Creekside Church
Sermon of March 21, 2021

"Written on Our Hearts"
Jeremiah 31:31-34

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I was so grateful for Sister Hattie Redmond’s message to us last week, and her exhortation that we need to look to Jesus and lift him up; a good message at any time, but especially as we remember God’s covenant and God’s faithfulness to us. For the last month, since the beginning of Lent, we’ve been looking back at figures in the Old Testament and covenants God made with them: Noah and Abraham and Moses, the people of Israel making their way to the promised land. In our services we have been looking to the rainbow -- a bridge between heaven and earth -- as a sign of the covenant, and a reminder to us that God is faithful. You may see some rainbows during out service this morning.

It’s worth pointing out the obvious here, that rainbows happen after rain. The covenants which we’ve studied so far have happened at points of disaster or tension in the biblical story. The rainbow God showed to Noah came after a very long period of rain -- a Great Flood which destroyed the world as Noah and his family had known it. Abraham was 99 years old and without an heir with his wife Sarah: even though God had promised to make them the parents of a great nation. Moses was in the middle of the desert with thousands of people who had just been liberated from slavery, only to be fearful of dying of hunger and thirst. Years later, they were still in the desert, complaining about the food which God had sent to sustain them, and they were bitten by poisonous serpents. These are not easy situations: people’s lives and legacies were at stake. They were in danger of losing everything.

The prophet Jeremiah is writing to people who are in crisis as well. Perhaps more of a spiritual crisis than a physical one, but a people in deep trouble nevertheless. Here’s what has happened: God delivered the children of Israel into the land God had promised them. They anointed a king, and expanded their territory. King David united a great kingdom, and his son Solomon built a lavish Temple in Jerusalem in honor of God and God’s steadfast love. And then things start to come unraveled: Solomon had to levy back-breaking taxes in order to build the Temple, he takes a number of foreign wives, and the gap between the rich and the poor starts to widen. A whole priestly caste and sacrificial system is constructed, where folks who have the money to make elaborate sacrificial offerings get special treatment. The gap between the rich and the poor gets wider. There are, of course, voices which cry for justice. Amazingly, many of these are recorded in the Old Testament. Prophets who did not so much predict the future as they brought the voice of God to their society, and denouncing idolatry and injustice. These prophets were largely ignored and sometimes persecuted; the prophet Jeremiah, who John shared from today, is one of these prophets who calls the people back to God and to justice. They don’t listen. And in 597 BCE, the Babylonian army overruns Jerusalem. The Babylonians destroy the Temple of Solomon and drag King Zedekiah away in chains, capture a lot of government officials, destroy the farmland, and leave most of the poor people in Jerusalem and surrounding countryside to starve.

The people of Israel and Judah have this physical threat of exile or starvation, but an even greater existential threat: the symbols of God’s covenant and faithfulness, their Temple and their king, have fallen. The things they put their faith in are gone. Where is their God? Who will save them now? I tried to imagine modern parallels for this kind of loss -- something like the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, which exposed vulnerability we didn’t know we had and enemies who were more resourceful than we suspected. On a personal level it might be like having your professional credentials stripped away -- so not just the loss of a job, but say, never being able to practice medicine again. These are losses which shake the foundations of our identity and worldview. That’s what happened to an entire society.

To Jeremiah’s credit, he doesn’t say “I told you so. I told you to stop oppressing the widows and the orphans, but does anybody listen to the voice of God? Serves you right.” There’s no comfort in that kind of self-righteousness. Here’s what Jeremiah tells the people who have experienced terrible loss and disorientation. This is God speaking directly to the people: I am going to make a new covenant with you. I kept my part of the bargain to bring you out of Egypt, but your ancestors broke my laws. This will be a new law, it will be within you, written on your hearts. You can stop talking about me and start living like my people. I will forgive the ways you have acted in the past, and we will start with a new covenant.

You may have heard that this past week, the Israeli government announced that there have been new discoveries of scroll fragments which were hidden in caves around the Dead Sea. Israeli archeologists rappelled into remote caves to search for these scrolls which were created between the 1st and the 3rd century. Rappelling archeologists -- who knew? From thumbnail-size fragments, scholars have reconstructed the words of the prophet Zechariah: Zechariah chapter 8, verses 16-17. Here’s what it says, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate -- declares the Lord.” Those words are still true, and they have amazing relevance to our society today. But these words do not live in clay jars or on little bits of papyrus: it’s exciting that they were found there, but that isn’t what makes them true or relevant. It is not enough to simply know that God spoke to Zechariah about rendering justice. We have to actually take those words into our hearts and into our lives for them to become the living word of God.

It was inspiring to hear Ton’s testimony this morning: I had heard parts of it before -- some of it in real time as I pastored to Ron during his cardiac surgeries. I was so glad to hear those stories gathered into the testimony which we heard today. Here are somethings which resonated with me hearing Ron’s story again: our hearts are not perfect and they are not permanent. Tablets of stone, and even pieces of papyrus if properly sealed and preserved will last longer than a human heart. But stone and papyrus are not alive -- they cannot sin, but neither can they love or grieve or repent. The new covenant has come to us in God’s Son Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, the Word, God’s Word, made flesh. Jesus didn’t come to punish us or condemn us, Jesus came to reconcile us to God. As the gentleman who cleaned Ron’s room reminded him, “You are a child of the King.” When we could not fulfil the terms of the old covenant by following the laws which were written on tablets of stone, we were reconciled to God by Jesus Christ, God’s new covenant, a human being like us, except without sin. We are children of the King whose steadfast love has never failed, who is with us in time of trouble, who re-wrote the terms of our contract so that we could be redeemed and saved.

Next week we will be celebrating Palm Sunday. This year’s celebration will be special, at least for me, because I remember how disoriented we were last year trying to figure out Zoom for the first time and not knowing that it was going to be months before we would be able to meet in person again. We praise God that we are able to gather, and we remember those who have gone to be with the company of saints in the past year. COVID-19 is still with us, but we have a lot more information and a new kind of hope. The spiritual pandemic of sin and stubbornness and pride are still here, but so is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Next week we will remember that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ should not perish, but have everlasting life. We need this reminder every year, we need God’s promises every day. We are children of the King, and the King has never failed us. That promise is written on our hearts; it is part of who we are. It is well. Amen.

 

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