Summary: God works in our lives much as a surgeon does in our bodies: cleansing thoroughly of old idolatries, assisting us in the transition, and then giving us a new indwelling presence, that of Christ.
I remember the corny old song that says, "They've gone just about as fur as they can go." And it seemed just about right, too, at one time. They've gone just about as fur as they can go, when airplanes were invented and we could soar as on eagle's wings. They've gone just about as fur as they can go, when telephones made instant communication possible with anyone else who had such a device; even though at one time we felt we had to shout out our messages when the call was long distance, still we thought the ultimate had come, we thought that every thing that could be invented had been invented. In fact, the US Patent Office at one time was recommended for closing by one its directors, for, he said, “Just about everything that can be invented has already been made.” Therefore no need for a Patent Office. That was about 1910, I believe.
And in the world of medicine, I suppose some felt that there too they had gone about as fur as they can go. At least those of us who are not in the medical professions were so impressed by the marvels performed by physicians and surgeons that we ascribed an almost godlike quality to them; if a doctor said it it was true. If four out of five doctors recommend it, it must be right. If your nurse said not to move, you didn't move. We were impressed by medicine and we just imagined that they knew it all.
But then came a whole series of startling developments; then came a surge of new discoveries and new procedures that shocked us and amazed us. Drs. Salk and Sabin found vaccines to combat the scourge of childhood. Christiaan Barnard pioneered techniques of surgery for the heart. And, most amazing of all, they began to do organ transplants: not just repairs, but transplants -- livers and lungs and kidneys, and, the one which captured our imagination most of all, heart transplants. There were baboon hearts and human hearts, Jarvik 7 mechanical hearts, transplants with heart and lung together, an incredible array of experiments and procedures and cliffhanging patients, accompanied by television and newspaper and all the rest. We knew then that we were witnessing yet another step in the growth of science, in the development of the near-miraculous. Heart transplants; what a captivating idea! Because we, like the ancient men and women of the Bible, have the instinct that somehow the heart is more than a pump for blood, more than a device to circulate a cleansing fluid, that it lies at the very core of human life. The heart, for us, is still a symbol of all that it is to be human, and so when folks came out of the operating room and were able to talk to reporters, the questions were, “What does it feel like to have someone else’s heart beating in you? What does it feel like; are you somehow aware of that other person whose body grew this heart for you?” We have a funny instinct, you see, that the recipients of a heart transplant somehow, in a spooky way, had someone else’s life perpetuated inside his own life, inside his own body.
And so it may be that we are the first generation fully prepared to get inside of what the prophet Ezekiel was talking about when he proclaimed a God who would give us a new heart. It may be, you see, that we who have witnessed the actual, physical transplant of a human heart, snatched from the dying body of one person, plunged into the body of another – it may be that we are the first generation, having experienced that, who can get inside the feel of God's kind of heart transplant - who can understand the notion that a new heart, if there really can be such a thing – a new heart, might change us radically. A new heart might alter us forever. A new heart, in fact, might give us a strange and wondrous feeling that somebody else is inside us, and more than that, that we want to be grateful to that one who has given his own heart, that we might live.
A new heart: Ezekiel says that God offers this to His people: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannessses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
God's heart transplant: what will it involve? What is it like? What will I feel when I get it? And what difference will it make, God's heart transplant?