• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Render Your Heart

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”

Jesus Christ gave us this advice when he was tempted. The Pharisees had come to trick him. They were testing whether he was loyal to the Jews or loyal to the Romans. Not only did Christ evade them, He gave a one liner that trumps them all.

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”

The first half tells us everything we need to know about this world. Caesar was no friend of the Jews. He was the emperor of a tyrannical government who occupied their land and made them second-class citizens. The Jews had their own social gospel of the time. Their government was corrupt and they wanted liberty and justice. But Christ didn’t go there. In fact, He sort of waved his hands at the whole issue. He might have said, ‘Yes, the government is corrupt, but we have bigger bones to pick.’

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. If the government asks for taxes, pay the taxes. If they have laws, so long as they don’t contradict God’s laws, obey them. The system is corrupt, the politicians are politicians, the people are oppressed, and in the words of John Lennon, “Let it be.” We have more urgent work to do.

Once we’ve rendered to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, then we’re free to render unto God the things that are God’s.

The psalms teach that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1) and in the same breath God declares, “Every beast of the forest is Mine…I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field…the world is mine, and all it contains” (Ps. 50:9-12). We, men and women, belong to God on deeper level still.

When the Pharisees put their riddle to Jesus, He asked, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” The Pharisees handed him a denarius. Now the denarius was a particular coin. It was stamped with the image of Caesar, and so our Lord’s words, hand it back to Caesar, were more then appropriate. But you and I are stamped in God’s image. When He first crafted you and me He said, “Let us make man in our own image.” We belong to God in a far more serious way then the beasts and birds. So we must render unto God what belongs to God, our lives, souls, bodies, minds, and hearts. Everything that we are and everything that we do belongs to God, and our obligation to give it to Him far out weighs any obligation to government, society, family, spouse, or self.

Today, I want to talk about the heart.

Where is your heart?

I don’t mean this is a sentimental way.

When the scriptures talk about the heart, they aren’t referring to feelings or emotions, but to something very different.

Carl Jung once recorded a conversation he had with a Native American named Ochwiay Biano. Ochwiay started by saying: “How cruel the whites look.…The whites always want something. They are uneasy and restless; we don’t know what they want and we cannot understand them. We think that they are mad.” Carl Jung asked Ochwiay why he thought the whites mad, and the man answered: “They say that they think with their heads.” “Why, of course! What do you think with?” “We think here,” Ochwiay replied, as he pointed to his heart.

Sure enough, this is exactly how the Holy Scriptures describe the heart.

Christ says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21) and "out of the heart come evil thoughts" (Matt. 15:19). Moreover, Paul often preaches on, "desires of their hearts" (Romans 1:24). The heart is the core of who you are. It’s the place where all your desires start and where you encounter the devil or God.

The “real world,” as you hear it called so often, the kingdom of Caesar, is very tiny and insignificant compared to the kingdom of the heart. It is the heart that we must render unto God.

Prophet Ezekiel sums it all up in a prayer. “Take the stony heart from within us and replace it with the heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11 and 18). Take our callused heart and change it into a breathing heart, a light heart, a heart alive and at peace.

How is your heart?

When I wake up in the morning, I sometimes feel like I’m choking in thoughts, worries, and every manner of ‘if’ scenarios. Jesus Christ is not always the first to come in mind. Why? Something is incomplete in my lifestyle. I need to render God my heart more fully. It’s full of the world: sometimes bad things and other times good things, but in both cases I’ve missed the mark.

We can get obsessed with all the good works we’re doing and all along our hearts aren’t with God. That’s the real work we have to do. This means, in the end, it shouldn’t really matter if everything we do comes out badly and our lives go to pot, so long as our hearts are anchored in Jesus Christ.

Render your hearts unto God.

What does that mean to you? I want to encourage you to look into your hearts. How can you give it to him more fully?

Those early hours in the morning, when we first open our eyes, do we turn our hearts over to Him? Can we begin with a prayer? Through the day, or just when closing our eyes at night…are our hearts with God? And when we pray, are our hearts with Him? Sometimes we get in the habit of doing all the religious stuff, but don’t have our hearts into it. If so, perhaps we aren’t brushing aside the world enough.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov taught that as we pray we must annunciate every syllable of every word, slowly and deliberately, so as to chew on, to savor, what we are saying. Prayer is intimate. It’s our time to mediate on God, to render our hearts to him.

And as the day moves on, we have this work to do, to continue to render our hearts more firmly on God. This doesn’t come in a day. It’s a lifetime, it’s a process, but we have to begin to try today.

After all, what are we looking for? Our hearts are restless, and they remain restless, until they rest with God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309