Sermon for Sunday, May 17, 2015 || Easter 7B || Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Last week, we talked about trying to discern how and when to lean into the newness shimmering on the horizon of your life. I invited you to stop and pray the next time you are at the precipice of a decision; to take a deep breath and feel which way the wind of the Holy Spirit is pushing you; to ask God what new thing God is trying to birth through you with the decision. I know many of us, myself included, often have a hard time finding words to put to these prayers for guidance. Silent prayer – with lots of listening – is a beautiful alternative when there are no words, but if you have the urge to speak, then I have the first five words of the prayer, just to get you started. They come from this morning’s first reading. The eleven apostles want to round out their number, so they select two candidates and then pray about which one will take Judas’s spot. And they begin their prayer for guidance with these five words: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.”
What a profound statement of faith – five words that speak to the apostles’ trust in God. Lord, you know everyone’s heart. This one, brief sentence guides their decision-making process in three substantial ways. They acknowledge God’s presence in their endeavor. They understand that making choices involves more than purely mental exercise. And they show humility in the face of a life-altering decision. Let’s take them in turn.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we routinely ignore God’s presence because God is always present. We forget that God is in the midst of not just the miraculous, but also the mundane. Now, our failure to recognize God’s presence is understandable. How many of us note the sound of the engine in the car until there’s an ominous sputtering? How many of us note the reliable glow of the bedside lamp until the transformer blows outside? We adapt to routine. We organize our lives into predictable patterns. But God’s movement in our lives is the very framework upon which our patterns hang, so that movement is often difficult to perceive. On the other hand, like the electricity, we’d notice if God weren’t there.
The apostles combat the tendency to ignore God’s foundational presence by invoking God’s knowledge of their hearts as they make a decision. Lord, you know everyone’s heart is shorthand for, “Lord, you are present in all that we do, and your presence sustains the world we live in and the life we live.” With these words, the apostles invite God into their decision-making process. This invitation may seem superfluous if you believe the assertion that God is ever-present. Indeed, God doesn’t need an invitation to be present in our lives. But we often need to invite God in to remind ourselves to be present to God. Our invitation functions, strangely enough, as an RSVP, as a response to God’s presence. The apostles know this. They know that the Lord is already present, but the invitation prepares their hearts to respond to God’s movement.
Lord, you know everyone’s heart, they pray. The apostles know that making a life-altering decision involves more than mental exercise. Every decision we make has both mental and emotional components, and we ignore the emotional at our peril. When the apostles pray these five words, they combine the mental verb “know” with the feeling word “heart.” They understand that God made separating heart from head so difficult precisely because our decision-making process should not attempt the separation. God gave us minds to interpret our emotions and hearts to provide our minds with the fuel of hope and imagination. God infused our biology with such checks and balances, so we tragically limit ourselves when we shelve our feelings in favor of our thoughts, or vice versa. Only by mingling the two can we make faithful decisions.
The apostles know they are in God’s presence. They employ both their hearts and minds as they make their choice. And they show humility in the midst of a life-altering decision. This humility is key to the whole decision-making enterprise. Every one of my choices affects more than just me, and those effects ripple into the future in permutations that my brain is unequipped to process. I don’t know how my decisions will affect others, let alone myself. Furthermore, I don’t even know myself well enough most of the time to make good decisions. Lord, you know everyone’s heart. If God knows what’s in my heart, then that makes one of us.
Humility comes in when we acknowledge our limited awareness of ourselves and the world around us. If our interior lives are clouded in mystery, how much less can we understand the trajectory of our decisions in the wider world? Inviting God into the decision-making process opens us up to the One who truly knows us. The humble prayer begins, “Lord you know my heart, and you know it much better than I do.” Confessing our shallow understanding of our own inner selves sets us on the path to faithful decisions.
Let’s say you are standing at the edge of a life-altering decision. You are trying to decide what college to go to; or whether to throw yourself fully into a budding relationship; or if you should change jobs. There’s newness shimmering on the horizon, so you stop and pray. You begin with a personalized version of these five words: “Lord, you know everyone’s one.”
Lord, you know my heart. With these words, you invite God into your decision-making process. You make yourself aware of God’s constant, yet elusive presence. You think back to your campus visits at your top three choices. You hadn’t been prepared to look for God’s presence at the time, being so overwhelmed by the experience. But now, looking back in prayer, you notice a flicker of rightness about one school. You imagine yourself there, setting up your dorm room, going to class. And you realize what that flicker of rightness feels like. It feels like home. That’s God’s presence inviting you to choose the best of all possible futures.
Lord, you know my heart. With these words, you allow your head and your heart to team up, mingling your rational mind with your emotions and imagination. A new relationship is budding, and you’re trying to decide whether or not to run with it. Your heart tells you yes, Yes, YES – how could you possibly feel any better than you do right now. You’re skin’s all tingly. You haven’t heard her voice in an hour, which is an hour too long. But here your rational mind breaks through the fog of passion: let’s not pick the china pattern yet. Let’s get to know each other. Let’s take it slow. Let’s test this and see if our nascent passion has what it takes to deepen into the bedrock of lifetime commitment.
Lord, you know my heart. With these words, you humbly acknowledge that alone you don’t have the depth of awareness necessary to make a faithful decision. You’ve been thinking about changing jobs for a while. Right now, the money’s good, but the hours are killer. You tell yourself that you’re sacrificing so that your family can have a good life. And that may be true, but still, you’ve missed a dance recital and three little league games this month alone. You have an offer on the table. It’s less money, but you’d be home most evenings. In humility, you ask for God’s guidance to help you see the future permutations of this decision.
Lord, you know my heart. “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.” When you are trying to discern how and when to lean into the newness shimmering on the horizon of your life, begin your prayer for guidance with these five words. With integrated heart and mind, kneel humbly in God’s presence. Unfurl your heart to God. Place yourself in the palm of God’s hand. And know that God will still be there whatever future unfolds.