Sermon for 5/7/2011
Text: Acts 2:22-24, 36-41
How many of y’all like the band Bon Jovi? I know that some of you were probably in college when the song “Shot through the heart” came out. I was in third grade and I remember driving around with my uncle blaring his Bon Jovi tape through his neighborhood in south Texas. I could actually hit the high notes then. “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame; darling you give love a bad name!” I remember as a kid listening to this song, I thought Jon Bon Jovi was singing about getting shot with an actual gun. But then I had this ah-ha moment a few years ago where I figured out he’s talking about Cupid’s arrow!
It’s a strange phenomenon how we like for our hearts to be wounded. The Italian poet Francisco Petrarch invented the 14-line style of poetry that we know today as the sonnet to express the agony of falling in love with another man’s wife named Laura de Noves. What is interesting is that most of his poems have very little to do with Laura herself. Petrarch was in love with the agony of being shot through the heart. William Shakespeare took up the sonnet form two centuries later, although he added a layer of irony to it. Instead of simply pouring out his emotions, he makes fun of love poetry. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight; Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
There’s something amazing about having a crush on someone. I once wrote a song called PG-13 about the crush that I still have on my wife. But something also feels silly about it. The more deeply I learn to love, the more I feel silly writing a poem about it, because the words are always inadequate. Now I don’t want to hate on love poetry. How many poets do we have here? How many people are willing to call themselves romantics? Well, I’d like to make a contentious claim, so hear me out. I think the reason it feels good in such an agonizing way to get shot through the heart by Cupid is because what we really desire underneath the surface is to be cut to the heart by Christ.
Cut to the heart. It’s such a poignant phrase that hits me every time I read Acts 2. Peter has just given his first big sermon in Jerusalem, capping it off with a torpedo: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” And when the people hear this, they’re cut to the heart. So they ask Peter, “What do we do?” Peter tells them to repent and get baptized and 3000 people come forward to be baptized. It’s every preacher’s dream to get a response like that. Now I realize that some of you might be saying, gosh, I can’t stand it when preachers guilt trip people into coming up to the altar. I grew up in a church where we had altar calls every Sunday after hearing about how sinful we were. I know that one of the things people like about coming to this church is that we don’t do that, but I wonder if we need to find a happy medium.
I can understand people who get beat up by life each week needing to come here for some words of encouragement and grace so they can pick themselves back up again. God wants us to know how much He loves us and forgives us and welcomes us into His presence. But if we never get convicted by anything we hear in church, if we never get cut to the heart, then how can we experience the repentance that brings us to our knees and results in the strange perfect freedom of giving our lives to Jesus Christ?
In English, repentance is often defined as “being sorry enough for a mistake not to do it again.” But it’s translated in the Bible from the Greek word metanoia, which means so much more than that! Metanoia means never being able to look at the world the same way again. It means having your world rocked to the point that it’s no longer recognizable. To have that radically transformative experience, you’ve got to face something that stops you in your tracks, something that cuts you to the heart. In the case of the apostle Paul, Jesus had to literally knock him off his horse and strike him blind so he could have the metanoia that made him the greatest missionary the world has ever known.
I don’t want to preach in such a way that you feel beat up when you leave here, but I’d love it if God could put something in my mouth that would stop you in your tracks, because every time God has stopped me in my tracks particularly when He’s called me out on my sin, I walk away feeling not beat up but liberated. There’s pain when my heart gets cut; but every time it happens, another chain falls away and I can follow my Savior a little more freely. I can’t preach the sermon Peter preached. The people he was preaching to were part of the crowd a few months earlier that had shouted for Jesus to be crucified when Pilate wanted to let him go. They had hurled insults and spat upon Him as He was stumbling His way to the hill called Calvary. They jeered and mocked as He hung up on the cross struggling to breathe. But that was two thousand years ago and you weren’t there.
So what do you need to hear to be cut to the heart so your old way of looking at the world can be shattered and replaced by the vision of God’s kingdom? Is there someone in your life who you need to admit that you’ve crucified whether it’s through gossip, rudeness, negligence, or some other form of disrespect? I was a jerk to people in my family at least half a dozen times in the past week. Or do you need to admit that you’re too proud of yourself? You haven’t hurt anybody in particular, but you’re just a little bit too in love with reading your brilliantly clever status updates on facebook (which would be my sin).
Maybe you don’t need to go looking for ways to be cut to the heart because life has already done that for you. You’ve had some setbacks; you’ve lost someone close to you; your mind has decided to make you depressed even though you don’t want to be that way. And now your old way of looking at the world doesn’t work anymore; you need a new reality. Part of owning that new reality is to call whatever has hurt you a blessing, as strange as that sounds, because whatever has made us empty has made room that the Holy Spirit can fill.
Let me tell you about the time when I was cut to the heart most deeply. Humor me if I’ve already shared this story. I went backpacking in Mexico in the summer of 1998 because it was cheap and I liked the beer. There was a revolution happening in the state of Chiapas, so being a wannabe anarchist punk, I rode a bus down to San Cristóbal de las Casas. There was a little girl about five years old walking around barefoot in the square of San Cristóbal selling dolls of the Zapatista rebel guerrillas for a peso apiece. She came up to me and said, “Cómpralo, señor, por favor, cómpralo!” which means “Buy it, sir, please buy it!” I don’t know how to explain what happened in that moment other than to say that God cut me to the heart. That night, I wrote in my journal, “I can never be a tourist again.” I got baptized when I was 7; I prayed Jesus back into my heart at Young Life camp in high school; but I became a disciple of Jesus Christ when God cut my heart through meeting that little girl in the square of San Cristóbal.
You don’t have to go somewhere far away to have your heart cut by Jesus. You just need to pay attention to the hurt that’s going on all around you and receive it as an opportunity to share Christ’s love which is actually how we experience His love for ourselves. Unless we let Jesus cut our hearts, we can walk through our whole lives as tourists who dabble in a little bit of everything but never give ourselves to anything. If church is just a place we go to feel pleasant, then all we’re doing here is dabbling. Don’t dabble. Repent. This means more than just admitting your mistakes and being sorry, though that’s a start. It means to stop putting up a front like you’ve got your life under control and let the Holy Spirit have its way with you. It might be a rush to drive through the countryside with your windows rolled down blasting Bon Jovi’s “Shot through the heart.” But that’s nothing like the joy you feel when you’ve been cut to the heart by Jesus and His love flows in and out of you as the Spirit carves you into a perfect vessel of God’s mercy.