Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent and we are reminded again of the covenants, the promises that has been made through the ages between God and God’s people. Our scripture reading today comes from the Old Testament and the book of Jeramiah 31:31-34
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, [a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.
There is good news to be heard today, but then, I believe there is good news to be heard EVERY day! And what is that good news? It is the promise of a new covenant; it is assurance of pardon; it is the transformation of our lives as individuals and of our life together as community; it is a future filled with hope. And all this because God is at work as God always has been, in the midst of the people
Today we go back to the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was the prophet who remained with the people in Israel when many of the leaders had been taken into exile in Babylon. The covenant, the promise that Jeremiah foretold was not going to happen for hundreds of years, but he recognized the importance of covenant, the yearning that the people had for God and that God in turn had for them.
We are people of Christ, and because of that our understanding of the good news, of God, comes through our relationship with Jesus, so it is perhaps a little strange to find that our reading today on this Sunday before Palm Sunday, comes not from the Second Testament, from a gospel reading, but from the First Testament, from the voice of a prophet with a reassurance from God…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more… will you pray with me please?
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are many stories in the First Testament about covenants, from Noah and the rainbow, to Abraham and Sarah and their many children, to Moses and the people of Israel. In this week’s beautiful reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks about a covenant that is not made of stone, it is not an outward covenant, it is a covenant that is written deep inside each of us, on our very hearts. It is an ancient covenant written and rewritten on our hearts, some would say it is rewritten here on this cross.
Jeremiah spoke of God’s promise to the people of Israel while their country was divided by exile in Babylon. The people left behind and the people in captivity are overwhelmed with their loss, consumed with their grief, their hearts and their spirits are broken. And to make it worse, they know that they are responsible for it all, they had turned away from God and they did not listen to the prophets who were sent to them to help them to repent, to return to God. Jeremiah is one the prophet who was sent to them and the first 30 chapters of the book of Jeremiah, is a tirade by the prophet as he scolds the people about their sin and their lack of faithfulness to God. By the time we get to today’s reading Jeremiah has calmed down a bit. He stops scolding and his message becomes one of hope as he brings them a new message from God. God is trying to tell them something. And just what is God trying to say? Jeremiah tells the people that it is good news, a word of comfort and hope. God’s heart has been touched by their suffering and God has compassion on them and forgives them.
It is hard, when the world seems to be falling to pieces around us to hear good news, to hear words of comfort and hope, but that is what the Israelites needed to hear. It is what we need to hear in our chaotic lives today.
The nation of Israel is in a time of crisis, they are literally divided, the very walls around them that have provided them with safety have been brought down, the temple, the physical presence of God with the people has been destroyed. There is nothing to anchor the people and they feel adrift and lost and overwhelmed and it is into this chaos that Jeremiah reminds everyone of the covenants that God has made with them in the past and is making again, promises of restoration and return and, more importantly, of relationship. Once again, as in so many of the covenant stories before this one, God promises to be in relationship with the people, God promises to be a presence with the people. We hear that promise when we hear the words “I will be your God, and you…you will be my people.”
I’ll share something with you. Those words always get to me, they literally pierce my heart and never fail to revive my flagging spirits, those words never fail to give me hope and maybe, just maybe put a tear in my eye. Because how wonderful are those words for us? I will be your God and you will be my people!
Wonderful promises from our constant and consistent God, I will be your God and you will be my people, but what became of those promises? They were, they are still, broken one by one, not broken by God, broken by the people of God. Over and over again God’s stiff-necked people thought they could do just fine without God, thank you very much; And over and over again God renews the covenants with the people until they seem to listen nomore and God sends them into exile.
Today we hear familiar words, once again God is using words like “new” and “heart” and “covenant”. God promises to come once more into the lives of the people to rescue them and release them from their captors, God promises to restore them and return them to their beloved city, but even more than that, God will restore them back to Godself. Today, God brings a new covenant, a new relationship, a new creation. This isn’t done out of some kind of stubborn faithfulness on God’s part, but out of a deep wounded love and profound grief for God’s people. God moves beyond anger to tender caring.
I always find it interesting that we often talk about the God of the First Testament as being an angry and unforgiving God, a God who was often hard and punishing. A God who is frankly difficult to have a relationship with. The Second Testament God by contrast is, to us, kinder and gentler and yet it seems to me that the God we read about today in Jeremiah is very kind and very gentle full of great love and compassion for the children of God. Just the kind of God we have been yearning for, a loving parent who will be stern with us when we need it and love us always even despite ourselves.
Today we are deep into the Lenten season, fast approaching Holy Week. All through this season we have talked about standing in the crossroads, making the decisions to follow Jesus, to pick up our cross, to find the love of God that is meant for us to find the covenant of God written on our hearts with the promise of God’s great love for us.
The cross figures proximately in our faith, it is the ultimate sign of the ultimate covenant made to us, but we need to decide how we are going to navigate that cross for ourselves. We understand that when we stand in the crossroads that cross is right in front of us. Our Lenten journey has led us right up to it and it gets in the way, or it should get in the way of everything we do in our lives. What I think we forget is that God let the cross get in the way as well.
God loved us…God loves us so much that all our broken covenants with God are forgiven and new ones are forged. God put the cross firmly in the way, reconciling with us through the love of Jesus. God lets the cross get in the way so that even though we know suffering and abandonment, exile and loss, even though we face death, our own and those that we love, even though we know that we are sinners and our lives are broken, we are able to experience forgiveness, hope and a new life. God put the cross firmly in our way to remind us that we can always turn again to God knowing that because the cross gets in God’s way too we will always have a bridge, a way to return, to reconcile with God.
And so during this time of Lent, during the coming days of Holy Week and the celebration of Easter we turn again to God, the God of both Testaments, we turn with our broken spirits, and our sins, our homesickness and loneliness, our hunger for justice for a suffering world, our lost vision and lost hope, we turn with the very fabric of our hearts torn open, and we listen for that Stillspeaking God to speak to us words of comfort and consolation, words of rescue and release, words of restoration and homecoming.
We stand today in the crossroads, letting the cross get in our way so that we are able to live our lives in a new covenant with God, it is part of the words of assurance that we say to one another every week…through Jesus Christ we are forgiven, loved and freed…we live our lives in a new covenant with God every time we take communion and drink from the cup of the new covenant, we live our lives in a new covenant with God every time that we love God with all of our hearts and minds and soul, we live our lives in a new covenant with God every time that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We live our lives in a new covenant with God every time we stand in the crossroads and let the cross get in our way. Hallelujah Amen