A Change of Heart
We live in a world of instant access to information, when in doubt, ‘Google it!’ We can find all the information we could possibly need, and far, far more to understand issues, to research, to design programmes, to monitor and evaluate and to document. We can become very professional in all we do and we can believe in what we do and how we do it because there is always evidence ‘out there’ to back-up our beliefs.
The readings today portray a very different approach. Though they are all different, there is an under-lying theme that runs through all of them. In Acts, we have the account of Peter speaking to the crowds in Jerusalem after Pentecost, accusing them of being complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus, who God had made both Lord and Christ. What happens in his challenge is recorded in verse 37: ‘When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles. “Brothers, what shall we do?”’ In 1 Peter, we hear Paul reminding the brethren of how they were redeemed, and the outcome of the acceptance of this truth. In verse 22 Paul says: ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.’ In Luke, we have the story of the two men walking to Emmaus who encountered Jesus on the way. The most telling verse comes after Jesus has disappeared from their sight and they ask each other: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned immediately to Jerusalem with the news.
So often, we understand and we act with head knowledge but today we are challenged to be convicted in our hearts. To be convicted in our hearts is to strip away all the masks we wear, the so-called knowledge we hid behind, the lack of personal responsibility for our attitudes and our actions and we are brought face- to- face with who we really are. This can be deeply troubling but it can also be very liberating. In each of the readings there is evidence that a real change happened when people were prepared to open their hearts, be challenged and be convicted. The actions that followed had a multiplying effect, they were authentic and they were lasting. ‘Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles'. (vs 43). ‘They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people and the Lord added to their number daily.’ (vs 47).
Thus the first reading reminds us of our own complicity in Jesus’ suffering. The second reminds us that our redemption comes through that suffering and His unconditional love and the final reading shows that when we encounter and recognise Christ, our hearts are transformed giving us a new vision and purpose.
To reflect on:
Many of us are involved in HIV work. Have we considered the reality of HIV for ourselves, our own families and our own church? Have we truly faced our own fears and prejudices, and the deep underlying stigma that may hide in our hearts towards those who ‘are different from us?’ It is only when we have the courage to really look inwards, and be prepared to be challenged and convicted and to change and be changed- if that is what is needed - that we will find a whole new attitude towards our work and most of all, towards those amongst us who are living with HIV. It is humbling, it is liberating, it authenticates what we do, and it makes a whole difference to what we do, why we do it and how we do it.
Dr Sue Parry Regional Coordinator: Southern Africa World Council of Churches - Ecumenical HIV & AIDS Initiative in Africa