Written on Our Hearts

Genevieve Zetlan, Licensed Lay Preacher

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-13
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33


Once, God was with everything, and everything was with God. God was with the rocks and plants and animals and people, and they were with God and each other. God talked with the people, and they shared the Dream of all of creation. And God declared it Good. But the people wanted to decide for themselves what was Good. And to know what is good, you have to know the Differences – between good and evil, right and wrong, close and far, faith and fear. And when they knew the differences, the people became afraid. So they hid.

And God saw their fear, and God let them go. He stayed near them still, but not so near that he would frighten them[i]. Sometimes God came very close to some of them. Once, God came very close to Noah, so that Noah knew in his heart what God wanted, and the earth was saved. Once, God came very close to Moses, so that Moses knew in his heart what God wanted, and the Israelites were taken by the hand and brought out of the land of Egypt and saved. Over and over, God came close to people – Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Jeremiah. But mostly, the people were still afraid. And in their fear, they hid. They put up more and more barriers between themselves and God. Priests. Temples. Rituals and Requirements.

Jeremiah knew what God wanted – that not just the prophets but everyone would come close to God again, everyone from the smallest to the greatest. That instead of using the Differences against each other – saying to each other “know the LORD” as if there were only one way to know God – instead they would know that God was with them and everything, and they and everything were with God, and they would not be afraid anymore.

So God decided to come close to the people in a way that wouldn’t frighten them. God would make himself like one of them[ii]. Small. Helpless even. And in Jesus, ordinary people came close to God again. They began to see what the prophets wrote – that God longs for a relationship with people. All people. And Jesus began to teach people how to read the will of God already written on their own hearts. On our hearts.

For God to write on our hearts means its possible for each of us to know God’s will, to know what God’s law is, to know what God considers Good.

But it is hard to read our hearts when fear gets in the way, when our hearts are troubled by our job or a family crisis or overwhelmed by grief. It’s hard to read our hearts when there are so many distractions and other objects of our affection. When our heart is busy reading Twitter and CNN. When our heart is chasing after tomorrow or next week.

Jesus tells us today that he draws all people close to God, into the relationship that God longs for with each of us. During Lent we look for the things that draw us from the love of God, that pull our hearts in other directions. One of St. Tim’s members said she’s spent most of Lent trying to let go of her anger at a former boss. We all have things we need to let go of. But despite all the things other than God that occupy our hearts, on this last Sunday of Lent we are offered the promise that we can learn to read our hearts, and find God’s Dream written there.

Jesus shows us how. With prayer. And not just any prayer. He prays “Glorify your name” instead of “Save Me From This Hour”.

Now we humans do a lot of “Santa Claus” prayer – “God, here’s what I want, help me with this, please do that, I really need …” God knows there is certainly much we need help with, and there’s not really anything wrong with asking for help when we need it. But prayer is a relationship. It’s a conversation. Imagine if 90 percent of the conversations you had with a loved one, a spouse, a parent, or a friend, consisted of “Could you do this for me?”

Not much of a relationship is it?

For prayer to help us cut through our fear and distractions to read the word of God written on our hearts, it has to be more than “save me from this” – it has to be “to your glory” – not our own. It has to be “thy will be done” – not our own.

I’ll admit this is usually my prayer of last resort. Many years ago my parents and my sister had a falling out. The reasons don’t really matter, but the family I knew and loved, which had been so “normal”, was gone. I spent years doing everything I could to “fix” it – listening to both sides, suggesting courses of action, trying to interpret one side to another – and none of it helped. Until I gave up. And my prayer changed from “fix this, please!” to “Your will be done.”

Of course, answers to prayer aren’t always what we want, and they aren’t always clear. The crowd that heard God’s answer to Jesus thought it was thunder, or an Angel. Because prayer isn’t just about the answer we receive. We ask so often to save our own lives, to fix the things we think are wrong with our family or our health or our job. And Jesus tells us today that trying to preserve all the things we love about our lives is the surest way to lose the life God offers to us. “Those who love their life lose it”.

Because what we ask for is often so much smaller than what God has to give us.

One of our member’s has a son who desperately wanted to attend Thomas Jefferson High School. He didn’t get in. Instead, he went to Chantilly, where he received honors and accolades that sent him on to the Naval Academy. It’s where he says he was clearly meant to be.

Another member of St. Tim’s, many years ago, attended a convention where she couldn’t wait to get to know a young man she was interested in. Instead, she met someone entirely different, who became her husband of 35 years.

Several years ago St. Timothy’s was part of a group of churches that started a Hypothermia shelter during cold months here in Herndon. The people who visit the shelter go there because it’s the only alternative to freezing to death. Because they live on the streets, they keep to themselves, and they are used to receiving other’s leftovers – unsold bread from Panera, overstocked pasta from Costco. They are generally suspicious – some are mentally unstable, potentially violent, possibly criminal. They gather at the shelter hoping for just a night out of the cold and a basic meal.

And then, one Sunday, members of St. Timothy’s showed up to serve dinner. Platters of home cooked Southern food began emerging, the smell of fried chicken and beans and corn and potatoes began to fill the room. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help carry trays, set out dishes, and pour drink. As plates were piled high, more food kept emerging. They went back for seconds. And thirds. The room changed from tense to almost jovial as people ate and talked and laughed. One man, on his third plate full, confessed “I can’t actually eat any more. I just can’t believe I can have more” and settled down to sleep with the plate of food next to him.

What God has to offer us is so much MORE than what we ask for.

How we view the world determines how we act in it. If we view ourselves always in need, we fail to appreciate the abundance that God called “Good” all around us. If our conversations with God are mostly about what we want, we cannot learn to read what God has written on our hearts, to see how we can act on what God wants.

To pray “Thy will be done” is to let go of our own dreams for our life and look for the Dream God has written on our hearts. And like a single grain of wheat, that Dream bears much fruit – enough to feed the world.