The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through the Word, and what came into being in the Word was life and light, which cannot be overcome. The Word became flesh, and we have seen its glory. Though we cannot see God, though the glory of God defies language we might hope to understand, nevertheless the heart of God has been made known by the Word.
The Gospel of John is the story of what happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus. Spoiler alert: What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is foolishness for those of us who desire rationalizations and wisdom. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is weakness to those of us who hope for strength and works righteousness. What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed is mystery for those of us who calculate signs and hedge our bets.
What happens when the heart of God is plainly revealed by the life and flesh of Jesus is foolishness and weakness and mystery, because the heart of God is a jealous heart (Ex 20). The jealous heart of God is the kind of heart that will chase down love and claim love and cling to love wherever it might be found: in the wilderness or the temple, at weddings and on deathbeds, sitting under a tree or hiding itself in parables.
The heart of God heard the ancient Israelites crying out from their enslavement in Egypt and broke with love. In a jealous rage, the heart of God swore to break Pharaoh’s heart as well if that’s what it took to free the people. God took Moses – who, by the way, probably thought that his life was faithful enough, because every day he loved his wife and his kids and he worked hard tending to the sheep so that he could contribute to the well-being of the tribe – but God surprised Moses, overwhelmed Moses, tipped the tables of his contentment, and said, “This is now the love I need from you.”
Out of a broken heart full of love, God brought the ancient Israelites out from slavery, guided them across the Red Sea, led them and fed them daily through the wilderness. Time and time again God delivered the people, renewed their hope, strengthened their courage, loved and loved and loved. Then God said, “See how my heart has broken for you. Now listen, for this is how your heart must break for me:
- You will not love other gods more than me.
- You will not use my name’s power for your own power.
- You must break your ego when it believes that it can be like me; remember that the work I have done in six days, you cannot do in seven.
- You will not let your heart be more consumed by your relationships with one another than with me – whether in rage or idolization or even appreciation.”
In the ten commandments, the heart of God revealed itself to be full of power and very much jealous in love. Upon hearing this, two verses after today’s reading ends the ancient Israelites responded by saying to Moses, “Did we say that we were longing to hear God’s voice? We were definitely wrong about that. Let’s not do that again. Moses, you can approach the smoking mountain, you can listen to the thunder and the lightening, we will stand safely over here.”
We are grateful to have the heart of God beating for us. We can be easily overwhelmed to know what the heart of God requires of us. How can the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and the actions of our lives be found acceptable by that Gaze of Love that does not miss any single one of our faults?
It is foolishness that we hope to try to return any measure of love to the One Who Loves Us. Yet we gather here because we are called to try:
- called to love God through worship and song and prayer;
- called to love God by being a community rather than individuals; called to love God by examining our lives and walking in new ways;
- called to love God by straining our own hearts to understand the witness of the stars that tell of God’s glory.
Like Moses, we believe that we are being faithful in our daily diligence to love our families, to be honest in our work, to connect with our church, to represent God’s goodness to the world. We give our gifts to God. We build an altar out of our prayers. We support our friends. We contribute money where it is needed. We lift our voices against injustice. Isn’t this what it looks like to love God?
Yet no matter our diligence, whether we believe we have been faithful or we find ourselves flailing & failing in faith, the jealous heart of God still and certainly interrupts our routines of love and turns the tables on our habits of faith and confronts our weariness:
- testing to know if our hearts are not in fact for sale to every fleeting whim & passion & angst that comes our way;
- searching to know whether our lives and our relationships and our religion and our money are not all bartered for the sake of security rather than given over for the sake of love;
- requiring us to examine – not so much if we love well, because surely we all love genuinely and deeply – but whether we love enough and whether our hearts might be stretched, broken even, so that more love might find a home within them and pour out of them.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of contentment that we resist that call to heartbreak out of which we might love more: we are satisfied with the networks of love & relationship around us, and we have wisely measured a tithe of our love that we give back to the community. In our contentment and routine, we fail to realize that God is calling us to foolishness with our love.
Sometimes it’s an overexposure to the world’s brokenness that we protect our own broken hearts a little more closely, hoping to rebuild our hearts’ strength despite Christ’s example of love in weakness. When you’ve worked so hard to repair your own heart’s breaking, faith can look like a callous more than it looks like love.
Sometimes in the busyness of faith we inadvertently begin to calculate how much heart we can give and when – “On Tuesdays when I take my friend to lunch, that’s my capacity for opening my heart that day because she will talk my ear off. On Wednesdays, my heart’s commitment is to the choir. On Saturday, my heart’s offering is spent on tutoring.” We forget the vast mystery of God’s heart that flashes across the sky and cannot be contained in a schedule.
Sometimes – a lot of times – our hearts are just easily distracted. We think we’re being faithful to God throughout our days, like the Passover pilgrims believed they were being faithful to God by traveling to the temple and exchanging their coins for temple currency so that with the temple currency they could buy doves & cattle & sheep for the faithful offering. And so each day we try to be prayerful: as we read the headlines and run our errands and write some email and notice that no one has taken him off Twitter yet and wonder where is the sanity to write laws so our children can study without fear and calling our loved ones and praying at the dinner table and did anyone remember to buy cat food and we tell ourselves that this is simply the chaos of life through which we love, but in the meantime Jesus is throwing tables to catch our attention so that he say, “Would you please stop chasing cows & birds & sheep through your life and calling it faith? I’m simply asking you to love.”
What happens when the jealous heart of God is made flesh and dwells among us?
That heart drives out everything that is not love, and if we are willing, breaks our hearts so that they might be made new with more room. The breaking has a different look and feel for all of us. Hearts can be broken open by joy, not just pain. Hearts can find the peace of foolishness in the face of difficult challenges. Hearts can stumble over ego or skip into a new adventure. For all of the ways that our hearts can break, for all of the ways that our lives can be turned upside down like tables, whether by God’s hand or by the world’s whims, I know that the renewal and expansion of our hearts never happens alone: God’s love never leaves us alone. God’s love within our hearts is not nurtured alone, not remembered alone.
Months – years – after Jesus turned tables and forecast the temple’s destruction & renewal, when the disciples had their own worlds turned upside down by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, they remembered this moment (John 2:22). They remembered it together, and because of that, they were able to love together.
Nothing comes before loving God. Every bit of love and hope and faithfulness and boldness and creativity that we might strive to show begins with & comes out of loving God.
In the beginning was the Heart, and the Heart was with God, and the Heart was God. And we have seen its glory.