Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sermon for the 22nd

I have been asked to post this sermon. I will be gone that weekend to a women's retreat so Bob will deliver it..... and also take care of Missy while I'm gone.

We Are Forgiven
March 22, 2015
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares 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.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

We find this passage quoted on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Traditionally, Lent is a season of confession and penance and a time to empty ourselves so we can be ready for the good news of Easter. This text invites us to confess and repent heartily, with the assurance of God’s promise to forgive our faults and speak no more of them.   

Verses 31–34 are the pinnacle of Jeremiah’s message. Beyond hardship, he preaches about hope: God forgives and makes things new. The new covenant designates the promise that God commits to save and keep his people for himself. Even amid chaos and desolation for the people, Jeremiah upholds that the faithfulness of God’s covenant is unbroken, like in a marriage covenant. Despite the people being unfaithful, despite injustice and exploitation, corrupt kings and priests, idolatry, and the many ways people broke their faith in God, God does not break faith in them.

Instead of judgment, people hear from Jeremiah a splendid promise, and unexpected good news. God will bring life where there is death. God will build a path where there is none.

The law written on stone—that no one diligently follows—will not exist anymore. The days will come when the law will be engraved in the hearts of people and applied in their daily lives.

The days will come when people, from the least to the greatest, will intimately know God. God will shape individuals and their hearts, from the inside out, so they can respond to the demands of God’s law. This change will occur with a complete and definitive resolution of the problem of sin. Contrary to the ritual prescriptions of the Mosaic covenant that constantly reminded individuals of their faults, this new covenant—divine intervention—will wash away forgiven sin.

This prophetic promise keeps ringing true in the advent of Christ. Jesus is the Christ, he truly is the Messiah, the one the Israelites were expecting, the one the prophets proclaimed. Jesus is Christ because in him, by him, God makes a new covenant with his people; a new covenant open to all who turn to him. Christ is the one who introduces this new covenant.

Too many times we continue to beat ourselves up about our shortcomings and sins long after God has long forgiven us. God’s love strengthens and gives hope to people in times of rejoicing and celebration and also in times of suffering and doubt.  God’s covenant extends to us all. We too are God’s people. All have value in the eyes of God.

Let us ask ourselves, “What are the things that are consciously or unconsciously are the symbols of our faith? “ What vision do we have of our daily lives when our life is moved and transformed by God’s forgiveness? Does being forgiven make any difference?”

I saw a television program a couple of weeks ago about Vietnam veterans who wanted to make a difference to the people of Vietnam they had injured when dropping Agent Orange during the war.  Sometimes down three generations, the birth defects continued to show up from their actions. After retiring, these veterans moved back to Vietnam and opened facilities to teach these disabled children.  For $65 a month, they learned that could provide special services for the disabled children.  That is the peak of repentance. Not only were they sorry for their actions against civilians in that war, but they wanted to do something positive to help. That is true repentance. 

The themes of a new (or renewed) covenant and of God's overwhelming grace are, of course, fitting for a celebration of Reformation Day. Martin Luther did not believe that he had discovered something radically new in Scripture when he found there the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. He rediscovered a treasure that the church of his day had largely lost. The movement he began was as much a restoration as a reformation -- the rediscovery of God's abundant grace in the new covenant established in and through Jesus. Luther felt he was restoring the church of his day to a right understanding of that covenant. Each subsequent generation has that same opportunity. 

As we recognize God’s forgiveness, we are inspired by his Holy Spirit to in turn forgive others who may have offended us.  

There is, then, in our theology a deep continuity with what had come before. We know that God's nature does not change. God was, is, and will continue to be a God of great mercy, forgiveness, and love for a wayward people. It is that people's (the church's) understanding of God's nature that had become clouded in the past. Like Jeremiah, then, we call the people of ours day to a new understanding of God and a renewed emphasis on God's grace and God's abiding love even for a sinful people.

So let us accept the gift of being forgiven. Let us live as forgiven people…renewed and eager to make our life one of service to others. 

And this is all God's doing. In and through Jesus, the God of Jeremiah continues to forgive, renew, reform, and call God's people into right relationship with him and with one another. God is faithful, even when we are not. That is the good news that both Jeremiah and that we proclaim, and it is news that can and should be celebrated on this Sunday, preferably with trumpets and always with great joy.

(When I preach or even prepare a sermon, I always ask the congregation to recall the "context" of the scripture. To establish  context, I refer to Bart Ehrman, who is an outstanding Bible whom "context"  is very important. I have all his books..even one of his textbooks. When we are examining ancient documents, context is everything.  The scriptures were not written for us....they were written for those ancients.  They did not live in the 21st century...they lived in their a completely different culture.)


Sister--Three said...

I enjoyed the sermon. Thank you for sharing it.

Sister--Three said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sister--Three said...

I guess I double clicked as the comment was there twice. I deleted one.