Through the Heart of Jesus / Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 6:17-26

And all the crowd sought to touch Him, for power came out from Him and healed them all. And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, just in case any of you men need something to panic about. Just a friendly reminder for any procrastinators who might be in the house. Tomorrow’s big day reminded of when Georgann and I were walking through the store just the other day and she was looking for candy hearts. You know those candy hearts that are bright pink and orange and yellow, and they have sappy sayings stamped onto them; “Kiss Me,” “Hot Stuff,” “Be Mine,” etc.

The original candy hearts with sayings, their official name is “conversation hearts”, were the Sweethearts candies from the Necco Co. They were created in the 1860s. Today, about 8 billion Sweethearts candy hearts are sold each year, with most of those sold in the six weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Last year, a research scientist attempted to create new conversation heart sayings using a network of computers that were set up to mimic the workings of the human brain. And he called it a neural network. It was thought that a neural network could be trained to create romantic or flirty sayings that sounded like something humans would say. So, these sayings were entered from popular conversation hearts into the neural network’s programs. Then attempted to connect the network on computers to create its own sayings based on the information provided.

How do you think the machines did? Well, let me give you a sample of some of the results: “LOVE 2000 HOGS YEA.” Here’s another: “HOT STUFF MY BODY IS.” Well, that may be a little closer to a normal Yoda Valentine’s message. Some, though, were totally off the wall. For instance, see if this one puts you in a romantic mood: “AMERICAN OCEAN CABBAGE DELIGHT?”

What do you think? Would you be flattered if your significant other declared their love with the words AMERICAN OCEAN CABBAGE DELIGHT? I didn’t think so. Maybe there’s some tasks that machines can’t replace the human brain.

I believe most people fall into three camps when it comes to Valentine’s Day. There are the folks who love it, plan for it, spend lots of money for it. Then there are the folks who shrug it off. Just another day of the year. And finally, there are those who roll their eyes at it. They hate the idea of a made-up holiday that promotes romance and shopping.

However, it’s a shame that we don’t celebrate love every day of the year. It’s too easy to take our loved ones for granted. No matter which of the three camps you fall into, I hope you take some time every day to notice and appreciate the people who love you. Don’t let a day go by without letting someone know that you love them and appreciate them.

I read another article that I thought was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day. One of the most famous landmarks in the world is the statue of Jesus with outstretched arms that overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s called “Christ the Redeemer,” and it stands 125 feet tall. It’s inspired many visitors to visit that city. But there’s an organization in the tiny town of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, that’s funding an even bigger Jesus’ statue in their town. The “Christ the Protector” statue will stand 141 feet tall, 16 feet taller than the statue in the capitol city.

One unique feature of the “Christ the Protector” statue is that there will be a lookout room with wide windows installed at about the height of the Jesus statue’s heart. Did you catch that? Wide windows installed at about the height of the Jesus statue’s heart. An elevator will transport tourists up to this spot so they can see views of the city below . . . from Jesus’ heart.

Can you imagine what the view would be like from Jesus’ heart? That’s the goal of the Christian life, isn’t it? To continually grow in our ability to view life through the heart of Jesus. It changes our perspective entirely when we realize that the purpose of our life isn’t about our own happiness. The purpose of our life is to live as Jesus lived. That means sharing God’s love with others. The purpose of our life is to do the good works God created us to do. The purpose of our life is to represent Jesus’ character, mission and message to the world. And you thought buying the right Valentine’s present was difficult!

And that’s why today’s Bible passage is so appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Because Jesus’ teachings come from a place of grace, pure, unmerited, unearned love. Even His toughest teachings, the ones that make us squirm, the ones that offend us, the ones that challenge our worldview, come from a place of love. Jesus’ words might seem challenging, even harsh, in this passage. But what if we were to view these words through Jesus’ heart? Would that change how we respond to them?

Before we go any further, we should look at who Jesus was talking to. Jesus had been teaching out in the countryside and healing people. A great crowd of people had come from all over Judea, and even from the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus was popular! His ministry would be the envy of any pastor, right up until the time they crucified Him. And during all this excitement, Jesus turns and directs these words quite surprisingly to His disciples:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Why did Jesus direct these words specifically toward His disciples? What did He want them, and us, to know? I believe Jesus was telling them, don’t judge your life by your current circumstances. It’s important. Don’t judge your life by your current circumstances.

Don’t set your heart on the things of this world. That’s not what you were made for. If you’re healthy, wealthy, popular and powerful now? Good for you. But don’t base your happiness, self-worth or security on these things. Or, perhaps you’re poor, grieving, unpopular or persecuted right now? God be with you. But don’t base your attitude or your self-worth on these things. Your circumstances don’t define you. Whether your circumstances drive you closer to God or further from God is what is most important.

Remember, crowds of people are following Him wherever He went. They hung on His every word. They’d go home and tell their friends and family about Him. But Jesus didn’t let His popularity go to His head. And He didn’t want His disciples to think that following Him was a great way to reap earthly rewards. In fact, the opposite was true.

It’s so easy to let the good things in life, good health, happy relationships, social acceptance, status symbols, become the foundation for our attitude, our worldview, even our identity. But these pleasures, rather than drawing us closer to God, often drive us further from God.

Jesus was also telling them that was God is working in your most painful circumstances. That’s the perspective we gain if we view our painful circumstances through Jesus’ heart. If we search for what God is teaching us in our circumstances, if we rely on God’s power to sustain us in our circumstances, if we open ourselves up to receiving God’s mercy in our most painful times as a beggar holds out his hands to receive bread, then we will eventually see God at work in our most painful circumstances.

A friend of mine, who’s an author, begins every new novel by writing the last line of the book first. Once he has captured the last line of the book, he’s ready to begin telling the story. Because he already knows the ending, he’s fully in control of the rest of the story.

That’s the secret Jesus tried to teach His disciples too. He already knows the ending to the story. He already knows that He will die to reconcile us to God and give us eternal life. He already knows that God has a kingdom prepared for those who love Him. And He already knows that every painful circumstance we face in this life can be used to draw us closer to God’s heart and God’s will and God’s purposes, if we will only let it.

And Jesus was also telling them to find their fulfillment in living for Him. There are many places in this world you can seek fulfillment. But there’s only one place you can truly find it. As the old gospel song, that I first heard sung by the Statler brothers, says, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” This world is not your home. You were made for eternal life with God, living in a world ruled by God’s values, God’s priorities.

But what happens when worlds collide? What happens when you live the values and priorities of God’s world in this world? You don’t fit in. Your habits and your lifestyle will look different to your family, your colleagues, your neighbors. People will question you. Perhaps talk about you. Reject you.

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but Jesus was calling them to make the ultimate sacrifice, to eventually die for the sake of following Him. And He’s calling us to do the same. Even if we never lay down our lives for Jesus, we’re called to sacrifice our own priorities and values and will and replace them with the priorities and values and will of God.

We can find happiness in chasing success, health, wealth, status, comfort, security. But we will never find our fulfillment or our God-given purpose in those things. God made us to find our fulfillment, our purpose, our life in living for Him. It’s not going to be easy. Jesus was very clear about that. So don’t set your heart on the things of this world. Set your heart on knowing God and living in God’s will, and you’ll discover the life that God made you for, a life that’s both abundant and eternal in its blessings.