The Heart of Jesus                                         Luke 24:32

Easter IIIA                                                            April 23, 2023,                              St. John, New Orleans, LA

I'm somewhat interested in new in the New Orleans Saints football team. 

It's the home team, after all, and I should at least know when they are playing. 

I'm a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs largely because of my time in Olathe and because of the exciting playing style of Patrick Mahomes. 

But when it comes to football, my heart belongs to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Not only is it my alma mater, but my own children are now 4th generation cornhuskers! 

Growing up in Nebraska, we had no pro teams. So, UNL was the next best thing. 

And it wasn't just football. We'd cheered for all the teams, 

even our national champion volleyball teams, golfers, and bowlers!

My time at the University was in between the Football championship years

 when we would win 9, 10, or 11 games every season, 

and always went to a major bowl game. 

And it was the game of the century Part 2, #1 Oklahoma versus #2 Nebraska,

 where I met my dear wife Susan, whose view I was blocking; 

At least that's how she tells it. 

So, while I know the cornhuskers don’t mean anything here in NOLA, 

much less the Big 10, Big 12, or Big Eight conferences, 

they occupy a big chunk of my heart.

But football is just one thing that can grab hold of one's heart. 

I'm sure it's different for each of you here today. 

We are all created differently from one another, 

and different things affect us in different ways. 

does your heart go when you find that need for comfort of the heart? 

Do you pick up the phone and call a family member or a friend? 

Maybe you listen to music, or stroll through an art gallery, or engage in some sort of handicraft? 

Perhaps you seek the solitude and peace of the great outdoors, or the adrenaline of athletic endeavors? 

The truth is, because we are all unique individuals, each of us find comfort for our heart in different places and experiences. 

The heart is a powerful connection point to meaning and enjoyment. 

Which is why it can so easily lead us to danger. 

We hear people say, “trust your heart.” But doesn't the heart sometimes lead us astray? 

When the heart is centered on earthly things, pain and disappointment are the eventual end. 

Youth fades, and along with it, lasting beauty until death greets us. 

Romances die and lovers move on. 

Money infects our motives and creates problems. 

Fame is fickle and seldom feeds you or cares for you.

But a heart for Jesus is a heart rooted in the love of forgiveness. 

It begins with the love God had for you that he would send his Son to pay the price of your sin. 

And since the payment for sin is death, 

Jesus endured the cross and grave, so that you would not be destroyed and lost forever. 

And having experienced the heart of Jesus for you, you extend that love to others 

as you forgive their sins against you, 

and as you seek to love them unconditionally, just as God loved you. 

That first kind of heart for Jesus is the one Peter preaches about in acts chapter 2. 

After hearing his sermon on the death and resurrection of Jesus, hearts were cut, and the people were moved to repentance. 

And because of the faith given to them in that sermon, 3000 were baptized that very day. 

That second example of a heart for Jesus Peter writes about many years after his Pentecost sermon. 

He urges the believers to love one another with a pure heart.

That is, benefiting from the forgiveness they have now through their faith and baptism into Christ. 

Because the heart of Jesus was poured out for each of them, they have been changed and equipped to do similarly for others.

As we read all these lessons today it is obvious that the heart of Jesus is a good thing to possess or experience. 

Those walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized it 

as they conversed about the events of the past week in Jerusalem, 

to which Jesus said to them,

25b “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

And after they recognized him in the breaking of the bread and he disappeared, they said,

32 “did not our hearts burn within us…while he opened to us the scriptures?” 

By their own words, it was not knowing his presence that enlivened them, 

but the message he preached to them which warmed their hearts.

But one cannot experience the heart of Jesus if they are not willing to acknowledge sin, repent of their own sin, and receive the forgiveness Jesus offers them.

 Despite Peter's clear words today, there are people, so-called Christians even, who say sin doesn't exist and, therefore, we don't need a savior Jesus. 

Rather, they declare that he simply helps us make better decisions, 

even though no decision we make is bad enough to damn us to hell. 

For they say, a loving God would not create such a place 

much less send his beloved children there. 

Jesus submitted to the cross, not because he needed to be a victim, or to prove the goodness of humanity, 

rather, he placed himself in the path of our punishment so that his goodness and righteousness could be transferred to us at his request. 

Therefore, to experience the heart of Jesus is not in any way a simple additive to your collection of stuff, experiences, or relationships. 

Because to express experience the heart of Jesus one must empty themselves of all that would go against Jesus. 

And when you have denied everything of this world that you hold dear, 

he will pour himself into you, fill you up, and rebuild you into a new person. 

This is sometimes a very sudden occurrence, 

like when Paul was addressed by Jesus on the road to Damascus, 

but not usually for most people. 

The disciples were with Jesus for three years 

but didn't fully embrace him until after his resurrection and ascension. 

And so, it is a constant struggle for us as well, 

as we begrudgingly let go of the old idols and ways of thinking, 

and as we continue to learn the ways that attach us to the heart of Jesus. 

And so, for the believer who seeks the heart of Jesus, 

their life is one filled seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness, 

so that they can embrace his love even as they share his love with others.

And we do that together as we gather as his church. 

We declare and demonstrate his forgiveness to the world 

when we worship each week and receive his sacraments. 

And when we boldly read the word aloud and preach it without constraint from our pulpits. 

And, perhaps, most importantly, we receive those who repent anew and are forgiven and who become brothers and sisters in Christ. 

For if the heart of Jesus stops with us, the faith will not continue here. 

So, we must strive to continue sharing the heart of Jesus personally, and as the church. 

Therefore, we cannot retreat into the safe bosom of the church. 

The church was designed to be a sending body. 

My first supervising pastor, when complaining about the inward focused church said, 

“we cannot be so heavenly minded that we do no earthly good.”

Which brings us to the last aspect of the church delivering the heart of Jesus.

To those who don't know him, talking about sin and forgiveness, heaven and salvation, make no sense. 

So, the Lord calls his church to address them with what they know -- earthly problems and loving solutions from neighbors who care.

For it is only after our earthly needs are met that our hearts are opened to hear about Jesus, his love, and his forgiveness for sin.

This is what God wants for us: the heart of Jesus, personally, for our congregation, and for our community. 

Do you want what God wants? 

Is your heart open to the love and forgiveness of Jesus? 

Are you willing to empty yourself of competing hearts that conflict with his? 

Are you willing to share the heart of Jesus with your fellow Christians,

so that you may receive mutual encouragement and consolation?

And so that you can share the burden of work, 

and the expense of ministry 

and the heartache loss 

and the joy of newfound faith? 

And, lastly are you ready to bring the heart of Jesus to bear in a city which so desperately needs it? 

To hear his forgiveness for crimes committed, prejudices extended, and people ignored or forgotten? 

To extend love to all, no matter who they are, so that they too might become part of the heart of Jesus? 

It's a tall order to fill a task not taken lightly. 

But by the grace of God and his love and forgiveness, we will prevail. 

Only if we do it all in the name, and following, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.