An Affair of the Heart

March 25 — Fifth Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34

A tattoo is a serious commitment. What if you change your mind? You can spend thousands on laser treatments. You’ll still have a mark where the ink used to be.

Tattoos hurt. That’s what scares most people away. After the sunburnt feeling, the memory of the needle lingers. I know first hand. I celebrated my 50th birthday with a Celtic tree of life on my right shoulder. (Tattoos are addictive. I may not wait until my 60th to get another one. I have another shoulder, after all.)

God says through Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” That may sound like God’s going to make us feel like doing God’s will. With the Holy Spirit’s help we’ll just know what God wants us to do. We’ll read the Bible with our hearts, not our brains.
That’s not it at all. Jeremiah imagines God tattooing us with the word. Inking the law under our skin. Onto our hearts. So it becomes part of us. We can never forget it. When we try to forget it, we have no excuse. The mark on our hearts is witness for the prosecution. Our only hope is God’s forgiveness. God’s forgetfulness.

We’re marked for life as God’s covenant partners. We can try to run away from it, try to live from the neck up or the waist down. Nothing works.

There’s no escape from the joy or the pain of faithful living. As Saint Augustine said so long ago, “Our hearts are restless ‘til they rest in you, O Lord.” The indelible mark that can seem like such a burden is the sign of our freedom.

Some people think we Presbyterians are all duty and no freedom. All head, no heart. They, and we, need to know John Calvin had a motto: Cor meum immolatum tibi offero, domini, prompte et sincere. “My heart aflame I offer you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.”

There’s passion, love, joy, and heart. We Calvinists should recover Calvin’s emblem. Not a burning bush, but an open hand with a flaming heart in its palm. That’s worth a tattoo. At least an invisible tattoo, on the inside, if not the outside.

Living in covenant with God is an affair of the heart.

By and large we’ve bought the culture’s definition of “heart.” Mushy-gushy-achy-breaky-alternately-faithful-and-fickle heart. The focus of a faith that’s all about feelings, individual experience, and mountaintop moments. The currency of the sawdust trail. The stuff of soap operas and Nicholas Sparks novels. Few of us ever know the faith, or the romance, of that kind of heart. To God, it would be like writing on Jell-o.

In the Bible, all the stuff we say rests in the heart is in the stomach. The bowels, actually.
The biblical heart is where the will resides. Where we hold our values. Thought and feeling, brain and bowels, meet the test of truth in the heart. Sometimes the heart stands for the soul, the true self. The heart can turn to stone. Become false and deceitful. The heart can be transformed. The heart can come ablaze with passion for God’s righteousness.

God can work in, and on, the heart. With or without our cooperation.

The heart can be moved with that most godlike of motives, compassion. So can the gut. But it’s the heart that takes us into compassionate action.

God says through Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” Calvin said, “My heart I offer you, O God.” Christian freedom is a paradox. When we realize our hearts are our own, set free from bondage to sin and death, we know the best we can do is offer them back to God. Promptly. Sincerely.

Not in the interest of earning interest! But as an investment of our whole selves in the best life possible.

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About Laurence DeWolfe

Rev. Dr. Laurence DeWolfe is minister at Glenview, Toronto.