Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Heart Trouble"

Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Psalm 18: 1-6, 16-19

      The Pharisees had come up into the region of Galilee from Jerusalem, to the coastal village

named Gennesaret; probably on special assignment from the temple authorities to scope out

Jesus and His disciples.  There they found Jesus ministering to the sick, and they were offended;

not so much by the fact that Jesus was healing the people.  What they were all bent out of shape

over – of all things – was soiled hands.  Jesus had a different matter in mind.  Jesus was most

concerned about soiled hearts.  Let’s step in for a closer listen to this exchange.

          (Read Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

      Amidst this mass of illness and need along the shores of Galilee, the Pharisees and scribes

were convinced that personal and societal problems could be solved by simply following all the

rules.  These days, we talk of “legislating morality;” passing laws which will make people do the

right things, and keep them from doing the wrong things.  Rules and laws are in place for good

reason, and are essential to the safety, stability, and security of any community.  But according to

Jesus, the basic problem with human beings is deeper than following the rules. 

It’s really a matter of heart trouble.  Strict adherence to rules and laws – the approach strongly favored by the

religious people of Jesus’ day [and the approach strongly favored by many upstanding American

citizens today] – may make one appear righteous on the outside.  But rules cannot, have not, and

never will transform the heart – the innermost being -- where the problem begins.

      I think it would be safe to say that every war fought throughout human history was somehow


ignited first in someone’s heart.  Every marriage that ever came to an end died first in someone’s

heart.  Every act of violence; every act of terror; every theft; every abuse of a helpless child;

every act of deceit; every betrayal; every mean, or sarcastic, or snotty word spoken was born first

in the heart.  So rules and laws may control and restrain us to an extent, and we need rules and

laws for just that reason.  But rules and laws cannot heal us where it matters most.

      There’s a story told by a missionary about an African village where the people suffered from

chronic illness over a number of generations.  The medical missionaries repeatedly treated the

victims’ maladies with the strictest regimens of antibiotics and other meds.  But as soon as the

treatment ended, the villagers became sick again.  Eventually, the doctors discovered that the

root of the problem was a contaminated well just outside the village from which a number of the

residents drew.  No amount of medication; no flawless application of best medical practice could

cure the people as long as their well was unclean.  Only when a new well was dug did the people

return to good health.  The sickness in the village was merely a symptom of a deeper sickness.

      It’s that way with all of us.  When you and I do things we regret – whether trivial or terrible –

the misdeeds themselves are only visible symptoms of a deeper problem.  And that is that our

hearts are too often far removed from God.  HDL and LDL, triglyceride levels, blood pressure and

blood sugar notwithstanding, this is heart trouble from which everyone suffers.


      Along with the book of Psalms being a great book of Hebrew poetry, many of the psalms

sprang from the innermost beings of people struggling to get close to God after having wandered

and suffered the consequences.  David and the other writers expressed the struggles and the

consequences in all kinds of ways.  As in Psalm 18, God is like a great rock in the burning desert.  If

we stay close, we can kneel in the shade of that rock.  But if we wander away, the sun will strike

us down.  And elsewhere, God is like a mother, cuddling and nursing her child.  But take the child

away from the mothers’ arms, and the child starves for lack of food and love.  God is like a spring 

of water in the dry wilderness.  Close to the oasis, there is lush green life and growth.  A few steps

 

away from the water’s edge, there is only baked, dead earth.

      How many of us find ourselves wearied by life; our spiritual lives baked and dry?  Do we ever

feel frightened and alone?  Have we even found it difficult to face ourselves in the mirror, feeling

defiled and soiled by some attitude, or habit, or addiction, or chronic behavior which seems to well

up from inside us and control our lives?  Perhaps it’s heart trouble.  In the whelm of life with its

work pressures, school pressures, financial pressures, family and relationship pressures, even pressures to adhere to all the rules,

deep inside we risk losing touch with the heart of God.  It’s not that we don’t believe in God, or don’t love God, or aren’t devoted to God. 

We simply allow the cares of the world to draw us away.  And from the heart which has lost its focus on God comes all manner of human ills: 

resentment, unforgiveness, greed, envy, selfishness, destructive anger, you name it.

      So the question is, if our hearts have wandered from God – and each of us can only answer for

ourselves if that is where we are – how do we return our focus?  For that alone can heal and

renew us from the inside out.  That alone can cleanse the heart of all the mess we don’t want or

need in there.  All the rules and laws in the world can’t heal the heart.  Only the light of our Lord’s

presence can accomplish that.  I would suggest three broad areas of action that can help bring us

back into a vital sense of God’s presence in us.

     The first is confession and praise.  This gets back to the fundamental issue of self-examination;

looking at ourselves as if in a mirror, and being honest about what we see….. not on the outside,

but on the inside.  Are we harboring things, feeding and nourishing them?  Are we hiding things,

and deceiving ourselves about them?  Are we pursuing things which are pulling us in a direction

away from God and godliness?  Again, we can only answer for ourselves.  But we must answer.

The mystery in this is that as we allow these things to be brought into the light – admitting them

to ourselves, to God, to a close friend or spiritual mentor, and commit to turning from them a special healing begins at once. 

It is not a healing which comes without some pain and struggle.

But that very pain and struggle is indicative of a closing gap between our hearts and the very

heart of the Almighty.  As in the missionary’s story, we may need to dig a new well [a spiritual

well], and fill it with clean water [the purity of Christ] to both restore us, and to keep us healthy.

Then we give thanks and praise to God for what God is doing, even while it is still in process and

not yet fully accomplished.  This keeps us focused on where we’re going as opposed to where

we’ve been, and to where we certainly don’t want to return.

     A second area of action would be daily prayer and Bible study.  I know.  Who has the time?

How can we hope to understand?  Rather than argue the spiritual advantages and benefits of

prayer and the reading and study of God’s written word – advantages and benefits I think you’ve

already heard about – I’ll just say that all of us manage to make time for what is important to us,

and do everything in our power to come to understand that which we believe is worth understanding. 

If our intent is to seek a closer relationship between our hearts and the heart of God, we can hardly move in that direction

without spending time talking to God, and allowing God to talk to us through the inspired word. 

It is often in this very process that the soiling of our hearts

is revealed.  It is just as often in this process that the Lord begins to gently (or maybe not so

gently) scrub our hearts clean.  We can apply the scour of all the rules and laws we want.  But it is

only in a heart-to-heart relationship with our Lord that we can hope to be cleansed. 

     Finally, there is community study and worship.  All of us are in this together. We’re all heart

patients.  Hopefully it is the desire of all of us to seek a closer relationship with the Lord; to get

 

our hearts beating in rhythm and in concert with the heart of Christ.  Another mystery of our faith

is that when we join with others – all of us getting our hearts in spiritual sync, and getting our

minds set upon mutual intent and purpose: to praise God and be equipped for service – there is

a bonding power which is only understood by those who have experienced it.  We draw spiritual

strength from the Lord by drawing upon the spiritual strength and resources of one another.  As

we join our voices together in songs of praise and thanksgiving; as we bring our hearts together

in mutual care and concern; as we bring our minds together to listen to the proclamation of the

word of God; as we gather in classes and vineyards to study and share our understandings and

our struggles, the whole of the experience becomes far more than the sum of its parts.  That is

the Holy Spirit at work melding our hearts together as one….with each other, and with Almighty

God.  I believe it’s true to say that the closer we draw to the hearts of God’s people in community,

the closer we are drawn to the heart of God.  The Bible, speaking of this mystery, says that where

two or three are gathered together………

      Yes, the Lord’s concern is far more with soiled hearts than with soiled hands.  And certainly the

Lord desires that our hearts would be clean; so then will our hands be.  All the things we might do

in the name of religion, all the wooden adherence to rules and laws, are merely law-keeping un-

less our hearts are in Christ, and Christ is in our hearts.

      Long ago, there was a man by the name of Augustine from the town of Hippo.  He had a hard

time drawing near to God in any sort of personal relationship.  God always seemed distant and

unreachable in Augustine’s experience.  By his own admission, his heart wandered far and long in-

to immorality, philosophical folly, and intellectual pride.  When his heart had finally found its way

home, Augustine looked at the years behind him and prayed a short prayer, part of which will

close this morning’s message.  It goes like this, and please repeat it after me:  …..for You made us

for Yourself….. and our hearts are restless…..until it rests in You.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102