Today is the anniversary of one of the most compelling events of my early teenage life. The year was 1967, when I was 14 years old. Does that help you frame it? How about the title of tonight’s post? Can you guess it yet? How about the name Lewis Washkansky? And if that doesn’t do it for you, then certainly the name Dr. Christiaan Barnard must ring a bell. Certainly by now, you must have guessed it. Yes – today is the 46th anniversary of the world’s first heart transplant, when Dr. Barnard literally took out someone’s heart and successfully replaced it with a donor heart.
To those of you too young to remember this event, it was something that shocked the world. Most of us had never even considered the idea of transplanting a heart – it was just something that could never happen – just like putting a man on the moon. By the way, Neil Armstrong accomplished that feat approximately 2 years later. But Dr. Barnard dared to dream and accomplished something that had not happened in humans, although there had been some limited success in animals prior to Mr. Washkansky’s operation. While the heart operation itself was a success, the patient died 18 days later from double pneumonia – complications from the drugs used to suppress rejection that had not kept up with the advances in surgical techniques.
Several years later, in the 1970’s, advancements in anti-rejection drugs made the probably of success for transplant patients increase dramatically and soon Barnard’s patients were living 5 years or more. But demand for heart transplants far exceeded supply and this led to the development of the artificial heart, used primarily in patients who were waiting for an organ donor. The whole field of heart transplants opened up all sorts of ethical, moral and legal questions. When was a person considered dead? Was it the loss of a heartbeat or could somebody be brain dead and still have a beating heart. The introduction of potassium compounds to paralyze and stop a beating heart also entered the picture.
The Bible has more than 541 verses that reference the human heart. For generations, the heart has been considered the center of human feeling and along with the mind (intellect) and the will, constitute the unique characteristics of each human God has created. From a scriptural perspective, God makes many references to the heart. For example, we are told that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, which many people mistakenly believe to mean that God “changed” the heart of Pharaoh. But that isn’t really what the original Hebrew meant. It’s easier to think of in a little different way. What God did was to “squeeze” the heart of Pharaoh so the true motives of Pharaoh’s heart would be revealed. So God didn’t change the heart – he make it impossible for Pharaoh to hide his heart from Moses and the people of God.
Of course, Jesus refers to our hearts many times in the New Testament. When Jesus asks us to consider our fellow man, he is appealing to our “heart”. And Paul, who was like Pharaoh in that he did not have a “heart” for the people of God, eventually had an epiphany and had a true “change of heart” in the figurative if not literal sense of the word. So you can see that as the center of emotion, having our will and our minds aligned with our hearts is very important to God and to His Son.
The verse for tonight is from Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon. He refers to the heart in an entirely different way. In verse 20 of Paul’s epistle to his friend, we are told, “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” In this context, Paul is asking Philemon to welcome back Onesimus, presumably a slave who had left Philemon to come and attend to Paul. At some point during the visit, Onesimus came to the Lord and Paul is sending him back to Philemon – not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. These words must have been difficult for Philemon to hear – welcoming back a slave as an equal… But this is what Paul means when he says, “Refresh my heart” – do what is right in the eyes of God and please do not disappoint me. My encouragement this evening is that God is ready to refresh your heart as you deepen your belief in Him. And my prayer is that you will never forget that you are the very heart of God – just as Paul recognizes that believing in the deity of Jesus is the very heart of our faith. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…