This Just In: The Real Enlightenment
By Eric J. Brown
It's rather easy to have a heavy heart right now. We see plenty of darkness, feel plenty of darkness. With shut-downs we've been isolated from friends, from church, from work. We've been stuck at home—and those homes quite often have had complicated and hard stresses added: less money coming in, people on top of each other, and little ability to get out and decompress. Our media, our means of contact with the outside world, seem ever more and more determined to feed us stories of fear and anger and rage. This is what has been thrown at us over and over while the normal escapes that we are used to are closed off to us. It's rather easy to have a burdened heart in these circumstances. This is especially dangerous right now, because in the 21st century we Americans are always directed to our hearts—to our feelings. That might seem like a grand idea when things are going well (or at least when we can ignore enough lousy stuff long enough to pretend that everything is going well), or it might seem like a seductive, addictive idea when fear and anger run wild and we want to just lash out and find someone to blame. But it's empty. It's fickle. Our feelings don't endure; the emotional highs just can't seem to last.
Navigating the Negative
There are so many of those feelings welling up in our hearts that we just really don't like. I've noticed so many things out there trying to get me angry, trying to enrage me. I don't like myself in that state. I don't like what I say or do, and I don't like how I look at people. I'm sure that there are emotions that drive you to be someone you don't like. But where are we to look, if not at our hearts?
I'd suggest that we ought to listen to Jesus. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus notes something incredibly important: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." If left on our own, our hearts are going to produce wickedness and sin. Even our positive emotions can be turned to evil, because that's what sinful hearts do—they seek out and crave sin and then justify it. It's quite evident that our hearts can turn just about anything into an idol—we will create new idols to fear, worship, love, and trust in. Our heart sees things badly, and twists and turns them over to sin and wickedness. The stresses of the last few months have probably made this truth about our hearts a bit more obvious to us.
Yet even though Jesus knows the wickedness of our hearts, He doesn't just leave us there to stew. Indeed, He came precisely to rescue you, to create in you a clean heart. With His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus took away your sin, forgave it, and gave you new life.This is the reality of who you are in Christ.
The Eyes of the Heart
So consider how St. Paul describes this in Ephesians1:17-18. He notes that he is praying that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you...." The eyes of your heart, have been enlightened in Christ Jesus. By knowing that Jesus Christ defeated sin and death, by knowing that Jesus forgives sin, by knowing that He rose to eternal life and raises you, your heart is made to see things differently.
Christian, What Do You See?
Do you see and feel sorrows in this world? Enlightened by the Spirit in Christ, you know that Christ Jesus shares in your sorrows and has overcome them by dying and rising for you.
Do you see and feel loneliness and isolation? Enlightened by the Spirit in Christ, you see that nothing can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do you see and feel fear swirling around? Enlightened by the Spirit in Christ, you know that while Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh try to terrorize us, they don't scare Jesus away from being your Savior.
Do you see people sinning, doing things that are horrible—do you feel the impact of their sin against you? Enlightened by the Spirit in Christ, you see people for whom Christ Jesus died, and who desperately need the Gospel. You see people who need forgiveness.
As Christians we see things differently. We see everything through the Cross of Christ Jesus. He has in truth taken up the sin of the world, even and especially the sin and death and pain that we are getting our noses rubbed in right now. The temptation is to forget Christ Jesus, but know what the Spirit of God does by the Word: He causes you to see Jesus again, to see all things in and through Jesus. And that's where there is joy and peace that the world cannot take away.
Baptized in Christ, Take Heart
You have been prepared for this. You are baptized. You have been washed in water and the Word, forgiven and made a new creation. Daily you arise anew, to see with enlightened eyes just how much you and the world around you need Jesus. You have been given ears to hear His love for you and lips to proclaim His love to those in your life. Yeah, these are scary days, but no matter what fears your heart might try to tell you, you've got this, because Christ Jesus has you, and He will never let you go.
Rev. Eric J. Brown is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois.
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