03/22/15 Sermon (March 22, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:28 AM by David Hawkins

“The New Covenant”

Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

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. 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, says the LORD. 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. 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.

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10

[...] Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

    “You are my Son,

         today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

    “You are a priest forever,

         according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Sermon: "The New Covenant"             Rev. David Hawkins

For this season of Lent, we have been looking at both the Old and New Testament Lectionary scriptures, focusing especially on the many different covenants that God has made with his people, and the way these covenants have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

We began Lent with the promise that God made to Noah, that God would never again allow us to be destroyed. This promise was symbolized by a rainbow, but it was sealed by the coming of Jesus Christ to our world, God, walking, living, healing, teaching among us.

Then we talked about God making a promise to Abraham, that he would be a blessing to all the nations, the father of all people. And in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this promise to Abraham was extended and made real to us, even now, today, that we, too, are to be a blessing to all the world.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the specific covenant between Israel and God, a covenant that was sealed by the giving and the receiving of the ten commandments.

Last week, we weren’t looking at a particular covenant, rather, we are witnessing the back and forth between God and his people as they learn what it means to live in covenant. The people of God experienced what life outside of God’s protection might look like, and it was a reminder for all of us of the daily grace we have been given by God in our own lives.

This week, as we close in on the end of the Lenten Season, we are also nearing the end of our exploration of the many different covenants that God has made with his people, over and over again, even in the face of his people’s disobedience, their sin, and their inability to trust God’s providence.  And today, we hear through the words of the Prophet Jeremiah God’s promise to once again, do whatever it takes to be in relationship with us.

But this covenant comes at a surprising time in Israel’s history. Unlike all the other times that God has made promises to his people, this covenant is not made in the wake of God moving in some kind of miraculous way to save his people. This is not the same as God coming to Abraham after he left his homeland, or Noah after the flood, or the Hebrews after being released from slavery.

The promise that Jeremiah tells us about is made when it seems that God has completely abandoned his people. The Temple has been burned to the ground, Jerusalem is in flames, the Israelites have been taken captive and moved as a people to a foreign country. There is no saving. There is no delivering, not at this time.

This promise, like all the others, is given at a crucial time, a turning point, in Israel’s history. But unlike the others, it is given at to them at the darkest moment of their history. They have lost everything that connected them to God -- the symbols of their faith, the very dwelling place of their Lord had been taken from them. And now, they are forcibly removed from their ancestral home, and taken to a land of unknown customs, and strange and unfamiliar gods.

It would only be natural for the Hebrews to think that their God was no longer with them -- that he was no longer their God, and that they were no longer his people. Everything they had ever known or thought about God was bound up in their temple and their land, and now it was all gone. All of it. And it looked to them like they were left on their own.

But Jeremiah tells us that even though the Hebrews have broken their part of their covenant with God, God has chosen to make a new covenant, another promise, another guarantee that he will be with them. They are not alone, they are still his. He will never leave them.

But this new covenant will not be chiseled into stone tablets. It will not be taught in schools. It will not be passed down from generation to generation. This covenant will not be symbolized by the beauty of the temple. This covenant will be embodied. It will be inside them, it will be taken with them, and it will always be there to remind them, wherever they are, regardless of of their surrounding, regardless of their circumstances, that they are beloved.

God has promised once again that he is with us, and will never let us go.

You know, as I was looking at this scripture about the old and new covenant, I couldn’t help but think about what it would mean if everybody truly did have God’s Torah in their hearts. What it would be like if everybody knew, instinctively, what it was that God desired of them. What it would be like if the very core of our being was in sync with God’s laws.

I think it’s obvious that we’re not quite there yet. At least, if we are, we have funny ways of living out that torah. I mean, we still have entirely too much crime, too much corruption, too much exploitation, too much cruelty to think that everyone has had God’s law written on their hearts.

But I wonder if maybe Jeremiah is talking about a process, more than about a specific point it time. Or maybe that Jeremiah is suggesting that this is how a true community of God would live, not according to laws that are cut into granite and put in front of the courthouse, but according to God’s law of love that that has been given to each of us, personally, individually, in order that we might live together in peace.

 That would require a great deal of trust, wouldn’t it? And to tell the truth, that’s not the world we live in. We still live in a world where we need laws, and we need to enforce them.

But it makes me think that maybe this is the direction that Jeremiah is pointing us. Not toward a community of laws, but toward a community of trust. Not a community of threats, but a community of love. That Jeremiah is suggesting that in a world governed by God’s law embodied in our hearts, we use forgiveness and encouragement to change behavior, rather than threats and punishment.

Of course this is a pipe dream. But if we are to take Jeremiah’s words seriously, its a pipe dream that he shares. And while maybe the whole word isn’t ready to live in this kind of relationship, maybe there are a few steps that we can, as members of this community of faith, take in our own lives with one another.    

   The couple of mornings ago, I was having a hard time sleeping, and I was up at around 5:00. As those of  you crazy people who get up at that time normally know, it was still pitch dark outside. The dawn was still pretty far off.

But I heard a bird calling, I don’t what kind it was, but it was already up, calling out to whomever would listen that the sun would soon rise. Of course, it would be a couple of hours yet, but the sun was most certainly coming up. And this songster was already celebrating. And when I heard his cheerful melody, I realized that it felt like the morning to me, whether it looked like it or not. It was almost as though this bird sang the morning into existence, at least, for me.

Sometimes, in the darkest moments of our lives, it’s hard for us to imagine that that the sun is going to come up again. It’s hard to think that it will ever be light, that we will ever feel its warmth on our face. We have failed ourselves, our families, our friends. We have lost loved ones. We are disillusioned, disappointed, and lonely. There are times when our world around us is so pitch black that we wonder if maybe the sun has simply given up. That this is the way it will always be.

But it’s not. Jeremiah reminds us that even when we can’t see God, he still sees us, and he loves us, and is with us. When our lives have become too much for us, God has promised that he will not let us go, and that we can trust him to continue on the path laid out before us, even when we can’t see the end point.

And in Jesus Christ, God has come to us, and embodied this law -- God’s love, God’s Torah -- for all humanity. By giving his life to us in the way that he did, Jesus showed us what God’s law really and completely looks like. In his death and his resurrection, Jesus demonstrates what everlasting covenant really and completely means.

And let’s be honest. Maybe this vision of God’s law in everybody’s heart is utopian. Maybe it’s just too much for us to trust. But that didn’t stop Jesus from living his life as though it were true. His life is humanity’s song that reminds us that the sun is indeed rising, that we will not always walk in darkness.  His resurrection is the morning song that reminds that we will one day walk in peace with each and with God.

And this melody calls us to new hope and renewed action. We do have a choice. We can see the world as it is, and accept it, and shape our lives around it. Or, we can imagine the world Jeremiah is pointing us toward, a world in which God is in the hearts of all people, a world in which we are bound to each other, not by force, but by promises. A world in which our lives reflect God’s love for all people. A world in which we live our lives as songs that others will want to sing.

I know which world I would rather live in.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ

we bend our knees

and lift up our hearts,

giving glory to God forever. Amen.