Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 4B || 1 John 3:16-24
I know it’s Easter season, but please permit me to begin this sermon quoting a piece of an epic poem about Christmas. Okay, here goes:
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
My kids are on a Dr. Seuss kick right now, so when I read this morning’s lessons, the famous character of the Grinch immediately jumped to mind. In the entire canon of English literature, the Grinch is the best example of an anti-hero that I can come up with. Most stories are about a good guy, a protagonist, who overcomes some obstacle to achieve a goal. But in the Dr. Seuss classic, the main character is the bad guy, the antagonist, who thankfully is redeemed, in the end, by the selfless witness of his victims. I hope I didn’t spoil anything there. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published 61 years ago, so I think I’m in the clear.)
What makes the Grinch so brilliant as a character is that, even though he’s the bad guy, we the readers still identify with him. I’ve read the book a thousand times and never once have I identified myself as a Who down in Who-ville. No, we are the Grinch, everyone of us, no matter how much we love Christmas, or Easter for that matter. We are the Grinch, and our hearts are often two sizes too small.
We know this because of the sometimes joyful and sometimes painful process of our hearts expanding. I’m sure you’ve felt such expansion at some point in your life. For me it happened on March 29, 2010 when I drove through a rainstorm of biblical proportions, sloshed my way from my car to the coffee shop, and met Leah for the first time. She was wearing matching houndstooth rain boots and coat and smiling at me. And my heart grew. It grew again a few months later when she said “yes” to a particular question and a few months after that when we shared our vows before God and family and friends. On the day of our wedding, I didn’t think it possible for my heart to get any bigger.
I was wrong. Three and a half years later, my heart grew again. The delivery nurses put two tiny bundles of living, breathing miracle into my arms, and my heart filled so much of my insides that love started leaking from my eyes. How could it be so? Those two little beings had invaded our marital bliss, and all they did was cry and poop, and yet our hearts grew exponentially to welcome them to our family. If loving newborn twins through the utter depths of sleep deprivation isn’t a sign of God’s love and grace, then I don’t know what is.
We never expect our hearts to expand, and then when they do, we can’t imagine how we ever lived with hearts so small. Isn’t that amazing? Okay, I’m 540 words into this sermon, so I should probably quote the scripture that prompted these musing on the Grinch and heart expansion. The First Letter of John says this: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before [God] whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and [God] knows everything.”
For God is greater than our hearts. Mmmm. I love that. God is greater than our hearts. And yet we often locate God in our hearts. “Make room in your heart for God,” we say. “She has a heart for the Lord.” Earlier in the service, I prayed, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open.” The doors of our hearts are open: come on in and stay a while. But when I imagine God living in my heart, God doesn’t fit. God is like the wizard Gandalf bumping into the chandelier and doorframes of Bilbo Baggins’s tiny hobbit hole. God is too big for my heart. God is greater than our hearts.
Since this is the case, God could choose from a couple different courses of action. God could move out and find somewhere more spacious to live, like a hermit crab trading up in shell size. Or God could make our hearts bigger. I think we all know which one God chose. Of course, this grace-filled heart expansion doesn’t happen all at once. If we grow too fast, the pain can be unbearable. I know this because I grew a full foot from the beginning of my freshman year of high school to the end of my sophomore year, and my hamstrings are still mad at me. But I like being six feet tall. I can reach stuff on the top shelf.
The pain of my physical growth was worth it. And the pain of heart expansion is worth it, too. As I said before, the growth of our hearts is sometimes joyful and sometimes painful and sometimes both at the same time. Once my immediate family was complete, I wondered how else God would expand my heart to give God more room to move around; you know, raise those ceilings a little bit.
The answer came when I started to waken to the reality of my confounding privilege as a white man. I had viewed the world through a certain set of lenses and expectations, and when I started questioning them, I realized again just how small my heart was. Again I had thought my heart was a big as it could get when the twins were born, but it still had room to grow. And it still does. For God is always greater than our hearts. Like the master builder God is, God is adding new additions to our hearts’ houses, turning them from the shacks they have been to the mansions they are becoming. For me, the current addition God is building has a lot of windows and a lot of mirrors, as I examine my own privilege and try to look at the experience of others with new eyes and an expanded heart.
I wonder how God is growing your heart this Easter season? When you pray, ask God where your heart is still too small. Ask God whom God is calling you to meet, to know, and to love. And remember that God is always greater than our hearts, so if we don’t think we have to capacity to love, we might me right, but God can grow our capacity. You remember what happened with the Grinch, right? At the beginning of the story his heart is two sizes too small. But at the end, when he hears the song from Who-ville, the voices that rise to the mountaintop despite a lack of presents, how many sizes does the Grinch’s heart grow? Three! His heart expands past the point that even the narrator expects it to be. That’s grace. God is greater than our hearts. And our lives of faith comprise a constant course of heart expansion, as God blesses us with an ever-growing array of others to love and serve.