Life Sunday 2019 LSB #’s 613,571, 918
Text – Ezekiel 18:31-32
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, & live.”
LISTEN TO THE HEART
Back in the 1980’s a medical drama aired on television that was not as widely watched as it was critically acclaimed. It dedicated itself to getting characters developed, & to presenting correct medical technology & jargon. In one memorable episode, a man was critically injured & despite heroic efforts to save his life, he was declared brain dead.
His grieving wife was presented with the option to give his organs for transplant & she compassionately gave her permission. Her husband was kept on life support, donor recipients were notified, & several hours of painful waiting followed for the wife as the procedures were completed.
Late that night, she asked to meet the wife of the man who received her husband’s heart. In a sobbing embrace the two met, one with tears of grief, the other with tears of joy. The widow made a final request. She asked if she could go into the ICU & sit alone with the heart recipient for a few moments. The family consented & she entered into the dimly lit room.
With tears flowing from her eyes she gazed down at the unconscious patient. Then with tender care, she slowly placed her head on the patient’s chest & listened to her husband’s heart beating within a different man’s chest. Nothing was said. She wanted to hear for herself that part of her husband was still alive.
Listening to the heart – goes on in emergency rooms & care facilities across our land every day as doctors & nurses gauge life simply by that beating sound emanating from the chest. If you didn’t know, a baby’s heart begins its audible beat about 18 days into the pregnancy & that wonderful sound continues until the day that death occurs. Listening to the heart goes on in almost every doctor’s appointment, with physicians trying to hear any telltale signs of problem or illness. Listening to the heart is often a marvel for young children who place their ears on each other’s chest.
Listening to the heart is a wonder to new moms & dads who remember the day the ultrasound picked up not only the audible beat but also the image of their unborn child’s pulsating heart. Listening to the heart is literally listening to life.
For Yahweh, life is what Creation was all about: “In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth. The earth was without form & void, & darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). If ever there was a time pregnant with expectation, this was it! God spoke to creation & it came to be.
By the 6th day, all the preliminaries were complete & the pinnacle of it all waited. God was about to create the 1st man, Adam, & out of him He would later create the 1st woman, Eve. They were not just part of creation – they were the reason for it.
Man’s life was the sacred piece which gave sun, moon, planets, oceans, plants, animals, light & dark, & all other things their purpose. It was all about man. It was all about life.
How things have changed! Today, as determined by the ‘committee of society,’ creation itself is worshiped with plants & animals being given the same pinnacle role as mankind. The life of man is being reduced by creation’s hunt to find a lesser place for him & certainly not at the center where God placed him.
And in that hunt for its rightful place, mankind in its arrogance challenges the Creator’s ownership of life. Pre-born babies, the elderly, & the infirm are terminated by choice for reasons of convenience, cost & comfort, & that’s not the half of it. While beating hearts are good enough proof in medical circles for life, we know that it isn’t good enough for God. The hearts he gave Adam & Eve were not corrupt. They were perfect organs of life meant to beat eternally. In man’s soul desire hid, & when he acted on it the victim was life itself. Adam’s heart kept beating, but his soul was living only on a gracious promise. The same is the case for all people.
After The Fall, St. Paul clarifies that the great & terrible equalizer for the human race is death because of sin. “[T]here is no distinction,” he says, “for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23). We deserved nothing good from God & we should have been left to waste eternity’s promise over the sad course of a human life span.
From a righteousness perspective, none of us can hear a heartbeat in our chest, because nothing good of our own beats there. This is where many people who care to believe something about God find in Him a distant being of anger & vengeance. They somehow listen to God’s chest & find it silent for them – no life, no chance, no hope.
So, with fatalistic abandon they pursue the only dreams & life they can imagine, one focused on self, even if it is selfishly bent on doing good & serving earthly life. Without God, human hearts have no other function than to beat toward their day of death.
But listen to the heart of God.
Isn’t it interesting that God chose to incarnate His Son into the form of a 2nd Adam? Christ Jesus, like us, had a heartbeat early in His mother’s pregnancy. He too had a heartbeat all throughout His life, which fell silent after innocently enduring the tortures of the cross so that you & I could be redeemed from our certain destruction.
Some might say Jesus’ death was premature. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His loving mission was to let His heart be stopped at a precise moment in time so that His life might be freely given in grace. This to make your beating heart pump with new life – His life. Listening to the heart of God is what the Bible is all about. Paul wrote in Galatians, “…because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:6) God chose the center of our life to be the place that His Spirit inhabits. That makes Baptism special, because there, in the water & by the Word, Jesus’ heart is being washed into us.
There, in the water & by the Word, Jesus is personally calling us into God’s original plan for the 1st man & the 1st woman. The plan of the Holy Trinity is simple: A wonderful communion of Creator & created, based on love from the Father, life from the Son, & care from the Spirit, all for you.
Have you stopped a beating heart? Perhaps you’ve done this quite literally or perhaps you’ve wanted to do this to someone or to yourself. Maybe you’ve joined the world in wrongly challenging God & finding other life more precious than man’s. God has a message for you:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31). Confess your sins & admit that by them death has ruled you. Come clean on your selfish desires & you’ll be surprised.
Before the echo of your confession stops, you will hear God’s beating heart in the words of the absolution. “…turn, & live” (18:32), declares the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. Your sins are forgiven! Your penalty canceled. Your shame & grief released, no matter what you have done.
With loving kindness unknown anywhere else, Christ has made Himself your heart donor & you have new life. It comes with the highest worth but with no price. Listen to it not for new rules, but rather for God’s love for you. Such a resurrection of your heart from the death of sin is real. After three days of silence in the tomb, Jesus’ heart started beating again & it beats still as He rules in heaven & walks with you in your new life given through faith at Baptism. Your life will never end, even when your heart stops. God has graciously preserved you not as a perfect specimen, but instead as His perfectly loved child. He has invited you to join your new heart with His to beat loudly with life & for life in this dead world.
You can speak up for the pre-born, or participate in the debate about life policy on all levels. You can assist the elderly in persevering in life until their heart stops in the fullness of their time, however long that might be; or you can advocate for life even in the body’s suffering, pain & distress. You can do it with your new, beating heart of love.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9a) It is true & He assures us that in faith we will remain in that love in this life & the next.
The woman entering into that hospital emergency room wanted to listen to her husband’s heart beat with life one more time. We sinners put our ears to the Word & to the Sacraments for there it is impossible to miss the beat of our new, loving heart, sure evidence of the fullness of everlasting life that God has given to us.
The world has changed when it comes to life, there is no doubt. But God has not changed His mind or His mercy. His Son’s life is yours, now & forever! Listen to the heart of God & there you will find your life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save, that all who would in Him believe should everlasting life receive. Christ Jesus is the ground of faith, who was made flesh & suffered death; all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone. Amen. LSB 571:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet