Lift up your hearts

Thank you for your welcome to the Diocese over these last seven months. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers. I have been asked many times “How can we pray for you?” I have normally quoted some words spoken by the Bishop in the ordinal: “Pray daily that your heart may be enlarged”. I’ve been conscious that I have needed, as it were, a wider, deeper heart through this transition.

This morning I will invite all of us, lay and ordained to renew our commitments to ministry. As we make those solemn commitments again, I want to encourage you us to ponder some familiar words and set them again at the centre of who we are and what we do.

At the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer there is a dialogue between priest and people:

The Lord be with you
And also with you
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord

Some of us have the immense privilege as priests of summoning a whole community to lift up their hearts in the Eucharist. Others are called no less to invite God’s people to lift up their hearts in different ways: in the ministry of the word and in the prayers; in pastoral care, in evangelism; as we lead worship or work with children and young people. This call goes right to the centre of our understanding of every kind of ministry. What does it mean?

The words have a long pedigree. They go back to the third century. They are used in the rites of East and West, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed.

The words are biblical, like so much of our liturgy, but not an exact quotation. In Lamentations we read: “Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven” (3.41). In the Psalms: “To you O Lord I lift up my soul” (25.1, see also 86.4 and 143.8). There is an echo of Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads O gates and be lifted up O ancient doors” (24.7,9). Colossians 3 says this: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth for your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3.2).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the heart is much more than the physical organ which pumps blood round the body. The idea of the heart is a big idea. In contemporary culture, the heart is the seat of the emotions and especially the place of romantic love. In the Bible it is much more. The heart is the very centre of our inner life, our spiritual life, our emotions, our character and our will. The heart is the whole of who we are and how we are.

What is that we are lifting up? When I ask a congregation to lift up their hearts, I’m asking you to lift your very selves to God. And what is a priest, what is a deacon, what is a lay minister except someone who is called to make that invitation in everything we do. What are we saying in all our ministry except: “Lift up your hearts”?

St. Augustine says this in one of his sermons:

“The whole life of true Christians is “Lift up your hearts”, not that of Christians in name only, but of Christians in reality and truth. Their whole life is “Lift up your hearts”. What then is “Lift up your hearts”? It is hope in God, not in yourself, for you are below, God is on high. If your hope is in yourself, your heart is below, it is not on high. And so, when you have heard from the priest, “Lift up your heart”, you answer, “We lift them to the Lord”. Make sure that you make a true answer.”

Lift up your hearts is a call first to the hurting, the broken and the weary to draw near to God’s love and to God’s mercy. That includes you and me.

We are called to celebrate the Eucharist with gentleness and tenderness for we gather first as bruised and hurting people, carrying heavy burdens, worn down by our living and by our attempts to love.

We come carrying our sorrow and fear for the world. Every fresh tragedy. Every twist and turn of events. Every challenge in our personal lives. The sense of change and uncertainty in the nation and the world.

To lift up your heart is an act of trust in God even in the midst of all that is happening, even despite the grief and the things you cannot understand. To hold up your heart to God’s love in confidence that it will be held and healed and not rejected.

We will bless three oils in this service: the oil of healing celebrates the tender love of God, the desire to mend and make us new. Every Eucharist is a sacrament of God’s healing presence.

Lift up your hearts is a call to be made new within. We are asking for our small and narrow hearts to be enlarged, our stony hearts to be made flesh, our hardened and cynical hearts to be opened out to joy.

In every Eucharist we return to the heart of the gospel. We repent and we believe and we ask to be made new. In every Eucharist we remember our baptism and we seek to be changed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

We dare to lift up our hearts in the knowledge that they are imperfect and we invite God to transform us by his love and power.

We bless three oils in this service. The oil for the signing of the cross at baptism is a sign that our hearts and our lives are changed by God as we open ourselves to his grace.

Lift up your hearts is an offering of our whole lives to God in worship and in service.

“The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit”, says the psalmist. “A broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise” (Psalm 51.17).

We do not come to worship today bringing any sacrifice or gift to lay before God. The sacrifice has been made, once and for all, in Christ’s death on the cross. We come to offer and to lift up our hearts in response to God’s love: to offer our lives anew in the ministries to which God has called us. To offer our lives afresh, seeking a new beginning, conscious of our imperfections but of God’s grace.

By his Spirit, God weaves these offered hearts and lives into a royal priesthood able to proclaim the kingdom, to witness to God’s love and to call all the earth to joy.

We bless three oils in this service. The oil of chrism for confirmations and ordinations is a sign that our hearts and lives are offered back to God.

Lift up your hearts.

The American scholar Brene Brown has connected with millions of people through her TED talks and her books and her website. She speaks about the power of vulnerability. About the courage to be ourselves, to be vulnerable to others in order to love and to make a difference in the world.

The English word courage comes from the Latin “cor” which means heart. To live with courage is to live and love with all our hearts. To encourage someone is to put the heart back into them.

Lift up your hearts to the God who mends and saves and sends.

Amen.

+Steven Oxford

A sermon at the Eucharist with Blessing of Oils
Christ Church
13th April 2017
1 Samuel 3.1-10; Psalm 24; Revelation 1.5b-8 and Luke 7.36-50

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