25 July 2021 Heart Writing Martin Baker
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It 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. 33But 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. 34No 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.
Today is the last reading we will have from Jeremiah for a while.
More than 2600 years ago a young man heard a call by God. A call to fully engage with what was going on in the world around him.
And to base that engagement on the word of God which this young Jeremiah received.
At the time Jeremiah said ….
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
Maybe then, if Jeremiah knew what he was going to have to face, then he would have run off to the desert, or gone to some place where he thought he could hide.
But that didn’t happen.
And over the years that followed, despite Jeremiah’s prediction of tragedy, despite his warnings and confrontations with the corrupt powers and authorities, tragedy did happen.
There was pulling down, destroying and overthrowing. In 589 BC, the Babylonian armies laid siege to Jerusalem, and, two, gruelling years later, they broke through the walls. Destroyed the city, and its temple, and took the leaders that were not killed away to captivity in Babylon.
A couple of weeks ago we heard about these exiles in Babylon. Asking ‘’how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? ‘’
In other words, how do we reclaim our identity, our history as God’s people when so much has changed?
But that was not all that had changed over this time. We find Jeremiah’s language changing. He has moved from the overthrowing, destroying pulling down, to the language of building and planting.
5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
So that’s happened? The people in exile in the strange and foreboding land of Babylon. Surrounded by the alters to the Babylonian gods and all the machinery of empire. Surrounded too by the memory and experience of all the trauma and loss.
And recognising all that’s happened, Jeremiah says, build houses, plant gardens and look forward to the years not of destruction but in this strange land look forward to years of joy. There will be wedding celebrations. There will be children, grandchildren among your people. And don’t turn inwards. Pray for the welfare of the city you are now living.
And today, though this is not the last chapter in Jeremiah, in many ways what he says today represents the culmination of what he, and we, have learned from God and these experiences over these years.
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
So, Jeremiah looking back as a much older man now, discerning and hearing God’s voice after all that has happened. And speaking a vison of a world to come.
I think it is quite hard to look back over how ever many years we have been around, and to summarise the lessons we have learned over those years, and hopefully are continuing to learn.
I remember, for years off and on, I have tried to learn to play a musical instrument. I was inclined toward the noisier ones. Trumpet, saxophone and finally bagpipes. I have to say I came to a realisation that I was totally inadequate at playing any of them.
But I also have to say that in those small noisy failures I also came to some greater understanding of things. I had people in my life who still loved me despite their probably early realisation that I was incompetent. That there were teachers who would persevere, not only because they were being paid, but also because they loved the instrument they were attempting to teach me to play.
And I also discovered that finding things you are not good at, can be even more important than finding things that you are okay at doing.
A series of C minus’ when I was at Otago University, and then much better marks when I finally gained a scholarship at Harvard.
What happens, what do we discover, in that space between our failures and our achievements or successes?
I imagine for many of us, we have come to understandings and discoveries that at times have come at great cost.
The jobs we didn’t get. The relationships that may not have worked out. The poor marks or exams failures. The disappointments. They are hard lessons but still, and this message comes strongly through as we read Jeremiah, these hard lessons are still lessons. Still times even when people learned the most profound truths about how God might even be working in their lives. In our lives.
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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
So, what is this new covenant?
First, the new covenant involves a surgical procedure, re-writing the human heart. Back then they weren’t too sure what the grey stuff was between our ears or what it did. The biblical understanding of the “heart” is that it is the centre of human intellect and will, knowing what is right and having the desire to do it.
Jeremiah promises that God will replace this deeply engraved damaged heart, with a new heart engraved with God’s law, written in God’s own handwriting.
Remember what the people asked Jesus “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?” And Jesus says that in every act of goodness and kindness done to someone in need, will be like we are acting toward Jesus himself.
To come to that point where our actions towards others are not transactions, or considered, but are simple expressions of who we are. Who you are. Who I am.
And the second thing is that this new covenant means that the old formulas of how people learn and understand about God no longer apply.
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, . . . says the LORD
It’s a very similar affirmation that we find in Pauls letter to the Corinthians in chapter three where he says "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow."
Being faithful in our intentions, we can trust that God works through the encounters we have. With the people in our lives. With the people you support through our ministries.
No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other “Know the Lord for they shall all know me” says the Lord. “I planted the seed” says Paul, “Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow”.
So, if the first quality of this new covenant is the discovery that knowing God and showing God’s love becomes natural, normal.
And if the second part is a faithfulness. It is not us but it is God who is at work transforming lives.
The third part of this new covenant is the knowledge of God’s loving kindness, God’s grace
“I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”.
One of Jesus’s close friends, Peter asked Jesus how many times we forgive those who wrong us– “seven times?” Jesus, reflecting a new covenant kind of forgiveness corrected Peter, “No…seventy times seven”. God’s very nature. There is no end to the forgiveness God shows us.
When we stand back from all of Jeremiah’s words, when we trace his call, the destruction, the exile. These words today would have come to those first hearers, as a shock.
And it’s not the shock that comes from discovering that I am not good at everything.
Almost the reverse.
For those who have known the hurt from a broken relationship, those who have been wounded by someone they have trusted, those who grieve, those who feel they have lost so much. For those who have been in exile. For those whose landscape has changed.
The sadness or failures or fears, this gift from Jeremiah – “The days are surely coming. “
Jeremiah, the prophet names all the reasons that the relationship has been irrevocably damaged but still says, the days are surely coming I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, – “the days are surely coming … when I will forgive.
So, let’s pray “Dear God You, who are known by your steadfast love, remake and renew our relationships with You and with one another through your shocking grace and loving kindness, made known in Jesus Christ. Amen
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