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  • Covenant, Part 5 – 2015/03/22

    Psalm 119:9-16
    John 12:20-33
    Jeremiah 31:31-34

    Sermon:

    Well, we’ve made it. We’re at the final sermon of the five-week series I’ve been preaching on covenants in the Old Testament. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about one theme like this as much as I’ve enjoyed preaching them. It’s been a real treat to just pick a topic like this and dive in a little deeper and with a little more connection from week-to-week than I’m used to doing.

    For those who don’t remember, this series has gone like this: the first week, we looked at the covenant God made with Noah – but not just with Noah, but rather all the earth, that it would never again be destroyed as it was in those days. The second week, we looked at God’s covenant with Abraham, to be God to him and his descendants, and that they would receive a piece of Promised Land. The third week was God’s covenant with Moses, in which God gave the people 613 commandments they had to follow, as they were again reminded of the Promised Land. Well, the bad news is, they didn’t follow the commandments; the good news is that God took care of them and gave them the land, anyway. Finally, the fourth week was last week, in which God promised that a ruler from the line of David would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

    And that brings us to our fifth and final covenant. Now, I’ve discussed a lot of overarching themes during this week. I’ve talked about how some of the covenants were conditional, meaning that the people had to do certain things in order for the covenant to go into effect, and how some were unconditional, meaning that God would do it no matter what. I also mentioned how covenants tend to go from general to specific – each subsequent covenant deals with a smaller group of people. First, all the people of the earth (and animals!); then the descendants of Abraham; then the descendants of Isaac (one of Abraham’s sons); and finally the descendants of David, just one family in the whole people of Israel.

    Well, it’s time to let all of that come to a head, as it does in our reading from Jeremiah this morning, and this reading does a lot to turn what we’ve heard and read so far on its head.

    In order to get the sense of this reading, I think it’s best to put it in its original context. Jeremiah lives in Judah, the southern kingdom in the heart of the Promised Land, where there is a ruler descended from the line of David sitting on the throne, and the law is the Law of Moses. The covenants of God are alive and well.

    But that all changes in one day. The Babylonian army comes to attack. The destroy Jerusalem, tearing down the Temple, dragging away King Zedekiah, killing his children so there can’t be a rightful Davidic king on the throne, removing the people from the Promised Land by taking them to Babylon, and forcing them to live under Babylonian Law. In one breath, three covenants were destroyed: the covenant with David was ended, because there was no more Davidic king on the throne, nor would there ever be again; the covenant with Moses was gone, because the Law was taken out of the hands of the people; the covenant with Abraham was gone, because the people were forced out of the Promised Land. In the blink of an eye, the promises of God were gone. The only one left was the covenant with Noah, which described how the world would never again be destroyed as it was in Noah’s time. Well, maybe the whole world wasn’t flooded – but to Jeremiah and the other people of Judah, I’m sure it felt like the world was coming to an end.

    That is Jeremiah’s world. Everything about his way of life and the ways of life of his people were shattered and uprooted in an instant. Hope was gone, love was distant, faith was impossible, and love lost meaning. So what word did God have for Jeremiah to deliver the people? What word could possibly be appropriate at a time like this? An apology? An action to defeat the Babylonians? A lament, crying over what was lost?

    No; none of those. Instead, this is the word Jeremiah has for his people: “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.”

    In light of this new disaster, God promises to make a new covenant. As the old covenants have been stolen away by and invading army, instead of promising retribution or destruction or simply lamenting the loss, God promises new creation. God will work this tragedy for good, and bring about healing out of calamity. If you read the sections around this in Jeremiah, you see that this promise is for a virtual utopia – a place of peace and harmony, where God is the ruler. That is what God is covenanting.

    The promise here is about making good on all the other promises through the building of a true relationship – a relationship to last forever.

    And in the end, isn’t that what all these covenants are about? They’re all about us having a relationship with God, and living the way that God is calling us to live – leaving behind the ways of the past, and looking forward to a way that is more godly, righteous, just, and faithful.

    So we begin to realize that we haven’t really been looking at 5 covenants these last five weeks – we’ve been looking at one. God has been trying to make deals with us over time, and trying to draw us closer. First, making a deal not to kill us (which is, admittedly, not saying much), then making a deal for land, then give us a strict set of rules, then giving us a king to follow. But in the end, none of that really worked, because we just aren’t able to appreciate God’s gifts to us. Thus, we’re given this passage today from Jeremiah, in which we’re promised a future free of obligation, free of the constraints of this world, and full of the love of God.

    As we sit in this second-to-last week of Lent, I can’t help but think that it’s awfully Good News to hear that God was not immediately out for revenge or for retribution. In fact, I think it points us, as Christians, toward the cross. When Christ is crucified, God does not go about seeking retribution. While people are allowed to grieve that loss, they are not given the opportunity to let their grief turn into despair. And that’s because God immediately does something new, and gives a glimpse of what is to come – the Kingdom of God.

    Jeremiah, too, in the words that we read for today, is giving a foretaste of that glory to come when he presents to us this covenant from God. God is not a mean old man in the sky; God is someone promising us a brighter tomorrow. While we may have much to fear, we should rest with confidence knowing that God is by our side.

    In his own time, Jeremiah’s words of comfort must have looked like the height of foolishness – with everything being destroyed, why should people give comfort and trust to God? But isn’t the cross itself foolishness? When we look at the cross, we’re looking at a symbol that Rome used to show how it was in charge. When we as Christians look at it, we, too, see a symbol of victory; yet not for the Rome or the powers of this world, not for evil or violence or sin or death, but for goodness and peace and love and life.

    So today, friends, I ask you to remember that the promises of God are steadfast. Even when we can’t seem to keep up our end of the bargain, remember that God is always reaching out and trying to build up our relationship, so that we might see the New Commandment writ on our hearts and in our minds. Amen.

  • Covenant, Part 5 – 2015/03/22

    Psalm 119:9-16
    John 12:20-33
    Jeremiah 31:31-34

    Sermon:

    Well, we’ve made it. We’re at the final sermon of the five-week series I’ve been preaching on covenants in the Old Testament. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about one theme like this as much as I’ve enjoyed preaching them. It’s been a real treat to just pick a topic like this and dive in a little deeper and with a little more connection from week-to-week than I’m used to doing.

    For those who don’t remember, this series has gone like this: the first week, we looked at the covenant God made with Noah – but not just with Noah, but rather all the earth, that it would never again be destroyed as it was in those days. The second week, we looked at God’s covenant with Abraham, to be God to him and his descendants, and that they would receive a piece of Promised Land. The third week was God’s covenant with Moses, in which God gave the people 613 commandments they had to follow, as they were again reminded of the Promised Land. Well, the bad news is, they didn’t follow the commandments; the good news is that God took care of them and gave them the land, anyway. Finally, the fourth week was last week, in which God promised that a ruler from the line of David would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

    And that brings us to our fifth and final covenant. Now, I’ve discussed a lot of overarching themes during this week. I’ve talked about how some of the covenants were conditional, meaning that the people had to do certain things in order for the covenant to go into effect, and how some were unconditional, meaning that God would do it no matter what. I also mentioned how covenants tend to go from general to specific – each subsequent covenant deals with a smaller group of people. First, all the people of the earth (and animals!); then the descendants of Abraham; then the descendants of Isaac (one of Abraham’s sons); and finally the descendants of David, just one family in the whole people of Israel.

    Well, it’s time to let all of that come to a head, as it does in our reading from Jeremiah this morning, and this reading does a lot to turn what we’ve heard and read so far on its head.

    In order to get the sense of this reading, I think it’s best to put it in its original context. Jeremiah lives in Judah, the southern kingdom in the heart of the Promised Land, where there is a ruler descended from the line of David sitting on the throne, and the law is the Law of Moses. The covenants of God are alive and well.

    But that all changes in one day. The Babylonian army comes to attack. The destroy Jerusalem, tearing down the Temple, dragging away King Zedekiah, killing his children so there can’t be a rightful Davidic king on the throne, removing the people from the Promised Land by taking them to Babylon, and forcing them to live under Babylonian Law. In one breath, three covenants were destroyed: the covenant with David was ended, because there was no more Davidic king on the throne, nor would there ever be again; the covenant with Moses was gone, because the Law was taken out of the hands of the people; the covenant with Abraham was gone, because the people were forced out of the Promised Land. In the blink of an eye, the promises of God were gone. The only one left was the covenant with Noah, which described how the world would never again be destroyed as it was in Noah’s time. Well, maybe the whole world wasn’t flooded – but to Jeremiah and the other people of Judah, I’m sure it felt like the world was coming to an end.

    That is Jeremiah’s world. Everything about his way of life and the ways of life of his people were shattered and uprooted in an instant. Hope was gone, love was distant, faith was impossible, and love lost meaning. So what word did God have for Jeremiah to deliver the people? What word could possibly be appropriate at a time like this? An apology? An action to defeat the Babylonians? A lament, crying over what was lost?

    No; none of those. Instead, this is the word Jeremiah has for his people: “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.”

    In light of this new disaster, God promises to make a new covenant. As the old covenants have been stolen away by and invading army, instead of promising retribution or destruction or simply lamenting the loss, God promises new creation. God will work this tragedy for good, and bring about healing out of calamity. If you read the sections around this in Jeremiah, you see that this promise is for a virtual utopia – a place of peace and harmony, where God is the ruler. That is what God is covenanting.

    The promise here is about making good on all the other promises through the building of a true relationship – a relationship to last forever.

    And in the end, isn’t that what all these covenants are about? They’re all about us having a relationship with God, and living the way that God is calling us to live – leaving behind the ways of the past, and looking forward to a way that is more godly, righteous, just, and faithful.

    So we begin to realize that we haven’t really been looking at 5 covenants these last five weeks – we’ve been looking at one. God has been trying to make deals with us over time, and trying to draw us closer. First, making a deal not to kill us (which is, admittedly, not saying much), then making a deal for land, then give us a strict set of rules, then giving us a king to follow. But in the end, none of that really worked, because we just aren’t able to appreciate God’s gifts to us. Thus, we’re given this passage today from Jeremiah, in which we’re promised a future free of obligation, free of the constraints of this world, and full of the love of God.

    As we sit in this second-to-last week of Lent, I can’t help but think that it’s awfully Good News to hear that God was not immediately out for revenge or for retribution. In fact, I think it points us, as Christians, toward the cross. When Christ is crucified, God does not go about seeking retribution. While people are allowed to grieve that loss, they are not given the opportunity to let their grief turn into despair. And that’s because God immediately does something new, and gives a glimpse of what is to come – the Kingdom of God.

    Jeremiah, too, in the words that we read for today, is giving a foretaste of that glory to come when he presents to us this covenant from God. God is not a mean old man in the sky; God is someone promising us a brighter tomorrow. While we may have much to fear, we should rest with confidence knowing that God is by our side.

    In his own time, Jeremiah’s words of comfort must have looked like the height of foolishness – with everything being destroyed, why should people give comfort and trust to God? But isn’t the cross itself foolishness? When we look at the cross, we’re looking at a symbol that Rome used to show how it was in charge. When we as Christians look at it, we, too, see a symbol of victory; yet not for the Rome or the powers of this world, not for evil or violence or sin or death, but for goodness and peace and love and life.

    So today, friends, I ask you to remember that the promises of God are steadfast. Even when we can’t seem to keep up our end of the bargain, remember that God is always reaching out and trying to build up our relationship, so that we might see the New Commandment writ on our hearts and in our minds. Amen.

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    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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