October 1, 2017
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
A few times during my former career as a hospital chaplain a staff person would say that a difficult patient needed a heart transplant.
That always caught my attention.
It wasn’t that the patient literally needed a new heart.
What was implied was that the patient was really hard to work with,
A radical attitude adjustment was needed.
Ezekiel might have said the same thing.
God’s people are constantly grumbling and whining that God’s ways are not fair.
An attitude adjustment is needed.
I can imagine God or Ezekiel, fed up with it all, putting their hands over their ears and saying,
“Enough! Quiet! Time out!”
Instead, we hear, “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit”
Get yourself a heart transplant!!
Ezekiel implores the people to repent and turn from all their transgressions and get a new heart and a new spirit.
Later on Ezekiel will elaborate on this theme:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you,
and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
Ezekiel is one of the earliest known mystics.
A mystic is someone who has moved from mere belief or a particular world view to an actual inner experience of God.
This inner awareness shapes Ezekiel’s stunning insights.
The valley of dry bones, God as loving shepherd
A mystic is someone who keeps alive the awareness of our union with God and with all creation.
Ezekiel does this when he proclaims on behalf of God, “all lives are mine…The life of the parent as well as the life of the child are mine.”
Mystics are found in all the world’s religions and cultures.
Jesus, too, is a mystic.
He stands in a long line of Hebrew prophets who have come to do the heart surgery first announced by Ezekiel.
Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
Our hearts are the spiritual organ of perception.
We are all born with perfect hearts.
Think of the innocence and wonder of a newborn infant, the delight of a very young one, the perceptiveness of a toddler.
They have insights that we have lost.
Over time our need to survive and conform takes over, the ego reigns.
This is normal human development.
Our task then becomes to purify the heart and restore our relationship with our Creator.
Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
We all need heart surgery.
Cynthia Bourgealt in her most recent book The Heart of Centering Prayer writes that Jesus is best described not as the great physician but the master cardiologist (p.57.)
What form does his treatment take?
Paul, also a mystic, describes it in Philippians 2.
It is the path that Jesus lived moment by moment, an inner practice of letting go rather than clinging.
The treatment takes place in daily life.
Though his state was that of God,
Yet he did not deem equality with God
Something he should cling to.
Rather he emptied himself,
And assuming the state of a slave,
He was born in human likeness.
We are invited walk this path, to have the same mind as Christ.
It is an inner path…it is an inner emptying, an inner clearing that makes room for new life. This new life includes a living, breathing silence.
Theresa Schroeder-Sheker writes in her introduction to Robert Sardello”s Silence: the Mystery of Wholeness
We are to abandon surface impressions and patters, to abandon what has become comfortable, and to embrace a sacred depth of being that asks us to enter that which is wholly unknown and that which fosters genuine metanoia [or repentence]. (Introduction, Silence, the Mystery of Wholeness)
As we take this path, our heart is transformed, it mirrors the character of our Creator.
Who is able to take this path?
Paul writes, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy…”
In other words, anyone who is open can embark on this journey of not clinging and letting go.
In today’s gospel Jesus is asked by the chief priests and elders,
”By what authority are you doing these things?”
Jesus never directly answers the question.
I believe the authority of Jesus is his heart, a heart that has journeyed inward and is in union with God.
The authority of Jesus is his inner perception and receptivity
Finally, what does this heart surgery, this journey of transformation, matter today?
We live in a world where ego and self-interest seem to have the final word.
Who represents the heart of God and our connectedness?
Those who are mystics, those who have experienced God, those who walk the inner path;
they are the hope of the world.
I close with a story from Field of Compassion by Judy Cannato.
It is a story about a man named Nate, someone who probably never thought of himself as a mystic. Nate is now the Natural Resources Manager in Orleans, MA which is on Cape Cod.
“One of the responsibilities of Nate Sears, a landscaper working at a housing complex on Cape Cod, is to check the piers at the adjacent beach for storm damage.
One morning he was doing just that when he spotted a ten-foot pilot whale coming toward shore. He watched for a moment. He then saw a second whale, then a third, each one heading for land.
Stunned at first, Nate watched the approach of the whales with awe. Then his concern took over. Since it is not unusual for whales to beach themselves on Cape Cod, Nate knew that this was the probable intent of these large, gentle mammals.
He summoned a neighbor, who ran to call the National Sea Shore Service.
Knowing that the whales were coming so fast that they would be on the beach before help could arrive, Nate quickly threw off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, and waded out in the direction of the first whale.
He caught up with it in waist-deep water on a sand bar. The whale was thrashing about, and he could see cuts on its body from its batter with the sand.
Moved solely by instinct, Nate placed his hands on the whale and held them there. The thrashing stopped. The whale became completely still. Nate said in that moment he became aware that this was the whale’s first encounter with the human species. It seems that both human and whale were operating on instinct, each trusting the other in an encounter that neither had experienced before.
“After the whale had grown calm, Nate gently turned it around and pointed it away from shore. The whale began to swim back out to sea.
Losing no time, Nate approached the second whale. Again, he simply placed his hands on the creature and its thrashing stopped. Once this second whale grew still, Nate turned it away from shore. It, too, began to swim out. By this time members of the National Sea Shore Service arrived, and they helped Nate turn the third whale back.”
Our world, like the whales, is experiencing travail.
We have experienced this travail in the climate chaos of the last few weeks, the war of words on Twitter, and our government’s inability to seek the common good.
We have experienced this travail in countless other ways as well.
And, yet, one person trusts his heart, jumps in the water, and empties himself.
He comes alongside the beached whales and establishes a rapport with gentle touch.
He turns the whale around and releases it to the sea. There is life rather than death.
May we regain our hearts and be people of compassion and life in a world starved for healing.