We Must Get Our Hearts Right

To the Trinity Community,

We are living in a challenging time. While protests against racism unfold across our nation and world, the never-absent coronavirus pandemic continues to inflict its sickness and death around the world. Our government seems not just absent, but willing to inflict and inflame chaos and disruption on those whom it has sworn to protect. These are chilling times, indeed.

“When we get our hearts right, we will take the right actions.”

Many of you have asked me over the past several days, “What should we do? What should I do?” Even asking these questions is a poignant plea from your hearts, a desire to respond, to act, to do something as things seem to unravel around us. Just this morning I received a beautiful and heartfelt note from a fellow Christian in Dublin, Ireland who asked, “Is there anything that we can do here to help you in a meaningful way?” As I reflected on your requests in my prayers this morning, something arose in my heart that I just can’t shake, and so I want to share it with you, as something we can do. Two parts from Matthew’s Gospel:

Matthew 5.43-45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 7.12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

These two passages are, of course, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One of my teachers, Richard Rohr, says that the Sermon on the Mount is the part of the Gospel most ignored by Christians, and the most reflective of the hardest bedrock truths of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we tend to ignore it? It is too impractical in the real world. I can certainly love my theoretical enemies across the world, but that guy over there is a real enemy who has done me a real wrong—how can I be expected to love him? The Golden Rule? You bet: I try to be nice enough to everyone, isn’t that the point?

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that the Sermon on the Mount is to be taken with the utmost seriousness, that it is not meant to be an airy pie-in-the-sky set of moral teachings that are fine as a target to which we might aspire. Far from it: the Sermon on the Mount is steely-eyed, no nonsense, and indicative of the deepest strands of where and how to encounter Jesus and his Father. The Sermon on the Mount is a description of reality.

When Jesus says, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” apparently he means it. And by “love” he does not mean anything sweet and sentimental, he means desiring the best for the other. Of course, desiring the best for another person does not mean wanting him or her to agree with me because I know what’s best for them. It means seeing them with and through the eyes of God and praying that God’s will may be done in that person’s life and in yours. This type of rather dispassionate love and prayer is terrific for friends or even mild acquaintances, but for enemies? Please.

We find a similar difficulty in the instruction to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Oh, wait, I forgot a crucial part: “In everything.” Without that last bit, we can mostly get away with being nice to one another. But “in everything” is where it gets dicey because the ethical implications of this are staggering. Think about it for a moment: your home, your work, your healthcare, your diet, the safety of your relationships, your children’s education, your entire way of being—wouldn’t you want to do that to others? No surprise that we’ve largely sentimentalized this as a warm feeling meant only for framed needlepoint home decorations—it would mean, truly mean, that the good things I desire for myself I also want for you and for the whole world. This is not simply a warm ethical admonition; this is a world revolution. No wonder we ignore its force and power: it is just impractical in the real world, and not because we could not do it, but because we do not want to. It is too hard.

So, back to the original questions: “What should we do? What should I do?” In those questions, I hear you wanting me to tell you what actions we should take—donate money to this organization, join this protest, read these books, talk to these people. But action is not the first thing. The first thing is getting our hearts right—truly opening our hearts, sitting with and listening to what Jesus has called us to be. And that is hard work.

How do we do that? We love our enemies and pray for them that God’s will may be done in their life and in ours. So when we see police in the streets firing tear gas and arresting young people who are legitimately protesting, we open our hearts to those police in love—as impossible as that may feel. We seek the best for everyone in the world because that is what we want for ourselves. So when we see the video of George Floyd being slowly killed by a policeman, we open our hearts to the pain of his death and commit to creating a world where that is not done to anyone, anywhere, ever again, because we would not want that done to ourselves.

When we get our hearts right, we will take the right actions.

This is all, of course, deeply impractical in the real world. Yet, Jesus was an utter realist, perhaps the only true realist who has ever lived. Because he saw the world, and all of us, with the eyes of God. And he meant what he said.



Vicar and Priest-in-charge