Today’s Hebrew reading is one of my much loved scripture passages. Here I discover hope and possibility for a better world, not yet, but coming soon. Its hint of a more utopian world appeals to my natural optimism that some would say is not realistic; I remember the lure of the 60s hippie dream; I remember too the realities that set in during the 70s and 80s. Somehow scripture and the Christian message addressed for me both the dream and reality and I could make sense of it, even when faced with the senseless. God was in control, growing a new covenant within the hearts of each and all: We pray Thy kingdom come; thy will be done. We hear 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. No long 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.”
This is a utopian message, where the faint of heart, in a discouraging and chaotic time in Jeremiah’s day, as in our day were/we today are invited to hear the prophecy of a new covenant coming, not yet, but soon (as I aged my sense of what this word soon might mean shifted – after all, God was taking longer than my youthful trust assumed). Yet in its promise of a new covenant, a new law within the hearts of the people, the promise expressed in “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” has always been an imperative message of hope for in my life, overriding the shifts and changes of society and culture around, religious transformations and personal upheavals I experienced. In all of these years I have heard, written on my heart and across my forehead “I will be their [your] God, and they [you] shall be my people”. Good News for you and I, for the church, for all times.
But Jeremiah 31 along with its covenantal assurance and hope has also left me with wonderings – wonderings and questions that I would like to share with you this morning.
The first question sprang out of the combination of reading these few verses and a morning prayer I often use when my heart feels sluggish and maybe somewhat winter stalled. May the work of my hands – even the trials I experience – be part of the redemption of the world and its eternal liberation. I dedicate this day to you, O God, and I begin it in a holy way. Here is a message of personal significance. What if I saw each day and my part in the day in light of a much larger covenant, even the world’s?! I /we can become so insular and here I was being invited to catch a glimpse of who I was, am, all that I still might be, in light a greater possibility and purpose far beyond, yet, including me! Then the little that I offer takes on a much greater significance – Could the bit of music I play, the meal I prepare, the garden I grow the offering I give, the words of encouragement we share over coffee, really be a part of the redemption of the world and its eternal liberation?!
A slight digression or further consideration – rising out of some of my recent reading. of some of the theologians and historians of this time. I discovered an appreciative affinity towards historical-religious theologians like Phyllis Tickle and Mark Dwyer…who wrote of the world’s redemption expressed in repeated patterns of 500 year re-formations – upheavals that were both gift and challenge not only to the church but part and parcel with what was going in society at the time. The reformation period was one (and 500 years before that, Constantinople and the development of the medieval church, before that 500 years Jesus, all leaving profound shifts in the Christian faith and in society at a political and social as well as religious level. The church is in the midst of one of these ‘rummage sales’ as they call it right now. In the midst of a transition into a new way of being church, of understanding the way God lives and moves and acts in our world that like most transitions, leaves us uncomfortable as well as offers hope. Karen Armstrong wrote of similar shifts in all three of the Abrahamic faiths and in fact in all of the major world’s religions. Each of the transformations impacted what Jeremiah may well be inviting us to glimpse here today– another way of seeing the world’s redemptions and liberation over the centuries that invites hope and fresh glimpses into God’s unfolding redemptive plan for the world over time.
Back to more connected wonderings for you and I today: What does it mean to see who we are – our personal life’s journey and our shared covenantal calling as a community – directed towards a far greater purpose – that each and all our small redemptive acts and journey are in fact a connective link in the redemptive plan of the whole earth? The covenantal community living that Jeremiah prophesied does indeed put holy significance on our everyday tasks of love, care, respect. Like Brother Lawrence who delighted in the holy task of dishwashing as readily as community morning prayers, Jeremiah’s Prophecy takes on Good News for our seemingly mundane lives. We seek the grace to look with respect upon all we meet along our journey and upon every event we encounter, as manifestation of God to whom we journey.
We hear it again in the gospel reading John 12: 20 – 33 Jesus’ Lenten walk was marked by a growing and increasingly stronger commitment towards his holy purpose. Jesus becomes the embodiment in suffering to live out perfect love so that the world can live as part of covenantal reconciliation to God-self. Willingly, and maybe as in the Gethsemane prayer, not always so willing, yet offering himself even unto death for the sake of a greater liberation of the world.
Another wondering that grows out of this reading for me: Jeremiah talks about a new covenant where God puts a new law within, where in community, there will be no longer a need for teaching but all, from the least to the greatest, will know God, the God who will forgive and remember sin no more. Such knowing is not head knowledge, religious dogma nor moral purity, but a knowing of the heart, deep within. It begins on the inside. (SpiritualButNotReligious movement of today may be connected here). In response to God’s initiative – a covenantal renewal that I can know daily, that each generation is a part of, moving all of humanity towards what Jeremiah hints is utopian sacred community living. From the perspective of present global political and economic times, humanity still need a lot of instruction – a long way to go. Yet Jeremiah explicitly states that the internalized knowledge of God will be with all people, from least to greatest. We know the gulf between rich and the poor the urban and the rural, the rulers and the powerful and the lower classes, yet here is a knowledge of God that is universal removing all distinctions of class and privilege and needs no education. In many ways Jeremiah fits a more contemporary anthropology, a modern-day understanding of humanity and spirituality as well as the nature of God. Here God’s spirit works within the heart of all people as a growing capacity within for keeping the law of love. It is an inward transformation visualized in the exterior life of love. Lived in a community formed and held by the new covenant that knows God in a new way – centered in the God who constantly seeks to reconcile within us as the one who speaks directly to the heart. Good News! But we wonder: is it possible?
Whether it is or not for you, Jeremiah’s prophecy persists in it message for you and I and the church. Here there is good news that has practical implications calling each of us into faithful living as we offer the spirit of service expressed in and through grace-filled living and embodied in the Christ who died. God is making a new way, Jeremiah tells his people, where there is no way. It is hard to see a way as we listen to the news, as we risk viewing the images of destroyed innocent and vulnerable lives – as we grasp the statistics of violence and poverty. Can there yet be a new way? A way written, engraved in our hearts and displayed in our lives? Can the law of love be released into our lives, written once of all, on two hearts joined…or on two nations locked in the fight for power? Can the law of love persist in abundance and peace prevail, poverty be no more, cultural wars disappear – for all will know God?! Can we no longer walk with heavy boots on a fragile earth but rather cherish our neighbours – the birds, animals and fish of the sea as we live in wholeness and harmony? Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.
I try hard to hold onto such a hope. Yet, hope in the midst of the hopeless realities of our world and living is exactly what we are called into as faithful people. If we are called to be part of the redemption of the world and its eternal liberation, then something very real and practical must grow out of Jeremiah’s prophecy, even in discouraging times and on Lenten journeys. What, then, practical lies in this passage that you and I can hold onto? What could this passage be calling us into? For me, the questions are as important as the answers and somehow the answer begins in another question: What here needs revitalization in me, in our church in light of this larger plan of God for humanity? We glimpse it in the Psalms (119) invitation to faithfully, with our whole heart treasure God’s word, delight in God’s way, meditate and not forget, ever open to God’s teaching of the heart. We glimpse it in John 12 where the disciples express their purpose: Sir, we wish to see Jesus. And as they talk, one telling the other, as they point to Jesus, divine purposes are lived out among them. As their lives open up in their willingness to follow with Jesus, and sometimes their very human responses along their Lenten journey with Jesus, they become the new servants living out Jesus instructions and wisdom: whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. This is the Christ call and hope in, for and with the church.
Whoever serves me… The law of love is realized in service. As you and I and God’s people, from the least to the greatest, remain in covenant even in the difficult, hope rises! As the church exemplifies committed worship and service, the world’s redemption and liberation happens among us – the kingdom of God is here among us! Could it be that Jesus’ statement and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (v 32 John 12) is an image of love’s embrace drawing all humanity together as part of the divine plan?
Go from this place, assured that our lives, our living is part of an ever greater plan we may never have dreamed possible. Go, knowing that you too are God’s redemption in the world, from the smallest to the least, as we offer loving service. Go, a part of God’s purpose, and together a new thing God is about to do, will spring up among us. Go, assured, this new thing we participate in makes all the difference in the world. Thanks be to God.
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