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Deep in Our Hearts

Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:23-26

An Hassidic story tells of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why ON our hearts, and not IN them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

Jeremiah was prophesying to a people whose heart was broken. They were living through national disaster. Judah was defeated, the temple destroyed; most of the population led into exile by the victorious army; forced to live a generation in the land of their captors. Jeremiah stayed behind in Jerusalem, and later fled to Egypt, but he soon saw that the only hope for the future lay in the exiles. The words we read today are part of the words of consolation and hope written to and for the exiles.
Many around him, certainly most of the exiles, believed that the covenant the relationship with God, was broken beyond repair. Before the exile God had become a national mascot-one who lived in the temple in the Holy of Holies, who had not only built a nation, but who had brought it out of slavery, brought it victory over its enemies and offered protection. What was written on their hearts was despair, defeat, disillusionment, hopelessness.

But Jeremiah’s words speak of a new beginning. They give a glimpse of the new world God is creating… God the creator would create a new covenant which would better express the nature of God’s relationship with the people. This would be not a set of laws written on tablets of stone, but a relationship, written deep in the very heart, the core, the centre, of the people. No longer would the people have to relate to God only through others-through priests and a temple. Each one from the greatest to the least would KNOW God and be KNOWN by God right in the heart of their being.
In Hebrew, knowing is not something done with the mind- Knowing is a sense of relationship so deep, so intense, so intimate, that it is often used of a sexual bond- an embodied knowing, a knowing with all the senses, a knowing rooted in experience of God, not just in a knowledge about God. These promises of God are written in the depths of our beings, transforming the way we live, and they are available to all, from the greatest to the least. A powerful metaphor. The covenant written on the heart. What’s written on the heart, makes all the difference.

So I invite you to reflect on what is written on your heart?
How is God’s way, God’s presence, God’s promise written on the heart?

In what ways have you experienced God’s presence at the heart of your being? What about God is written deep in your heart? What evidence do we have that God’s way is written on the heart of our congregation?

In what ways is God calling you to open your heart?

Today we will hear from Tim Knight who has been through a powerful experience that has touched his heart, and opened it in ways that have been life-changing. Let’s listen to him as he shares what has happened to his heart in these past weeks.

Tim Knight:

Good morning everyone, before I tell my story, I would like to thank Sharon Moon for giving me the opportunity to share my experience with all of you.

A couple weeks ago I spent 5 days living on the streets. The experience was meant to emulate a week in the life of a homeless person, and to fundraise for Dans La Rue, a charity here in Montreal.

The first night went smoothly, after a couple of hours of panhandling, we had raised a couple hundred dollars. The group of nine strangers had spent the night chatting and didn’t catch a wink of sleep. My initial observation about nights on the street is that they are cold, damp, and loud. The constant buzz of sirens and people yelling in the streets makes it very difficult to fall asleep.

We woke up to the chimes of bulldozers undertaking heavy construction, and were fortunately met with a dozen toasted bagels that a supporter had brought for us.

The day was spent panhandling, demanding unto deaf ears that they support a good cause. Groves of people walked past our home on de Maisonneuve without noticing us, which provided the true homeless experience. I realized that as a society, we walk past homelessness. We do not encounter the problems causing or resulting from homelessness, instead we walk fast with our eyes and ears shut to their plea.

By my second day of being homeless, I started to feel deprived. I felt deprived of my status as a student, the warmth of a shelter and loving environment, and of course a shower.

I reached rock bottom on Tuesday morning. A dog had had the pleasure of urinating on me during the night, and the isolation from the student peers made the concrete sidewalk unbearably cold. I went to all of my classes that day, in a misery that caught people’s attention. People that knew me reached out a hand of encouragement and donated to the cause. Students were catching on to the reality of being homeless, and how it really can affect anyone who falls on hard times.

I was exhausted by nightfall. I wasn’t sure if I could even make it until Friday. My morale was lifted by an encounter with a homeless man named John. John had been living on the streets for 13 months, but was not a beggar. He was completely lucid and friendly, and was too ashamed to ask anyone for help. His kind heart connected with all of us doing the 5days charity, and brought a dimension of reality that made the cause much more valuable to us. John slept out with us for the rest of the week and authenticated our experience. His knowledge of street life and the issues surrounding homelessness validated our experience and taught us the value in what we were doing. The message that he broadcast to us was that changing your attitude towards the homeless can make a difference. The streets are lonely and cold, but you can change someone’s day by making a friendly gesture to a struggling stranger.

Our food supply had grown from the generous donors who sympathized with our plea. By nightfall on Wednesday, we had changed our pitch from asking for money, to asking people to distribute an article of food. Passers-by were asked to: “Please make sure a homeless man eats this tonight.”

The response was amazing. We could tell that people were opening up their mindset to giving to the homeless. They were given a tool that could change someone’s day. We can be empowered if we care.

The night continued with some make-shift instruments and singing and dancing. The night wore on as a beautiful medley of friendship and exchange, and John had shared with us that this was the best night in his memory.

By Thursday, the sleep deprivation had rid me of my usual abilities. My attention span had shriveled to one-minute segments of talking about Dans La Rue. I had been shaking a jar on Ste-Catherine’s and Guy, pleading with the pedestrians to spare some change for a great charity. An elderly homeless man came up to me with a handful of change. He kept the pennies and a nickel gave us about $10 in spare change. I begged him not to give. he replied: “I have no children, I have nothing to give to the next generation. But helping Dans La Rue is my way of giving to the next generation.”

In a tearful manner I asked him if he wanted something to eat, but he told me he was alright. We embraced, and tears rolled down my face. I had to take a break. This man’s caring nature was so touching that I wondered why more people couldn’t be so generous.

By Friday, we were drained. Not an ounce of energy pulsed through our tired bodies, but we knew that our adventure on the streets had come to an end. The toughest part about saying goodbye was in knowing that our friend John would be cold and lonely, and we would be warm, clean and surrounded by loving family. We had grown so fond of him that we knew we were going to miss his kind heart, and made a pact to keep in touch with him to make sure he has the support of some good friends to help him through tough times.

The take-away from this experience has been tremendous. 30,000 people are afflicted with homelessness every year. That is close to 1% of the Montreal population. Life on the streets often occurs as a result of addictions, psychiatric issues, and psychological or family problems. These people have problems and they need help. As a society we need to change our mind on the down and out. We need to look for the invisible, they stand on the corners of every street. Let’s commit to making a difference. Let’s open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. Let’s care for those who are suffering.

If every Montrealer packed an extra sandwich once a week, hunger in homelessness can be eliminated. If every Montrealer engaged in a conversation with a homeless person once a week, loneliness in homelessness can be eliminated. If every Montrealer cared for a homeless person once a week, indifference towards homelessness can be eliminated.

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