Acts 2:36-42 (cut to the heart) Luke 24:13-35 (road to Emmaus) I Peter 1:17-23 (love from the heart)
This week I’ve been thinking about Edgar Allen Poe’s wonderful short story “The Tell Tale Heart”. In the story, told as by a madman, a murderer, an old man is brutally murdered, his body hidden beneath the floorboards of his room. The police, having been called by a neighbor who heard a scream, arrive to investigate. The killer invites them in, so sure of his cleverness and ability to deceive that he sits with them, directly above the spot where the victim’s body is hidden. He chats politely with the officers, but, soon, he hears “a sound, like a watch wrapped in cotton, growing louder and ever louder. It was the old man’s heart!” The harder he tries to stay calm, the more the pounding grows. “Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant.” He is sure the police must hear it, too, “I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! --
"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
and he becomes so unnerved that he blurts out his confession.
It’s a great story. Although it is about a madman and a murder, when you read it, you cannot help but feel that the central truth of the story is as real and believable as your own address. It’s true! The heart always tells. What the heart tells cannot be buried or hidden or stuffed under the floorboards, away from prying eyes. It will come out. The heart will tell its tale.
The scriptures got me thinking of this, because, buried, almost hidden in each of the lectionary passages for this Easter season Sunday, is a heart. In Luke, it is a burning heart: “didn’t our hearts burn within us?” In Acts, Peter’s listeners are “cut to the heart” by his sermon. And in I Peter, the church is admonished to “love one warmly, from the heart.”
These, too, are tell-tale hearts. What tale do they tell?
In the Gospel, we find a tale of hope restored on the road to a little town called Emmaus.
Two disciples – Cleopas and – maybe his wife, seek to escape the confusion and pain in Jerusalem following Jesus’ execution. Their teacher is dead. The disciples are at a loss. And now, the body is missing and there are rumors about that. They wearily recount their troubles to a stranger who joins them on the road. In what is one of the saddest statements, they say, “We had hoped that he was the Messiah.” Hoped. Past tense. Had hoped. Past perfect. Finished. Complete. The hoping is over and done.
What does losing hope do to a person’s heart? What happens when hope dies? Proverbs 13:12 says, – Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
This last week we marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. Even as a child, I experienced that death as the dying of a dream. And the violence that followed, the difficulty for different parts of America in finding a way forward together, those were symptoms of a loss of heart. When dreams die, people become discouraged and lose heart.
The two men walking along the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday had a dream that had died. They had been followers of Jesus, and their hopes were shattered. A stranger began walking alongside them. When he asked why they looked so disheartened, The stranger proceeded to make them look at their situation from a different perspective. Maybe everything that happened wasn't a terrible mistake after all, he suggested. Maybe God had a plan all along. And, maybe God wasn't yet finished with Jesus' followers but was just beginning with them. Later, when they looked back at that conversation, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He opened the scriptures to us?”
The burning was hope being born again in their hearts. We know, because of the risen Christ, that we are never – really – without hope. God is not finished with us yet. In fact, he is just beginning. When we listen to Jesus our hearts burn with a tale of hope restored.
When they got to their destination, the stranger broke bread before them, and they saw him, too, in a new light, recognizing him as Jesus himself. Then their hearts had a tale to tell! They hurried back to Jerusalem with a new message of hope for Jesus' other companions.
Will our hearts tell that tale?
The heart in the Acts scripture is a heart in which faith is kindled. Peter’s sermon reaches the hearts of the people in Jerusalem. And they say, “What shall we do?”
Another great female preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, captures that moment:
"Every now and then, if you are really, really
lucky, you hear something so right and true that it pierces through all
your defenses and goes straight to your heart. It can make you drop to
your knees. It can make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh,
but it is not a mental thing at all. It is a physical thing that requires
a physical response. You have to do something about it; and sometimes you need help figuring out what that is." - -Barbara Brown Taylor
It’s not a mistake that the question the people ask is “What shall we do?” The heart is the seat of action. When we read the Bible we need to keep in mind that in the language and culture in which the Bible was written, the heart was thought to be, figuratively speaking, the source of intention, will, action. In our language and culture, we speak of the heart as the seat of emotion. In the Bible, feeling, emotion comes from the gut or bowel. The heart is where purposeful action arises. So Peter’s listeners asked to join the church, and then to study, worship, serve and share with one another and the world. If those four areas of action are not part of your story, then maybe it is time to give your heart a better tale to tell.
When faith is kindled in our hearts – it motivates action. I becomes a drum beat by which we march into faithful action. We want to DO something. What tale do our faithful hearts tell in the living of our lives?
(Write your faithful action on a paper heart (passed out during the children’s sermon) and offer it to God during the regular offering.)
The heart in the reading from Peter’s first letter is a heart filled with warmth and love.
Peter writes that in Christ we are able to “Love one another warmly, from the heart.” Love for one other shows. It shows in our attention to one another’s needs, our loyalty to one another, in slowness to take offense, and quickness to forgive. The love of church members for one another is a very nice thing. People notice that. But what people outside the church really notice is when we love them. When we extend God’s love to the world out there – like Jesus did – our hearts tell a tale that the world is waiting to hear.
Friends, in a few minutes we will come to the Lord’s Table, to remember and to recognize the Risen Christ in our midst as we break bread and share the cup. This is a heart healthy meal. This meal nourishes our hearts to share the tale of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It is not possible to silence the human heart.
In Poe’s story, it wasn’t the dead man’s heart that gave the killer away. It was his own heart that told the tale. Each one of us has a tell tale heart. Our hearts must tell a tale.
We come to the table of our Lord praying that by His power, our tell-tale hearts will, with every beat,
tell a tale of hope restored,
of faithful action,
of warm and sincere love.