The Fifth Sunday of Lent - Reflection

‘God said ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, 
and they will be my people.’ - Jeremiah 31:33

Sisters and brothers, we’re approaching the end of Lent. Today we’re just two weeks away from the celebration  of the most amazing and far-reaching moment in the history of the world, the resurrection of Jesus. As we’ve been journeying through Lent we have been asking ourselves not only how can we have a good Lent, but how can we have the best Lent ever. We’ve been learning—through our study of the passages set for the Sundays of Lent—that the key to a great Lent—the key to the best Lent ever—is through our hearts. Today's readings are no exception. We are asked about our hearts, and we are shown the vulnerable heart of the Lord.

I wonder if, like me, you’ve noticed that to truly love someone well you have to allow your heart to be vulnerable? Whether with friends, a spouse, a parent, or a child, the relationship can only be deep if we allow our hearts to be touched and open to our loved one. IF our close friend is hurting, we are hurting. If our spouse has received good news, we want to celebrate with them and this only happens if we allow our hearts to be open and affected by our loved ones. I can think of a time when Amelie was playing in Church as I was tidying up. I looked away for a minute and she was gone! I kept myself calm, I looked around church, I asked the other in the building if they had seen her but all to no avail. My heart started panicking I ran to the back doors which were open, but no sign, no sign of Amelie anywhere! And then, all of a sudden, to my immense relief, I heard ‘Daddy, Daddy, look at me,’as she poked her head out from the top of the pulpit. My heart was in pieces, as relief washed over me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, there are other options: I could have protected my heart or hardened my heart so that such terrifying moments didn’t affect me in the same way. However, I think that we will probably all know from experience that if we harden our heart in a friendship or relationship, the quality and depth of that relationship suffers. Yes, vulnerable hearts are far better than protected hearts, and far better than hard hearts, something our readings point us towards this morning.

You know, sometimes people have this strange idea about God; that He is hard-hearted, that He is up on a cloud somewhere throwing down lightening bolts if people annoy Him and, they imagine, He is easily annoyed. Whether or not some religions out there imagine their god like that it couldn’t be further from the Christian God. Having not long ago celebrated Christmas you’ll remember that we focussed on the fact that God came to earth as a small and vulnerable little baby. God could have protected Himself, He could have protected His heart by staying away from the world by staying ‘up there’ as it were but He did no such thing. God left the safety of heaven and in vulnerability came down to earth. Having come to earth, of course, God could have taken the other option of having a cold and hard heart towards people. He could have breezed through life caring about no-one and keeping His heart safe, but He didn’t do that either. Our second reading from Hebrews tells us: ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death’. Jesus’ heart was fully vulnerable as He cared for all those He came across, healing those who were sick, guiding those who were lost, and walking the way of the cross. Because, like a father to a child, Jesus loves us with a vulnerable and powerful love He spared Himself nothing of the pain of fighting for His children whom He loved. Even though His children ignored Him, turned away from Him, and persecuted Him, like any good father Jesus kept on loving them, loving them even to death. We’re told in our Gospel reading: [Jesus said] ’Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.’ The only solution for the rebellion of His people, the only way to save His children was to die for them, was to go through the most excruciating death of all; even so Jesus remained vulnerable and would not turn back from the cross, indeed, as He said, this was the ‘very reason I came’. God in Christ did not protect His heart, He did not harden His heart, rather He remained  vulnerable in order to love you and me to the full. In small ways it is the same as a parent, our children say mean things to us, they ignore us, they can even walk away from us but no good parent gives up on their child, just as Jesus does not give up on us. 

The parable of Jesus that has meant the much to me is the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ the boy who leaves his father for the excitement of the world. The father never gives up loving his son, he is always on the watch for him, always longing for him to come home, never giving up hope. Jesus is like that with us, hoping and even pleading for us to come home to return His vulnerable love with our own to have vulnerable hearts towards Him, as He has for us. That is what the Lord longs for. You can see what God hoped for in our first reading from Jeremiah. God hopes that one day, He will be able to: ‘put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ That is why He came to earth, that is why He suffered and died, so that this hope might be possible that one day our hearts might soften towards Him, and He would be able to write His loving words on our hearts. You know increasingly, plenty of people guard their hearts and never step foot inside a church they call themselves agnostics even atheists, and will allow God nowhere near them. However, there are also many people—far too many people—who merely go through the motions of faith; they come to church, they say the prayer they learnt as children, they even hold high office in the Church, and yet hold God at arms length, their hearts hardened even as they imagine they tick the basics of religion off. Both of these groups of people, those who give God no time, and those who give Him minimal time while guarding or hardening their hearts, imagine, I suppose, they do this so that they will not be hurt and yet,  as it would be for a parent to do this with a child, these very people end up missing out on life and love altogether. Only the vulnerable heart experiences love! Only the vulnerable heart experiences life in all it’s fulness, and today—through our readings—God calls out to us, asking us to choose the hard path of loving Him with a vulnerable heart. God does not force Himself on anyone, He gives each of us the choice, writing His words of love only on those who offer Him their hearts. Where God would lead you is always towards love, always towards life and joy and even when the way leads through the darkest valley, the Lord will hold your hand, and calm your heart, but first we must offer it, as a gift of a child back to their father.

That, at the end of the day is how to have a great Lent by being vulnerable towards the Lord and letting Him fully into our hearts. The choice—as always— is ours. Protected heart, hard heart, or vulnerable heart, each one of us must choose. Amen (from Fr Mike).