A Heart for Good Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 3:12-19; Mark 10:17-22
Grace, mercy, peace…
We’re going to talk about having a heart for doing good, based on our Old Testament lesson, verses 14 and 15: Seek good, and not evil… hate evil, and love good.
In order to have a heart for doing good, one has to have a good heart. Of course this doesn’t mean your heart literally, your physical heart, but your beliefs and intentions.
In ancient times it was believed that your heart is where your will and motives come from. And we still talk about the heart in that way today.
The Bible first talks about the heart in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 5. This is the beginning of the story of Noah and the Great Flood. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth… and that very intention of the thoughts of his (or her) heart was only evil continually.
This shows how fast the human heart can turn bad… and how bad it can get. It also shows how a love and passion for sin and evil can take over an entire culture.
It may seem to be a gradual decline, but sooner or later you get to the place where the bottom falls out, and people are doing things they never thought they’d do, that you never imagined would be socially accepted and even embraced and held up and lauded, doing those things publically and proudly, proud to be following the immoral ways of the world, openly defying God and His good and loving ways.
That’s what had happened at the time of Noah, and we can see a trend in that direction in our culture today, and an accelerating trend, it seems.
Well, at the time of Noah, the bottom fell out on all moral restraint, and people were obsessed with sin; they didn’t want to honor God and add good to the world, they just wanted to distort and destroy God’s created world with sin and evil of every kind.
Instead of seeking good, as our Old Testament teaches us to do, they were seeking evil, as God teaches us not to do.
Verse 6 says, And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. It broke his heart to see how evil and hatred had taken over the world.
At that point God had two options: 1) completely destroy the world with fire; or 2) cleanse the world with water. God chose to cleanse the world.
He did that because there was still one faithful family through which the Messianic line could continue; one family that still believed in the promises and commands of God.
The hope of a Messiah to save the world was not entirely gone; there was still one family intact that the Messiah could come from, could descend from, Noah and his family.
So God chose to cleanse the world, with a great flood; partly to punish sin, and control and limit and lessen sin, but above all, to save the world, to keep it going until the appointed time when He would send His Son to redeem the world.
So there was a second chance for the world, for all generations that would follow, a second chance to repent of the sin and evil that brings death and destruction to the world, and to embrace God and His grace for the world -- to love and do what’s good and right this world.
So here we are, living in this second chance we’ve all been given, this chance to seek the Lord and live, Amos says.
Your life doesn’t have to end in destruction; you can live in grace, and have a heart for God and all that’s good.
All those years ago God cleansed the world so you could have love and seek God and good today.
On a day, however long ago it was, God cleansed your heart in Baptism, so that you could believe His promises, live in His grace, and have the heart to do good in this world, to seek and love good, as Amos says.
God spared the world at the time of Noah, and redeemed the world at the time of Jesus, by his holy life, his love for good, and by his death to punish sin and win forgiveness, and by his resurrection to bring new and eternal life, all so that you would have this chance to live, and believe, and love, and to go on living and loving and rejoicing forever.
Don’t throw away this chance you’ve been given by seeking evil, and letting it change you for the worst.
Hebrews warns us about falling away from the living God, and hardening our heart toward Him, like some of the people did at the time of Moses. Although God intervened many times to save their lives in the wilderness over those 40 years, some still turned on God every chance they got.
Because of that God had to wait until he had raised up a new and faithful generation to enter the Promised Land to serve Him there; a generation that wouldn’t bring the selfish, immoral ways they had learned in Egypt into the new land, where God’s people would live and eventually the Messiah would be born.
So it was a sort of cleansing and second chance for the people of Israel at the time of Moses, too, so they would learn to hate evil, and desire good.
Usually “hate” is not a good word to use: Seek good, and not evil… hate evil, and love good, Amos says.
To say or think, “I hate you”, isn’t something God wants to come out of your heart and roll off your lips.
But in this case it means something good; it means to denounce evil, like we do in Baptism, when we denounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways.
And as we do in Confession, as we admit that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that we sin against God and others every day, and in many ways, in thought, word, and deed. We repent of our sin, turn against it and away from it, and we seek God, his love and His good ways.
God then cleanses our hearts with his words of forgiveness; I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And as we come to His table, denouncing sin and seeking forgiveness, Christ cleanses our hearts with His very body and blood, given and shed for us.
We need this weekly and frequent cleansing, to keep our hearts in the right condition toward God, and toward our neighbor.
In our Gospel today, Jesus helps a rich young man to see what was really in his heart toward God, and toward his fellow man.
When challenged to give what he had to those who needed it more, he showed that his first loyalty was to his wealth, and his priority was to keep it.
He thought it might be exciting to follow Jesus, and see the crowds, and the miracles. But that’s not what following Jesus is about, it’s about the heart, about faith and love and trust and truth.
Love God, follow Christ, and seek to be and do good in this world. Make the most of this second chance we’re living in.
Don’t let any kind greed or sinful desire harden your heart toward God and his ways. Repent of the evil, embrace the good, and live with God’s love in your heart.
Share that love that it might change the hearts that are hard toward God, but soft toward sin. God has the power and the grace to turn that around: to soften hearts toward Him, and to turn hearts away from sin and all that’s evil in this world.
Seek God and all the good that comes from Him, and then share His goodness to change this world, and His gospel to save it.
And as you seek to do good in the world, may the peace of God, which passes understanding, guard your heart and mind, in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.