The Heart of Christianity: The Way of the Heart

October 23, 2016


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Oct. 23, 2016

“The Heart of Christianity – The Way of the Heart”
Matt. 22:37-40

This week, in disbelief and a growing sick feeling in my stomach, I read a comment written by one of my acquaintances on Facebook. It said…

Evil is doing its best to come into our lives and make this a new norm. We have changed our thoughts and said well, it is okay, what can we do about it? I am sorry but all the things that have been passed and changed lately are against my moral values. We have all sinned, everyone! Please think about things, it is now acceptable to lie, murder, steal, and kill babies, put a boy on the cover of a female magazine dressed in makeup and all the other agenda that goes along with this. This country sickens me. It has become like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember there is nothing new under the sun. God wiped out this area for their sins. I believe in God our almighty King. He is in control. If this election goes the way it may go, it could be the beginning of the end. Read your bibles and get on your knees and pray, because an evil is here right now and you all need to see it happening. Pray for people they are truly going to need it. Pray for our country. God will come and put an end to all of this mess!

Marcus Borg, in his book, “The Heart of Christianity”, notes that there are 2 dramatically different concepts of Christian faith. These two ideas about Christian faith are almost so far apart that it appears that they are two different religions, both using the same Bible and language. Borg calls these the “earlier paradigm” and the “emerging paradigm”. A few of the striking differences are listed in your bulletin.

Please note that the “earlier paradigm” is a movement within Christianity in the last few hundred years. Although it is often touted as the Christian tradition, it is only one of many constructs. Borg notes that we can perceive Christian diversity in cultural forms… for example: there is a 2nd century Syrian way of being Christian, an 8th century Irish way, a 12th century Eastern Orthodox way, a 15th century Chinese way, and a 19th century Scandinavian Lutheran way, just to name a few. There is no single right way of understanding Christianity and no single right way of being Christian, notes Borg.

After 6 weeks studying ancient Chinese wisdom and applying it to our lives, we are embarking on a new topic today – The Heart of the Matter. This will be a stark contrast to the last series because we will be looking into our own lives of faith and how we may be compelled to live in that faith.

My acquaintance’s comment has disturbed me for several days. I don’t intend to comment on the politics of her statement. Rather, I want to say something theological about it. My first reaction to her comment was that she has a radically different view of faith than I do. While we both identify ourselves as Christian, I did not find the Christian faith I espouse in her words.

Many people in our society today think that being a Christian means believing in a set of doctrines. For example, most people identify Christians as believing:
• There is a God
• Jesus is the Son of God
• Jesus died for our sins
• The Bible is the Word of God

My point is that this preoccupation with what a person “believes” has an effect. It turns Christianity into a matter of whether you believe the right set of claims to be true. But this, again, is a more modern development in the last several centuries. Until then, the word “faith” was not about doctrine or beliefs. Prior to the 17th century, the word “believe” did not mean believing in the truth of statements or propositions. Grammatically, the object of believing was not statements, but a person. Faith was a matter of the heart.

When I use the word heart here, I am using a metaphor for a deep level of your self – a level that is deeper than our thinking, feeling, and intention. The heart is even deeper than our conscious self and the ideas we have. This heart is the deepest level of our lives… and this is where our faith resides.
• It is what we turn to when our knowledge runs out
• It is what we need when beliefs and words fail us
• It is what we draw from during those darkest of times of life

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century theologian, spoke of faith as floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float. Taking Kierkegaard’s metaphor farther… think of teaching a child to swim. One of the most difficult hurdles is getting the child to relax in the water. You say, “It’s okay, just relax. You’ll float, it’s okay. I’ve got you. Just let go.”

Christian faith, then, is trusting in the buoyancy of God. Faith isn’t about statements about God (even Biblical statements). It isn’t so much about what we say or what we believe. Instead, it is about our relationship with God.

We talk about creeds and credos in the church. They have commonly been used as a list of beliefs. But the Latin root for credo means “I give my heart to”. Remember that belief is not so much about thoughts – it is about love. In fact, the English words “believe” and “belove” are related. What we believe is what we belove. So faith and belief are about beloving God in that deep, inner place of the heart.

Have you ever heard someone say that they don’t need the church and all its rhetoric? That they can be spiritual without a church? It is true a person can experience God very deeply in nature – a walk in the park or by the water; a golf game; a good book. We can experience God separate from this place. But don’t be confused. Faith is a relational word. Jesus said it best:
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matt. 22:37-40

At the center of the Christian life are two relationships that are ultimately one. The first relationship is “You shall love God with all of you life force.” The second relationship is similar “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is what it means to have faith and to practice what you believe. It is to belove God and others. Jesus declared that this was the center of what it meant to follow him. The Christian life is as simple and challenging as this: to love God and to love that which God loves. This is the heart of Christianity.

That’s why my acquaintance’s words about the world going to hell in a hand basket were so troublesome to me. I did not see in the words or in her heart anything about beloving God or people. Her worldview was bleak and hopeless. It was full of fear and anger. These are not Christian principles. To love God and to love what God loves is the heart of Jesus’ message.

We can measure all of life’s circumstances on this principle.
• How do you deal with declining health? Dig down deep into your soul and focus on your most beloved people and God.
• How do you solve a moral dilemma? Apply Jesus’ words to the situation. Which action in the dilemma is the most loving toward God and people?
• How to you resolve a conflict? Get in touch with the spirit of God within and measure your actions against the radical love & acceptance of Jesus.

Given the rhetoric of our news lately, I think this is an especially important reminder. There is a song about what the world needs:
If we ever needed love, it’s now;
If we ever needed strength to give our hearts to someone else,
Sharing joys and sorrows as we walk life’s lonesome road,
If we ever needed love, it’s now.

If we ever needed hope, it’s now;
If we ever needed wings to soar beyond what we despair,
Into a new tomorrow, much brighter than today,
If we ever needed hope, it’s now.

If we ever needed Jesus, it’s now;
If we ever needed a Savior to meet us at our need,
With tender hands of mercy, to brush away each tear;
If we ever needed love, If we ever needed hope,
If we ever needed Jesus, it’s now, it’s now, it’s now.”

Claiming to be Christian is about being in relationship: with self, with God, with others. This is the heart of Christianity.