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Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
May 13 2012


I need your help. Christianity is not a spectator sport and I need your participation. Shout out the conclusions to these phrases:

Absence makes the heart grow ... (fonder).
If something makes you feel happy inside, it warms what? ... (cockles of your heart)
You might approach me and say, “It is time that you and I have a little heart ... (to heart)
Speaking of the central idea I might say: “It is the heart of the ... (matter)
Be still my ... (beating heart)
If you are jealous, I might say to you: Eat your … (heart out)
A tremendous undertaking is not for who? ... (the faint of heart)
You have a heart of pure ... (gold)
I speak from my ... (heart)
I am hoping with all my ... (heart)
I love you with all my ... (heart)
(What) is where the heart is? (home)
Shakespeare’s Falstaff talks about having a heart of stone.
While Shakespeare’s Iago wears his heart, where? ... (on his sleeve)
Women: the way to a man’s heart is through his ... (stomach).
We speak of matters of the heart.
We say it is possible to die of a broken heart .
Cold hands, warm heart
Do something to your heart's content.

When we speak of a person with a kindred spirit, we might use a phrase from the Book of Samuel. Samuel, we are told, was “a man after God’s own ... heart”

Some circumstances will tug at our heartstrings, while others cause within us a heavy heart. At an all-you-can eat restaurant we can eat to our heart's desire. Persons or ideas that matter dearly to you are close to your heart ... or, even in your heart of hearts.

If you are in a bad patch it is my heart that goes out to you. I wouldn’t say, “Oh, dear, my head goes out to you” or “Oh, awful, my brain goes out to you.”I might, however, run to your assistance in a heartbeat.

The facts, however, are rather different. The fact is that it is the brain—your brain—-that is the center of the/your nervous system. From a philosophical point of view, what makes the brain special in comparison to every other organ is that it forms the physical structure that generates the mind.

Here is what Hippocrates wrote about the human brain: “... from the brain and from nothing else come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations.”
Yet, we speak of a person’s actions or words as heartfelt, not as cerebral-cortex-felt. We say of something tragic that it is heart-rending, not that it is mind-rending. And of a scene of tender affection, we might say that it is heart-warming. We would not say that it warms our brains.

The Bible says that repentance is measured by whether the person returns to God with “all their heart.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

In Luke 12:34, Jesus points out that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In the Book of the prophet Ezekiel God promises: “I will give you a new heart and put a new and right spirit within you; I will remove from you, your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

The Israelites believed that they were doing God’s will by being circumcised, but God shook her head, objected, and pointed out that Israel was still “uncircumcised in heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).

Jeremiah warns us that, when measuring our righteousness, it is our hearts that God searches, not any other part of us. (Jeremiah 17:10)

Speaking of the widow’s mite, Jesus explains that she gave “all that she had” “because of what was in her heart.” (Luke 21:1-4).

The story of the road to Emmaus: Jesus had been killed, horrifically, shamefully executed by the state. His disciples’ hearts sank to their feet.

In the wake of his death they were ready to abandon the three-year project upon which they had been embarked. With heavy hearts two of them make their way home toward Emmaus. Defeated and heart-sick, they are rehearsing the last few days, mulling them over, trying to understand where it had gone wrong, how they could have been so stupid, so misled.

A man, a stranger walks up to them and engages them. They tell him their heart-weary woes.

The stranger speaks. He opens to them the scriptures ... opening their hearts and minds to what had been closed to them.

At dinner that evening, the stranger “takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.” And, at the very instant that they recognize the stranger as Jesus, he disappears. But, they are left with this: the feeling they had had—visceral, memorable, the feel of their hearts burning within them ... an unusual elation. “Our hearts were on fire,” they recalled, “when he opened to us the scriptures.”

This was decidedly not an intellectual event ... it was not about intellectual comprehension. It was for them an experience, —a sensation ... a feeling, the feel of their hearts burning within them ... their hearts on fire ... a fire, by the way, so energizing and exciting, not only did it fuel them as they ran all the way back to Jerusalem ... it would fuel and recharged them through many years and divers trials.

What interpretations of scripture have caused your heart to burn within you?

I can speak for myself of those interpretations that have made my heart burn within me:

Michelangelo’s Pieta, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation and Handel’s oratorio, Messiah ... each and interpretation and translation of scripture that makes my heart burn within me ... they interpret the scripture with such truth and grace and power they set my heart on fire.

The Spiritual, Down by the Riverside, also sets my heart on fire. It was first sung by enslaved Africans working on plantations in the South during and after the Civil War ... that hideously bloody war. In the midst of war ... in the midst of hellish brutality—brother against brother—enslaved Africans composed and sang these lyrics:

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more ... The lyrics are a potent riff on the words of the prophet Micah:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines
and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid. (Micah 4:3-4)

Down by the Riverside is an opening of the scriptures that makes my heart burn within me.

When I read Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail—a riveting and gorgeous opening of the scriptures—my heart burns within me.

When I contemplate Archbishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee—it comes straight from the heart of scripture—my heart burns within me.

When this old New England congregation ... when these descendants of the Puritans, when you, God’s frozen chosen—no moving body parts in church ... when you who with hands on hips say you won’t, no never, check your brain at the door, you rationalists, you educated and erudite Christians ... when you throw rationality to the wind, when you raise arms and hands in a forest of blessing over the waters of baptism ... when you allow your bodies, flesh and bone, heart and soul to serve as conduits of God’s grace, I gotta tell you: it warms the very cockles of my heart.

And, when you danced in the Chapel on Mardi Gras ... When you were brightly clad, beaded and feathered ... and laughing and hugging ... when, for that Mardi Gras moment, your cares, your illnesses, your sorrows and burdens vanished ... my heart burned within me.

My heart also burns within me each year at this time when I revisit and reread Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers Day Proclamation ... itself, also a riff on and translation of scripture:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!

And this:

Our sons shall not be taken from us
to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

My heart burned within me on Thursday, May 10th in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve, the leader of the free world said aloud, before God and everybody, that he affirms equal marriage; when he spoke about his two daughters’ who have friends with two dads or two moms, how they think nothing of it ... it is for them natural and right … how he is learning to see this matter of the heart through their young eyes ... when the leader of the free world spoke movingly, convincingly and courageously about this matter of the heart—my heart leapt within me.

When I watched him speak and listened to his words—and when I reflected that he would not and could not have said what he said if it had not been for you, Old South, and churches like this who have studied the scriptures on this matter, studied and examine the scriptures, from Moses and the Prophets right through to the Book of Revelation ... who have strained and listened for the voice of our Still Speaking God ... churches like this who have spoken up and spoken out ... when I heard that affirmation from the leader of the free world, did not my heart burn within me?

Here is my promise to you—new comers and old timers, you curious and you committed ... you who are lost and you who are found, you mothers and you motherless children—if you sidle up to God, if you dip your toes into the waters of baptism and bury your nose in the pages of the Bible, if you come here often to God’s house ... and sojourn here with us in the company of the communion of saints ... if you listen with your heart to the music the choir prepares, and if you witness and participate with us as we undertake to interpret and translate the holy scriptures into mission and ministry, into mercy and justice, into music and beauty ... into food and housing and healthcare ... I gotta tell you: You, too, will feel what the disciples felt: your heart, too, will burn within you.

So don’t be afraid—you, God’s frozen chosen ... you who dare not, will not, cannot and should not, check your brains at the door ... you who are rational and learned—Don’t be afraid, Old South, to open not only your minds, but also your hearts to God’s burning, blazing, shaping, redeeming, refining and fearsome love.