Into My Heart
Into My Heart
April 30, 2017 Maple Grove UMC
Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Today's gospel reading is about a journey. It’s presented as a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. But hard as they’ve tried, scholars have never identified a place called ‘Emmaus.’ Which means, I think, that Luke is not reporting a literal journey, but a spiritual journey. The journey to Emmaus is a journey from the head to the heart.
There’s a difference between hearing about the resurrection and experiencing it, a great difference between knowing about the resurrection and being changed by it. Before Jesus came and walked with them, the two disciples had already heard all about the resurrection. The women had told them about angels who said Jesus was alive. Other disciples had confirmed what the women described. But this knowledge did not pull the two men out of their despair. Resurrection comes not when the story is apprehended by the mind, but when it penetrates the heart.
When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was in his mid-30s, he was already an ordained priest, he’d been a professor of New Testament, he’d served as a parish pastor and been a missionary to America. He knew more about the faith we ever will. And yet he was restless, unhappy. Until one evening in 1738 Wesley wrote in his journal, "I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”1 After years of preaching and teaching, the gospel had made its way from Wesley’s head to his heart.
The two disciples had also heard the good news, but they too remained restless and unhappy. Not until they had walked with the risen Christ, not until he had opened the Scriptures to them, not until they had been at Table with him, did it sink in. Looking back, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us" while he was with us? Burning hearts—that’s how you know that Jesus is real. A burning heart--that’s how new life and hope are born.
And yet we often guard our hearts for all we’re worth. Wesley kept Christ at arm’s length for 35 years. It’s far easier for me to talk about Jesus than to place my own heart in his hands. Don Ackerman attends Maple Grove with his young family. He teaches ROTC at Capital University, and kind of like a chaplain he gathers ROTC students each week at his home for fellowship and Bible tudy. "College students love Bible study," he told me." But he went: "Yeah, they're always up for studying the Bible with their minds. What they don't want to do is engage their hearts. They don't want to let God change their lives." The longest journey in the world, they say, is the eighteen inches from the head to the heart.
Yet even so those two disciples found themselves with burning hearts, the presence of Christ so real it couldn't be denied. We may guard against that, yet it's also what we most deeply long for. And sometimes it happens--Christ comes crashing through and our hearts burn within us. On the one hand, whenever this fire happens, it's always God's doing, not our own—we can't make it happen. But on the other hand, there are ways of "stoking the fire."2 So if you, too, long to have a burning heart, to feel the life-changing presence of Christ, here are three ways of stoking the fire.
Practice hospitality to strangers. The two disciples had arrived at their destination. This man they'd been traveling with was, they thought, a perfect stranger. And he seemed to have somewhere else to go. But to their credit, they said to this stranger, "Come on, stay with us. It's getting late." And so it was they came to eat with, to spend the evening with . . . none other than the risen Lord.
In this age of suspicion and fear, how reluctant we are to invite strangers in. How hard it is, after a certain age, to make new friends. Yet what if the stranger we fear and suspect is none other than Jesus come to change our lives? What if it takes a new friend to set our hearts on fire? One way of stoking the fire is to practice hospitality. You just never know which stranger may be Jesus.
A second way of stoking the fire is to acknowledge your brokenness. When someone says, "How are you?", you're supposed to assume they don't really want to know. Right? You're supposed to smile and say, "Fine, thanks." But of course we're not fine, not always. So when Jesus met these two forlorn disciples and said, "How you doing?", they broke the rules. They told him how they were doing, at great length, all of it was sad. And their brokenness was Jesus' way in to their hearts. He was known to them, Luke says, not in toughness or strength, but in the breaking of bread. Our brokenness is Jesus' way into our hearts. Acknowledge it and he can heal it.
One more: Jesus engages those two disciples in what we would call worship—he opens the Scriptures with them and joins them at Table in what amounts to Holy Communion. Word and Table—worship--are the ways we know come to know Christ. Oh, I'm painfully aware that worship doesn't always touch every heart. But one thing is for sure: wherever two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is there, and any road can be the Emmaus road, the road to an open heart.
There are words we say when we come to the Table:
"The Lord be with you," I say.
And you respond, "And also with you."
And then I say, "Lift up your hearts."
And you say, "We lift them up to the Lord."
So let's try it. Not only say it, but do it: My friends, lift up your hearts: We lift them up to the Lord. And again, My friends, lift up your hearts: We lift them up to the Lord.
If you long for the fire of Jesus, then you've got to take the journey from the head to the heart: practice hospitality to strangers, let him know your brokenness and pain, and lift up your heart. I want to bring the screen down now, and suggest two other ways to stoke the fire of Christ. Let's sing together the little prayer with which I started this sermon: into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. And then I want you to hear about a spiritual retreat, open to all, called The Walk to Emmaus. Ready to sing?
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley, accessed 4/28/17.
2 Gerrit Scott Dawson, Heartfelt: Finding Our Way Back to God (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1993), 148-53.