Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Heart Overflowing

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord:  Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.  Blessed is the man who does this, the son of man who holds to it; Who keeps the Sabbath free from profanation, and his hand from any evildoing.  Let not the foreigner say, when he would join himself to the Lord, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people…”  Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel:  Others will I gather to him besides those already gathered. (Isaiah 56:1-3a, 8b)

Jesus said to the Jews: “… John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while, you were content to rejoice in his light.  But I have testimony greater than John’s.  The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.’”  (John 5:35-36)

Lord, grant me a heart like yours, a heart filled with love, mercy, and compassion.

When I was a child, my grandmother was my absolute favorite person.  She doted on my brother, sister and I.  She always had time to teach us a nursery rhyme, tell us a story, or listen to the tales of our days.  She took us on trips and was a good sport, even when we convinced her to go on wild rides on the boardwalk.  More importantly, she shared her deep faith with us and taught us to pray.   I didn’t stop at being thankful for her, though.  I took it a step further and was glad that we didn’t have to share her with any cousins.  (My parents were both only children.)  It never occurred to me when I was little how self-centered that was.  Maybe she had hoped for more children.  Maybe my mother would have liked having siblings.  And now I realize how nice it would have been to have aunts and uncles and cousins.

My grandmother had a big heart, a heart that would have overflowed with love for every one of us, no matter how many grandchildren she might have had.  That’s the kind of heart God has, too; a heart that never stops expanding with love for all of us, no matter where we come from, what color our skin is, how many tattoos we have, what language we speak or what kind of clothes we wear.

And that’s difficult for some of us to hear.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were pretty sure that God favored people like them, people who knew and adhered to all the laws that had come to be regarded as the Law, people who outwardly did all the correct things but were lacking in mercy toward those who didn’t quite measure up.  They couldn’t conceive of a God who wanted to consort with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and sinners of every sort.  Their ideas about God were kind of small.

But are we all that different?  How big a heart do we imagine God has?  Not too expansive if we judge by our own behavior.  We talk behind people’s backs about their attire in church.  We make comments about people who aren’t fluent in English.  We have little patience for that squirming toddler in the pew in front of us.  We’re intolerant of church music – whether it’s chant or contemporary Christian – that doesn’t fit with our idea of how to praise God in song.   Many of us would be uncomfortable if a homeless man or woman came and sat down beside us in one of our middle class, suburban Northern Virginia churches next Sunday.   If we’re honest, we, like the Pharisees, have a pretty narrow picture of how God’s people think, look, and sound as well as a limited view of God’s ability to love.

During Advent, our Scripture readings lead us out of the darkness toward the Light that is God’s love for all the world.   Anyone, no matter who they are, where they’ve come from, or what they’ve ever done, is welcome to dwell in that Light.  As God says in the first reading, when God gathers the family, there are likely to be people there you wouldn’t expect to see.  This week pray for a heart as full of love and compassion as God’s.

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