Consider this question with me for a moment, what motivated you to come to church this morning? To help you think about it, let me tell you about an experience I’ve had, one which maybe you have had as well. When I drive around and see church signs inviting visitors to come, I think about how hard it would be to walk into that church, especially if I am by myself. But you know, if I knew someone in that church, someone who I respect, someone who has a heart, then it might be a different story. I might let my defenses down and maybe, just maybe, I would be open to a spiritual talk and an invitation to attend that church. So, back to my opening questions … what motivated you to come to church this morning? I think the beginning of that answer is the people, our people, you.
As I mentioned earlier, today is LWML Sunday. The ladies of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League are an auxiliary, a group within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod church body and are found throughout North America. As the word “missionary” in their name suggests, they sponsor mission efforts reaching around the world. They do that with the mites, their small offerings which together help more and more people learn the Good News of Jesus. This morning, let’s look at 1 Peter 1:22. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (ESV). As we look at this verse, we are going to do so through the logo for this LWML Sunday, “Our hearts in His hand.”
Think about a heart in your hand. Literally, think about holding a real heart in your hand. That is what a transplant surgeon does. He takes out the diseased heart with his hand and puts in a new heart. That’s what God has done to you and me. See the cross and the drop of water in the logo? The cross represent Jesus dying for the forgiveness of our sins. The drop of water … that represents Baptism. Baptism gives you a new heart, a pure heart with all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. God promised the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (36:26). God kept his promise. Unlike a physical transplant that lasts some years, the new heart God gives you through Baptism, through faith, will live forever.
Now before you think that this sounds like routine church talk … let’s pause a moment and consider … why did God give you and me this “transplant”? Because … I have within my heart thoughts and feelings, ideas, and urges that are sinful. If what is deep down within me ever came out, I’d be so ashamed and embarrassed. Do you … be honest with yourself … do you have things deep down in your heart that would shame you if others knew?
My heart by nature is not pure and neither is yours. Our hearts are dark and contaminated with the cancerous condition of sin. We’ve inherited this condition from those before us, all the way back to Adam and Eve. We all fail and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yes, you and I are forgiven by the blood of Christ and thank God for that … but still … this sinful condition will continue on with us until the day you die. When you go to the funeral home to pay your respects to someone who has died, that person before you is no longer sinning. When you die, when your heart stops, you stop sinning.
That’s the wonderful mystery of Baptism. Baptism brings to us the forgiveness of Christ here-and-now. It gives us grace to live new and holy lives in the here-and-now. St. Paul says, “We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). St. Peter describes this as a new birth. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Mysteriously, Baptism is your daily death and new birth. When a surgeon transplants a human heart, new physical life comes to a fatally ill patient. Now God has mysteriously given you a new heart, a pure heart, a newness of life … and with the life God gives, you have love, His love.
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). What does Peter mean by this? “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” sounds like you have made yourself pure by keeping the commandments. But that’s not what Peter means. Peter is talking about faith. You see, our new heart, our new birth … they make us “children of the heavenly Father” who trustingly look up to Him and who want to live holy lives for His sake. Being pure before God is not our doing … it’s all by grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is a gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
This faith Peter says, is for a “sincere brotherly love.” Peter isn’t excluding women here. The LWML logo shows this so well. The cross comes through baptism into your heart, my heart, into each of our hearts. And each new and purified heart is surrounded by a much bigger heart. That’s the church, a big-hearted place, a place where all our hearts are together in His hand.
A big-hearted place filled with love. Think back to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon. What motivates us to come to church? The beginning of that answer is … the people. It’s you and me, and all of us together. As we experienced during the Covid crisis, we can hear the Word of God over the internet, from our couches and recliners … but being together, being in person around the Word, is the real reason we come together. Together with one another, God gives us His Word, His Word of new birth, of life and love in Christ. Together we receive this transforming Word as we hear, spoken and sung, and as we receive it physically in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There are various reasons we come to church, but more than anything else … we come to worship because here all our hearts are together, not only together with one another, but most importantly, together with one another in God’s hand.
When you think about it that way, there is something about worship which is different from all other groups or associations you may be involved in during the week. Service organizations, country club, bowling leagues, fitness centers, or hanging out with friends … they are all great places to gather together, but isn’t there, shouldn’t there be something different about being together here, something uniquely special about fellowshipping with each other, gathering as the faithful to hear God’s Word and receive Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion? This is what’s unique about our coming together each week in worship. It’s here that God comes to us to make us a big-hearted fellowship filled with His love. That’s how we “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And that is the compelling reason we come to church.
It’s not just about us inside these walls though either. Jesus is not content to hold only us in His hand. He reaches His hand out to others. When a leper met Jesus and begged to be healed, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him (Mark 1:41). When Jairus’s daughter died, Jesus took her “by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” and she had new life (Mark 5:41). When Peter tried to walk to Jesus on the water, he got scared and began to sink, Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him (Matt. 14:31). And he took the little children in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them (Mark 10:16).
Today Jesus reaches out His hand through you and me to people who don’t yet know of His life and love, to people who still have a spiritually diseased heart and who desperately need the new heart Jesus gives. It’s good to be a part of different groups, different organizations because you have an invitation to extend to people who have their struggles, their hurts, their hopes, their joys, but who don’t know Jesus. You’re there because you have a heart, a new heart in His hand that is reaching out to others.
On LWML Sunday, we always say the LWML pledge. It’s a pledge which reminds us of why we come to worship and why our hearts are in His hand to reach out to others. Our motivation is this: “In fervent gratitude for the Savior’s dying love and blood-bough gift of redemption.” And since He has put our hearts in His hands, we take His outgoing love to all people. So let’s say the Pledge together now.
In fervent gratitude for the Savior’s dying love and His blood-bought gift of redemption we dedicate ourselves to Him with all that we are and have; and in obedience to His call for workers in the harvest fields, we pledge Him our willing service wherever and whenever He has need of us. We consecrate to our Savior our hands to work for Him, our feet to go on His errands, our voice to sing His praises, our lips to proclaim His redeeming love, our silver and our gold to extend His Kingdom, our will to do His will, and every power of our life to the great task of bringing the lost and the erring into eternal fellowship with Him. Amen.
I pray that describes all of us. As we go home today, take this logo with you to remember the transformation that forgiveness has brought into our hearts and lives through Baptism. Coming together in worship, God makes us a big-hearted church that extends His hand of love to everyone. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8). Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.