the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Ephesians 5. 8-14
It isn’t god who dwells in our heart; it’s we who dwell in god’s!

“Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein, soll niemand drin wohnen als Jesus allein.“

Don’t worry. I haven’t started speaking in tongues, since last Sunday. That is the first prayer I, ever, learned. Taught to me by the daughter of a daughter of an immigrant from Germany. But to be honest, for years I never knew what I was saying. I, sometimes, wonder if god did! “Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein .” I am little, my heart is pure … “soll niemand drin wohnen …” No one should live in there … “als Jesus allein ….” but Jesus alone.

As a pastor, I now know that prayer for what it is. Pure Pietism! A matter of the heart and not the head. A warm, fuzzy faith! Sweet. Cute. I hear the words and I remember a toddler getting ready for sleep. Hands folded. Eyes closed. Head bowed. Doing his best saying something in a language he didn’t speak, in a language he never heard. “Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein …” But it’s a big part, a huge part, of popular religion. The heart is.

You see, the Reformation ushered in a season of the head. Confessions and creeds and catechisms. It was important, back then, to know what we believed in. To know what we trusted. What we staked our lives on. But then came the wars … and the suffering … and the death … For decades. For generations. When it was all over, they rejected the head and, instead, were drawn to the heart. THAT became the temple. THAT became god’s dwelling place. “Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein …” Not just for us Lutherans, but for – pretty much – everyone! Christian and nonChristian alike! And when we came to a newWorld, we brought that sentimentalism, that schmaltziness, with us. And it became a part – an indispensable part – of our songs and our prayers and our faith. In popular religion, Jesus stands at the door of our heart. Knocking. Waiting patiently for us to open it and invite him in. “Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein …”

This image has become so much a part of us that it influences everything we think and feel, everything we say and do. In fact, our entire world revolves around it. “Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein …” Our faith, our trust, our believing, anchored, rooted inside our heart. Subjective. Personal. Individual. When that happens, god is trapped within us! God becomes a possession! Someone we contain! Someone we control! God becomes a locket – a picture in a locket – that we open and close at will! But listen, again … closely … carefully … to the passage from Ephesians. Not the entire passage. Just the first verse …

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.
For once you were darkness, but now IN THE LORD you are light.

It’s not god who’s inside us; but we who are inside god! God isn’t in OUR heart; we’re in GOD’S! God surrounds us! I know I’m a few days late, but it’s like St Patrick’s breastplate, St Patrick’s benediction … God before me and behind me! God beneath me and above me! God on my right and on my left! God is all around me! The sure and certain part of believing isn’t that we hold god. It’s that god holds us! God protects us; we don’t protect god! And at times like this, that’s important to know! It’s not our little hearts that matter, no matter how pure we’d like to think it is. It’s god’s heart that matters! God’s good heart! God’s great heart!

Believing that god protects doesn’t mean that we’re immune to the changes and chances of life! Believing that god provides and protects and preserves doesn’t mean we are, somehow, impervious and invulnerable. It means that – no matter what – god loves us! God comes to us! God wraps god’s arms around us! Embraces us! Envelopes us! And we become a part of god! Inseparable! Indivisible! We don’t shelter god; god shelters us! “… but now IN the Lord …” “… but now WITHIN the Lord …”

That’s why we’re light! Not because we so bright and shining on our own. But because people – when they look at us – see god all around us! Guarding! Protecting! Saving! That’s the difference between “our” baptism and “theirs.” “They” believe baptism is god entering into their heart. We believe baptism is “us” entering into god’s! We’re baptized into Christ! Immersed in him! Submerged! Saved not by our believing, but saved by god’s loving! We don’t have to hang onto god because holds us! Holds us in the palm of god’s hand! And that makes all the difference! Our hands are free to reach out to the people around us! To the people who need us! “… but now WITHIN the Lord …” You are light! And so, we live as children of light. Not as a choice. Not as a decision. But we just live! That’s what we do “WITHIN the Lord”! In our hearts, the light might shine. But it never escapes out of it into the world! It stays locked up, hidden away, buried beneath skin-and-bones and flesh-and-blood. But when we are in god’s heart! God’s heart is all that can be seen! Light upon light, as the evangelist puts it! Love upon love!

It’s like the psalmist says … “Where can I go that you aren’t, already, there? If I climb up to heaven, you’re there! If I descend to the dead, you’re there waiting for me! If I take the wings of morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there, you meet me!” We’re called to imagine that we’re “in the Lord”! We’re “within god”! The center of god’s universe! Each of us, all of us, safe and secure within god’s own heart! Here in the fellowshipHall! There at home! Everywhere in between! We’re surrounded by god! Encircled, enclosed! Bounded and besieged! By Father, Spirit, and Son!

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light!” You sparkle! You shine! Because of the love! Because of the love! Not your love, but god’s love! God’s love that wraps itself around you like an old quilt! Wraps itself around you like a magic blanket! People look at you – look at us – and that’s what they see! Even on the darkest night! Even among the deepest shadows! You shine! You shine because god shines! And you are within the Lord! So, my friends, be who you are! Be church! Be people of god! Be children of light! Because it’s god! It’s god who is you halo!

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, March 22, 2020