laws, doctrines, and teachings. Similar to those Jews who keep Kosher today, the Jews of Jesus' time valued maintaining the sacred laws of their tradition as over against the secular and profane world.

Jesus does not denigrate ceremony or tradition. Rather he censures His critics for playing "Gotcha" and for hypocrisy. Jesus kept Passover; He went to the temple, read the Torah and taught with other rabbis in the synagogue. But Jesus went farther. He broke with those around Him by asserting that one must not be tied down by ceremonial laws and rituals. Genetic heritage, to be a Jew, was important. To follow tradition and the Law was also important. But what was most important was for one to live in the presence of God. A person is made holy or whole by that presence, not by racial heritage or traditions. If one's heart is unhealthy, unholy, then one will violate the Ten Commandments and commit adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy, etc. The disciples, St. Bartholomew and the others, who follow Jesus, are living in the presence of God incarnate. The landscape of their hearts is being transformed by God's love and forgiveness and by the Holy Spirit present in Jesus Christ. That landscape is eventually transformed also by bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.

Throughout the centuries, men and women, like you and me, have tried to live sincere, devout, and moral lives. Jesus Christ has been glorified in song and monument, in liturgy, and ritual. In reaction, reform movements have stripped away all that to the bare essentials. There has been a constant ebb and flow over the heartland of the Church. By the grace of God, the Church has endured because of the realization by men and women, saints, that it is the presence of God, it is the power of the Holy Spirit, it is the bread and wine, it is the pulse of the life of Christ in our lives that count most, not the laws, externals, nor our Christian birthright.

You and I know that to be healthy and productive individuals we need a strong constitution. good genes, good DNA, and good natural ability. It takes all of that to handle the responsibilities of our children, our work, and our emotions. It is also necessary that we follow good habits and be intellectually and morally educated if we are to be successful in our lives and in our relationships with others. And yet we constantly screw up. We cheat, lust, swear, yell at our spouse and children, and stomp upon respectable behavior. We violate one or more of the Ten Commandments with regularity.

What Jesus taught 2,018 years ago, what the Church still maintains, is that there can be and there must be conversion. Conversion can be sudden, like St. Paul, or gradual, as with the disciples and other saints. The landscape of the heart is composed of internal and external factors. That landscape can only be changed and made productive through God's action, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. If not, the fruits of the landscape of an unchanged heart are fornication, theft, murder, adultery, pride, greed, etc.

From the time of our baptism, you and I sin, fail and are always in the process of Christian formation. At baptism we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Throughout our lives we are not alone, dependent only upon our own internal and external resources. At baptism we are promised the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God in our lives. We are assured that our spirit will at the time of physical death join with the spirit of the saints who has gone before in the presence of God, the source of life and of Spirit. At baptism we are called to be one of the saints of God, to be like our namesake, or like our patron saint. Some of us are called to dramatic conversion, others to conversion by nurture, all of us to repentance and forgiveness.

In times of trouble, it is appropriate for you and me to turn to the secular world for help, to social workers and psychologists, to lawyers, and doctors, and even Swedish chefs. We should draw upon our own inner resources of intuition, talent, and intelligence. Our hearts can be especially open to the help of others and to self-help when our hearts have been prepared by the sacraments and the Holy Spirit, and are open to God. Encouraged by the example of the saints, we can rejoice in the forgiveness and love of God.

Just as the landscape of our hearts needs to be open to the presence of God, so too does that of our parish. St. Andrew’s needs always to be open to God's presence. Our history, our liturgy, our mission, our fellowship are important. But first, last and always we need to be Christo-centric, to focus on God's presence in Jesus Christ in our life.

Likewise, I believe the health of society and the world depends to a great extent upon an awareness of the power and presence of God. A society that is secular at best and profane most of the time is a society with a corrupt soul. The fruits of such a society are fornication, murder, theft, greed, etc. There should be a separation of church and state in our society. But we also need to be aware of the blessings and demands that God makes upon us as a society and as a people to love, heal, bless, respect, and support one another.

Being Bartlett, grandson of Bartelson, looked after by St. Bartholomew is kind of neat and it is an important part of my heritage. But what leads you and me towards sainthood is not just our internal and external connections but rather having hearts, which are open to the Holy Spirit, and to that which is good, true, and beautiful. To let our conscience be our guide is not enough. Jesus calls you and me to follow the commandments of God, and to be Christ to our neighbor and to the world. If you and I want to strive to be a saint in today's world, to be a keeper of the heartland of the family, society, the nation, then we need to rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to allow the heartland of our lives to be recreated by the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is what I sought to preach while I have been here. “Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord.” Amen.  –Fr. Gage-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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