Hardening our hearts

It is really interesting to consider how Pharaoh responded to Moses’ request to “Let God’s people go”.  We are told that the first few times he heard Moses’ request he “hardened his heart.”

Hardening our hearts is a terrible terrible thing.  In our life we may find we too are tempted to harden our hearts; when we are hurt, disappointed, or let down.  It is like we draw ourselves in close and “batten down the hatches”.  It may be because of something that has been said or done, or even something that hasn’t been said or done.  Sometimes we place such huge (and dare I say unrealistic) expectations on ourselves and on other people.

The thing is, Pharaoh wasn’t hurt, disappointed or let down.  He was arrogant in the extreme.  He was proud and considered himself to be a god in his own right.  That’s how Egyptian society and culture worked.

It is perhaps no wonder that when we read the account of Pharaoh’s encounter with Moses further we learn that after he had hardened his heart a number of times, God’s response was effectively “so be it” and eventually God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  That is like saying “ok, you have had plenty of opportunity, and you have made a clear choice on this matter…but you have to live with the consequences”.

And then we come to our gospel reading for today and we learn how the disciples hearts had been hardened too.  “Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” The disciples hadn’t been hurt, disappointed or let down.  Neither were they arrogant. Their hearts were hardened through doubt, not disbelief, but doubt and quite probably fear.

So it seems clear that our hearts can be hardened by so many different causes and fear is often at the root of all of these causes.  At the end of the day, when everything else is stripped away, we sometimes need to be willing to ask ourselves that really difficult question “What are we frightened of?”  Perhaps Pharaoh was fearful of losing the slave labour provided by the Hebrews and how it might destabilise the Egyptian economy and thus diminish his power.  At first the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and they cried out in terror.

Whatever the causes we need to try and recognise them and to take steps to prevent them happening or escalating.  I would like to suggest that when our hearts are hardened we begin to lose sight of our humanity and all that we are created to be.

I am only 44 years old.  I have lived a lot, and in God’s grace I’ve got a lot more living left to do.  I can honestly tell you that in 44 years there is only thing I know that really gets rid of that fear and softens our heart.  And that one thing is love.

We are told that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

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Change

Can people change?  It seems to me that they can and do, often for quite different reasons.  Governments are renouned for doing ‘U turns’. That tends to make them lose credibility with the voters, after all we all want a Government that is sure of itself don’t we?  Or do we?  There is a fine line in having wisdom to know when to accept  that we are wrong and coming across as being wavering and uncertain.

Having strength to admit when we are wrong is a sign of emotional maturity, and depending on how it is presented also of humility.  Jesus had an encounter with Nicodemus, a Pharisee.  Nicodemus ‘bucked the trend’, he hadn’t come to berate Jesus, he had come to listen.  He expressed a desire to understand and a desire to change.  The thing is, that understanding and that change could only come from the Holy Spirit.  If Nicodemus, with all his intellect, could already have reached that understanding in his own right then he would have done.

So we too need to come before God and be prepared to admit that we are wrong, that perhaps our way of doing things hasn’t worked.  We need to come before God with hope and expectancy and dare to pray “Come Holy Spirit and transform me.  Come Holy Spirit, come.”

New Beginnings

newbeginA year ends and a new one begins. Over the Christmas break, every year a classic film is shown on television. Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. It is iconic, so much so that it has been made and remade many times. Even the Muppets made their own version!

What is it about the end of a year and this movie that makes us pause for thought? I know I have. I have found my thoughts focussing on baptism. For me baptism isn’t simply a reminder with empty symbolism.  It has both meaning and effect. It is profound. Where I find myself in my life is living with a knowledge of God’s grace, which can be both liberating and humbling. It is a deep recognition of my poverty of spirit, and the enormity of God’s love.

This is a place of change, a place of opportunity and a place of new beginnings. It is a place where I am trying very hard to listen. Lord, give me ears to hear. Amen