Sunday of St. Bartholomew
[3:1] My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
 for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Do not forget my teaching, let your heart keep my commandments. Your heart, most think it is futile to tell your heart anything. Common wisdom often tells us to follow our heart, wherever it goes if you want to be happy. So it is common in culture today for people not to keep the sixth commandment in regard to marriage, because the heart is notoriously unfaithful to anyone but one’s self. People actually believe that this is proper justification for a divorce or an affair. On top of this is the naïve belief that the heart is the depository for all that is good, and nice, honorable and virtuous. So we let our hearts lead us around, like little boys and girls chasing puppies on a leash.
Let your heart keep my commandments. This is a lot harder than it would seem. The heart doesn’t take well to the Lord’s commandments. Jesus speaks of the heart saying: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19 (ESV) Jesus doesn’t seem to think of the heart as that which should be leading us around through life. I don’t know about you, but on any given day, my heart proves Jesus right.
Most days, I don’t have trouble keeping the Ten Commandments outwardly anyway. I tend to ignore many impulses of the heart. And since we are all here on Sunday Morning, and not in prison, I imagine most of us are able to do the same. But teaching my heart to love God’s commandments? Getting my heart to keep them? That is another story. I think if I was as heartless as many have claimed, I might actually be able to live a sinless life. Yet, on those occasions where I am stupid enough to listen to my heart I find myself in real trouble.
Then I have had some show their naivety claiming that I had only sinned when I gave in and listened to my heart. Ever since John Wesley saddled up his horse on the American frontier, this has been the popular, but mistaken notion, concerning sin in America. The idea is that we have no control over our heart, so we can’t sin in thought and word, but only in deed. Of course, if I can’t sin in word, then what is the eighth commandment, thou shall not bear false witness, all about? And if I can’t sin in thought, what are these commandments against coveting? The truth in the matter is that we sin in thought and word, long before we sin in deed. And the fact that we can’t control our thoughts as well as we can control our deeds, or even our words, is only evidence that sin is a far deeper problem than Wesley ever thought. We are not sinners because we have sinned. We sin because we are sinners. Sin is a condition within us that manifests itself in what we think, say and do. We really do have very little control over this. It is fairly true that we can’t help our thoughts, even if we can watch what we say and do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be held accountable for our thoughts, or that we are guiltless because we had no control over them.
Do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. Of course, there is more to the teaching of the Lord than the commandments. And it is here in the more that we begin to learn how our heart might keep the commandments. It is here that we learn of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness which will never forsake you, even when your heart forsakes God. It is the gospel, the good news, the very heart of scripture that forgives us our sins. On hearing the gospel our condition is changed. It is not our love for the Lord that saves us, it is not our keeping the commandments that saves us, and adds days and years to our lives. But it is the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His keeping the law for us that saves us. He did what we could not do. He was born without sin. He lived life perfectly for us, not only in deed, but in thought and word. His heart, pure from birth, was able to keep the commandments, and since his heart kept the commandments, so did He. Yet His life on earth was cut short. His heart kept the commandments, but days and years added to his earthly life were spared Him. They were spared Him, that He might spare us, and add length of days, and years of life, and peace to us.
For it was His love for us, that led Him to the cross. It was His innocent heart, that led Him to the cross for us. So that He could die in our place, for all our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. And there He shed His blood for us, to atone for, and forgive our sins. And it was His innocence that led Him out of the grave. So that all of us who have been washed in His blood, and buried with Him in baptism, might also rise in the newness of life. The newness of life we find only in Him, where His Spirit guides our hearts, and teaches us to trust in Him, and love Him. In Him, our hearts also learn to keep His commandments. And length of days, and years of life to all eternity, and the peace of the Lord, that surpasses all understanding, and keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, are added to us.