Lift Up Your Hearts: Living and Effective

As I write this article, history is being made at the United States Capitol as the new President and Vice-President of the United States are sworn in to office.

We all wait to see what will happen, many of us praying fervently for peace and unity, but also for wisdom, truth and justice for all.

Some are very saddened and angered by how the election went, others are very pleased. I think that it is important that we recognize that no matter where we fall in that spectrum, most people voted their conscience, sought to do what they thought was right for our country, and hold firmly to their beliefs because of what they love about our land.

These days, there are many political issues that may seem “frivolous” no matter which side of the issue you argue for; there are other policies that seem much more irreconcilable, because they stem from deeply held values and beliefs, whatever those may be. What I have noticed about the growing and disturbing divide in our country is that we are no longer able to listen to one another.

We seem to hardly speak the same language. Many words have lost their meanings and party lines are quickly drawn. We tend less and less to venture across our lines unless we are attacking the beliefs, the language and the integrity of the other side. Don’t get me wrong, I have no trouble with fighting for the truth, yet it always must be done with humility and love. I also find that some well-placed humor goes a long way.

As someone who has traveled to many different countries lived for an extended period in Italy, I know what it is like to learn a foreign language. The first phase of learning the new language is exhausting, because communication can be next to impossible. Once you become more familiar with the language, it is much easier to begin to understand idiomatic expressions as well as the culture. The language and the culture go very much hand in hand. This is because the words that we speak become enfleshed in how we live, and how we live affects what we say.

Jesus tells us that we know a tree by its fruits. If the fruit is good, we know that the tree is good. Jesus himself is the Word made flesh. John’s gospel begins by telling us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 14).

Jesus became one of us, spoke a human language, and lived a human life. He gave us His word and His life in order to show us what truth looks like, what righteousness looks like, and what love looks like in action. He perfectly lived out everything that He spoke. We can only strive toward that in this life, making mistakes all along the way. Our Presidents and Vice-Presidents share this struggle as well! We, like them, are imperfect human beings who do not always see our actions line up with our words.

How many of us have experienced unfulfilled promises on the part of politicians over the years? If we’re honest, probably all of us, yet we put so much trust in those promises. Dare I say, sometimes we put more trust in the politicians that continue fail us than many of us place in God.

This weekend we celebrate Word of God Sunday. Obviously, every Sunday we read the word of God, and every Sunday I attempt to apply these readings to our lives in my preaching. Pope Francis proclaimed this Sunday as Word of God Sunday for the express purpose of highlighting the necessity of hearing and listening to the Word of God, the foundation to living as God intended humanity to live.

For instance, in the first reading we hear the story of how Jonah was called to go to Nineveh and proclaim “forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4). This was a warning from God given to them because of their wickedness as a city.

What was beautiful about the story is that the people listened to the words of the Lord spoken through Jonah. They repented and, therefore, their city and lives were spared. In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims very clearly that “this is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What Jesus says is true, the kingdom of God is at hand, because He is that kingdom in its fulness. He lives it, fulfills it, brings it and proclaims it as the Word made flesh. What He speaks is what is, and what becomes.

Scripture itself tells us that “the word of God is living and effective, and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If His word is living and effective, then when we strive to live His word, it will be effective and fruitful in our lives, and will even bear fruit for others to see. The more we listen and live His word, the more we become what we know we were always meant to be.

In any politics, we need to prayerfully discern the fruits of action in order that we are able to call to greater integrity those who lead us. If living the word of God helps us to be more coherent with the purpose for which we have been made to live, it also follows that civil law should be founded in the divine law written upon the hearts of humanity.

God knows how he has made us to thrive. Listening to Him more than we listen to the politicians will help us be more at peace for sure, but will also help us bring that peace to a divided and hurting society. I ask that we all pray fervently for our leaders; that we learn to listen first of all to God’s word and then to one another; that we forgive; and that we come together so that God’s word might be seen as living and effective in and though us.