Text: Acts 3:11-21 V Misericordias Domini (3rd Sunday of Easter)
“Hole” – Hearted Commitment
In the name of our crucified and risen Lord, dear friends in Christ: St. Augustine once said that there’s a God shaped hole in the heart of every person that isn’t satisfied until it’s filled with what it needs: namely, the one true living God who is revealed in the Savior Jesus Christ – (or words to that effect anyway; my version is a bit of a paraphrase. Be that as it may,) the basic idea is that it’s impossible to be truly whole, content, and in proper harmony with everything and everyone without having a relationship with the God of the universe through the person of Jesus Christ. It just isn’t going to happen – which makes perfect sense if for no other reason than that’s precisely what the Lord created us for. So to live apart from a healthy relationship with God in Christ and therefore outside of his holy will and design pretty much by definition means that there’s going to be something major missing from one’s life. I mean, God is pretty big – and I don’t mean that in a physical way – so obviously if he’s not there it’s going to leave a pretty big void behind. Only God is enough to fill it. But that, unfortunately, doesn’t stop people from trying to fill it with other things.
And boy, do we ever try. Be it the pursuit of pleasure, or of knowledge and wisdom, or to attain mastery of a certain skill, or to win a particular award, or just in general to gain power, fame, and wealth, or to go on an adventure to climb a certain mountain, or to trek to the South Pole, or whatever great goal one might dream up, we imagine that if I could just achieve this, well, then I’d be content. Then I will have arrived … at … what, I don’t know; but I’ll be there. I’ll be able to call myself successful. It calls to mind King Solomon who wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “First I set my heart on this, and then I tried that and that. And each time I threw myself into it completely and I attained what I was after. But having arrived at every goal, I found that I wasn’t satisfied. My heart was not yet full.” In the end he concludes, “All of that left me empty. So, do you want to know what I discovered to be the secret of success? It’s this: Love God and keep his word; then no matter who you are or what you do, your life will be full.”
Once in a while I’ll read about someone in our times who discovered the same thing. They climbed all the way to the top of their field, and became rich and famous and they acquired all the stuff that they though would make them happy; and then they found out they were still miserable. They climbed to the top and discovered there was nothing there. And then, finally, they said to themselves, “There’s got to be something else. There’s got to be something that gives my life meaning and purpose and whatever else it is I’m looking for” and who then turn to the last place they’d ever thought to look, to the Church. And there they find in Jesus Christ enough to satisfy their deepest longings. Like I said, it happens once in a while. But for every one who does, there are so many more who never get there. They go on searching for that something else, that next goal, that next award, that next level of accomplishment that they’re sure will do it for them. But it’s like trying to fill a bottomless pit one grain of sand at a time. No matter how much they put in, the hole is always empty.
But all that has to do with the God shaped hole in every person’s heart. What I really want to talk about today in the hole that exists in God’s heart. This Sunday, as I mentioned earlier, is called “Misericordias Domini”. It’s Latin for the compassion or mercy of God. But to be a bit more literal, “corde” means “heart”, and “miser” means “wretchedness” or “anguish”. It’s from the same root that we get the English word “misery”. (I suspect it’s also the root from which the state of Missouri derives its name; but I can’t prove it. Anyway,) so Misericordias Domini might be translated “the painful longing in the heart of God”. You see, it’s a much stronger word than mercy or compassion – at least the way we normally use them. It’s not that he simply decides to treat us nicely or that he feels for us. No, the idea is that there’s this throbbing ache in his heart. There’s a hole there that longs to be filled. He’s like the father of the prodigal son anxiously standing on the porch and searching the horizon for any sign that his wayward child might be coming home. Only when his child is safely welcomed home and reincorporated into the family will his longing be filled.
We see this in today’s first reading. There we have Peter and John going into the Temple in Jerusalem. Their goal is to take the Gospel message, the good news of the resurrected Christ, right into the headquarters and hotbed of those who were most immediately responsible for Jesus’ arrest, conviction, and death. You have to understand that the disciples are not likely to receive a very warm reception here. If they were just to go in and start talking about Jesus, they’d likely be handled quite roughly; and if they persisted, things would get ugly real fast. Nevertheless, they are determined to take the Gospel even to those who are least likely to receive it. That’s how great is the Lord’s longing to have all people – even his worst enemies – come to him through Jesus.
Still, I imagine that it was with a good deal of fear and trembling that Peter and John approached the task. They have no idea what awaits them in there. Will they be ignored? Will they be laughed out of there? Will they be shouted down? Will they cause a riot – or something worse? They don’t know. All they know is that they’re going to be dealing with some potentially very hostile people.
But the Lord has other plans. It happens as they’re just about to pass through the gate into the Temple that they come across a beggar. He’s a man who was born lame and has never walked in his life. He’s sitting there where he always does, chanting his mantra of “Alms, give alms for a poor lame man. God will surely bless you for your generosity. Alms, give alms.” Most passersby ignore him. Once in awhile a coin clinks in his otherwise empty cup; but no one actually looks at him. But suddenly he’s surprised to see Peter and John stop right in front of him and look him square in the eye. He holds out his cup expecting to receive something really special. He has no idea. Peter says to him, “I don’t have any money; but what I do have I’ll give you.” He then takes the man by the hand and puling him to his feet says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
Immediately the man’s legs and ankles are given strength and coordination. Though he’s never walked before, now he’s running, leaping in the air, and dancing like Fred Astaire. He’s shouting and praising God for the miracle he’s received. But when Peter and John make to leave and go on into the Temple court as they had planned, he clings to them. He’s so grateful that he’s not about to let his healers out of his sight or out of his reach. So Peter and John continue on their way with this guy half hanging onto them, half dancing around them, and shouting the whole at the top of his lungs about what these two guys have done for him.
Naturally this attracts a lot of attention. And just about everyone in the Temple recognizes the man. All the regulars have walked passed him hundreds of times. They’ve seen the guy’s useless and shriveled limbs folded up in impossible angles beneath him. They can’t deny that a powerful miracle has taken place. And the formerly lame man is excitedly giving all the credit to Peter and John. The gathered crowd stands gawking at them with their mouths hanging open. The question on everyone’s mind is, “How’d you do that?”
And what I’d have you see is that what the Lord has done is given Peter and John the last thing they expected to have in the Temple: a large audience that’s very attentive and receptive to whatever they have to say. Peter wastes no time. Though he has center stage, he immediately gives all the credit to whom it is due. “Why are you staring at us as if we’ve done something wonderful by our own power? The God of our fathers glorified his servant Jesus whom you rejected and disowned. You handed him over to Pilate and accused him – even though Pilate tried to talk you out of it. You demanded his death – and in the end you got it. You killed the Author of life; but God raised him from the dead. We know. We’ve seen him alive. And now we want you to know that it’s by our faith in Jesus that this man has been healed.”
It’s the third surprise of the day. These folks never thought they’d hear the name of Jesus mentioned again in any positive way. To them he was the heretic who had to be destroyed. Now they hear that he was the Lord’s Christ, the long expected Savior of the nation – and that they are guilty of rejecting and murdering him. They see indisputable proof of Peter’s words in the miraculous healing that literally stands and dances around before them. Now they’re the ones who are afraid. “What have we done?” And more to the point, “How is God going to punish us as a result?”
And that’s when Peter delivers surprise number four: “You and your leaders acted in ignorance; but this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through the prophets, that his Christ would suffer as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. And that includes you – every one of you. Repent, therefore and turn to him that your sins may be blotted out and you too can be restored.” It’s incredibly good news, that they who rejected and most directly killed the Lord Jesus—that God hadn’t given up on them; that he was still reaching out to them and calling them to receive his gift of salvation. It’s a gift he won’t let them say no to. The hole in God’s heart for each and every person is filled only when he’s able to fill the hole in their hearts with his love and forgiveness in the Savior Jesus Christ.
And this is incredibly good news for us as well because we too are often guilty of rejecting Christ and his Word. The difference is we know better. The people Peter was addressing acted in ignorance when they condemned Jesus. We do know Jesus, and yet we often turn from him to try to fill our hearts with things we know are off limits – and that we know will not bring us lasting satisfaction. And yet still we try. And when we’ve done something like that and we’re left with that feeling of emptiness that inevitably follows, it’s easy to think, “I’ve really blown it this time. I’ve gone too far. There’s no way the Lord will take me back.”
That’s the lie Satan would have you believe; but it can’t happen that way. As long as you have breath in your body, there’s still an aching hole for you in the heart of God. And he’s standing there holding out his hand to lift you up and give you strength just like he did through Peter for the lame beggar. And your guarantee of that is the hole in the heart of God. Specifically, I’m speaking of the hole driven by the point of a spear into the heart of the Savior Jesus Christ when his battered corpse hung from the cross. It’s the hole in the heart of God from which flowed the water and the blood.
My friends, that same water and blood flow from the Savior’s side still today in the water of Baptism by which we are cleansed of sin and reborn the children of God, and in the blood of the Supper by which Jesus communicates to us his very life and Spirit. That’s the Lord’s “hole” – hearted commitment to you. Today and as often as we suffer any doubt about it, may we receive him gladly with our whole hearts, that Jesus Christ may fill the God shaped void in us to the point of overflowing, and that we too may experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!