Lift Up Your Hearts
The call to the congregation "Lift up your hearts" was first mentioned by Cyprian who died in 258 A.D. (NPNF, 1, I: 554). About a hundred years later Cyril of Jerusalem explained, "In effect therefore the priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God" (NPNF, 2, VII: 153-4). Augustine commenting on our text said that we don't want to be liars when we answer the call "Lift up your hearts" with "We lift them up unto the Lord" (NPNF, 1, I: 554). Peter Chrysologus, about hundred years after, said, "Send your treasure on ahead into heaven, or else your God-given soul will be buried in the earth .Clearly it is better to carry the gold to where the soul resides than to bury the soul in the mine of the gold" (ACC, III, 211).
So do these words that have been in the church for over 1,750 years still resonate with you? Do you feel the relief when I call "Lift up your hearts?" Are you lifting them up to the Lord, or are you lying? If you're lying, your soul won't be buried in the earth. You'll just wish it was.
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who commands sell your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and make for yourself treasure in heaven. All of these verbs are imperatives. All denote what you must do, so why aren't you? For the same reason, you're not following the command to cut off your right hand or dig out your eye even though they do cause you to stumble. You don't get to where Jesus would have you be by an outward work.
This selling, giving, and making denote an inward change. They indicate a radically different view of possessions than we have now. Such a view takes a miracle. It's like that George Strait song where a wife's changed view of the marriage is indicated by a changed view of the joint property of the marriage. In the song the wife shows she's really done with the marriage by answering what should be done with the treasures of their marriage by saying, "Just give it away." When we have a "just give it away" view of our possessions our treasure is not on earth but in heaven.
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who commands you to do the impossible both as far as possessions and being ready. He commands that we be always dressed ready for action with our lamps always burning. Do you know why the watch is divided up? Because no solider can stay awake constantly. Yet our Lord says He comes like a thief; He says he comes when we don't expect Him; He says no one knows the day let alone hour. Yet He commands us always be dressed, ready, watching. However, in the parable of the 10 maidens even the 5 wise ones are asleep when the Groom comes.
Do you get it? His commands to sell everything and be always ready are impossible for us. They show the impossibility of any of us ever being saved. Like the disciples who reply to Jesus' words that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved, we ask in wonder, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus replies, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God." When confronted by the impossible the only possibility is to lift up your hearts unto the Lord.
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who also commands you to stop being afraid. This text begins with that command not with the commands about possessions and being ready. Jesus commands us to stop being afraid, and He gives the reason we can. You can stop being afraid because your Father is tickled to give you the kingdom. Your Father feels toward giving you the kingdom the way you feel toward giving a child a special gift. You just can't wait to give it. Should the child who the gift is intended for ever be afraid he's not going to get it? How silly that would be!
How can Jesus be so sure the Father is pleased to give you the kingdom? Because He was sent into the world by the Father to buy it. The price in order to give sinners the kingdom was God's Law kept both in terms of its requirements and punishments. Find a requirement of the Law Jesus didn't fulfill. Not even His enemies, not even the Devil could fine one. Find a punishment of the Law Jesus didn't suffer. He cried "It is finished," because it really was. The kingdom is all bought and paid for and wrapped up for you in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Tell me. What are all the possessions in the world compared to the kingdom you are being given and who on earth wouldn't be ready to receive it?
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who can't wait to give you the kingdom and who promises He's returning for you from a wedding banquet. Of all the places the Lord could picture His return from a trip, a battle, prison, etc. He says we are to be "like men waiting for their Lord to return from a wedding." Why? Because whose afraid of someone coming home from a wedding reception? How many weddings have you come home from in a bad mood? You're coming back from a party, a happy occasion. You come back tired maybe but happy surely.
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who is coming back to you from a wedding reception and who promises when He returns He will dress Himself ready for action, recline you at a festival table, and serve you. Just from an earthly view this is fantastic. You normally come home late and tired from a wedding. The last thing you want to do is wait on someone else, but that's the picture here. It's unexpected that the Lord of all would wait on you at all, but put it in the context of a master coming home late from a wedding reception and serving his servants and your mind has got to be blown.
How joyous to lift up your hearts to such a Lord as this! How eager we are to meet such a Lord as this. And we do, right now in Holy Communion. Don't you find it curious that the Church puts the invitation to lift up your hearts right before the Lord of the Church comes down to her altar? This must be on purpose. Our hearts go up to our Lord in heaven, and He comes down to earth in Bread and Wine to serve us with forgiveness, with life, with salvation. Dispossessed of all things, counting nothing as our own, the Lord of all creation enriches us with His Body and Blood.
Lift up your hearts to the Lord who gives you the new view of possessions He requires. And lift up your hearts to the Lord who prepares you to meet Him at any day or hour. Jesus means there to be a direct correlation between His command to be dressed ready for service and His promise that He will dress Himself to serve you when He comes for you. They're the same Greek word. You prepare to meet your Lord in the future by being served by Him now in Word and Sacraments.
But how can anyone be ready to meet the Lord who promises, "He will come at an hour when you do not expect Him?" You can't stay up forever, yet you are always to be ready? This only the Lord can do, and that's why you are called to lift up your hearts to Him. You try to do this on your own and you will make yourself neurotic for sure and probably self-righteous. You'll be like Luther who was so afraid of having not confessed all his sins and therefore wasn't ready to meet his Lord that he kept running to his confessor even though he had just been there.
Who else can dress you for the returning Lord than the Lord who says He clothes you with Himself in Baptism? Who else can keep your light burning but the Lord who declares Himself to be the Light of the world? Who else can keep you always ready then the Lord who never slumbers or sleeps? Lift up your hearts to the Lord who makes you ready and keeps you ready by meeting you in Word and Sacrament now. Meet Him now in the Waters of Baptism and in the Words of forgiveness. And in the Bread and Wine of Communion do as the Introit says: "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Taste His goodness and see that in comparison earthly possessions do taste bad; taste His goodness and you'll be eager, ready, dressed to taste more.
But what about Jesus returning like a thief? He does for some but not for you. You're not looking for a thief who will take from you; you're looking for the One who bought a kingdom and can't wait to give it to you. You're not looking for a thief but the Master of the house who isn't coming to surprise you but to serve you. You're not looking for a thief but the One who loves sinners so much He saved the thief on the cross.
You can't get away from the fact that Scripture says Jesus comes like a thief, but you have to pay attention to context. In Luke 21 it's hearts that are weighted down with carousing, drunkenness and anxieties of life that the day of the Lord comes suddenly on, not those who lift up their hearts to the Lord away from the anxieties of life. 2 Peter 3 says the Lord comes like a thief for scoffers not for those looking forward to His return. Revelation 3 says He comes like a thief on those hiding their sins from Him, not on those who lift their hearts to give Him their sin and sinfulness.
In Revelation 16 the Lord does say, "Behold I come like a thief," but in Revelation 22 when He says, "I am coming quickly," the Church eagerly says what we pray, "Come Lord Jesus." Finally 1 Thessalonians 5 says, "You are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief." How can you be in darkness if you lift your heart to the Lord who is the light of the world and whose Word is lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path?
"Lift up your hearts," the pastors of the Church have cried for 1,755 years, and never has the Church responded no, or why but always, "We lift them up unto the Lord." We lift them up to the merciful Lord who wants to take away from our hearts all cares, fears, and sins giving in their place the promises, peace, and forgiveness He suffered, died, and paid for us to have. Who can wait to be freed from the former and filled with the latter? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20130811); Luke 12: 32-40