March 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33
Jeremiah, who was not a bullfrog, but a 6th century prophet filled with the Spirit of Yahweh who announces something extraordinary today: “The days are surely coming, says YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
In the former covenant the Law, the Torah, delivered to Moses on Mt Sinai, but YHWH goes on to say, “I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, but they broke the covenant, though I was like a faithful husband to them.”
You and I don’t have to look deeply into our own lives to find the same dynamic at work: our parents told us not to lie, steal, or cheat and yet, try as we might, we find ourselves doing just that.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us why this is so: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
This is a profound truth to contemplate this Lent. The problem isn’t that we don’t know what the commandments mean, or even that they are meant to keep us from falling into great harm and suffering. The problem is we have hearts that are “deceitful and desperately sick.”
Back in the pre-revolutionary war days many Episcopal churches in the south posted the Ten Commandment in marble behind the altar—but for all the good that did to help form the character of children, those or any other commandments are not capable of healing the desperately sick human heart.
Therefore YHWH says, In the new covenant “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.”
YHWH promises to give us the heart surgery that we cannot give ourselves, so that we will DESIRE to live in love and to become that love, and to let YHWH do in us whatever is needed to make that love visible to others.
In other words we will desire to die to who we think we are in order to let God make us into our true self. Jesus says in John today: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Of course, the grain of wheat doesn’t actually die, but it looks and feels like death, because it falls into the ground and in that dark place its hard shell, its carapace, is broken open.
The grain has to give up something it imagines is essential, in order to become its true self.
Usually we preachers will say our hard shell consists of the self-image we retail to the world: our education, wealth, status, skin color, ethnicity, gender, and even our looks. And without a doubt these are all part of the hard shell that keeps us from being real.
But Jeremiah’s passage pushes us to look deeper than these externals: For YHWH says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. “
YHWH plans to build the Divine Commonwealth with people who are willing to have their sin forgiven and forgotten.
Well, doesn’t everyone want this? No, those who feel morally superior don’t want this. Those who are privileged in the game of life don’t want this. The Pharisee at the Temple who is proud of his moral status doesn’t want YHWH to forgive the tax-collector and remember his sin no longer. That wouldn’t be fair.
Those who enjoy the blood sport of political partisanship certainly don’t want this! After all, who would I be if my opponent’s sin is forgiven and forgotten? It would mean I could no long build up my self-image by tearing down my opponent.
I know folks who hold on to their resentments like it’s their job. Who am I if God frees me from the hold those resentments have over me?
Who am I if God forgets my sin? Not forgets like an Alzheimer’s victim who can’t remember the past, but like the person who doesn’t obsess about their past mistakes and instead lives fully in the present moment?
If YHWH isn’t focused on our past sin, then we can come into the present moment with YHWH and all those who have been willing to have their sin forgiven and forgotten.
Letting YHWH crack open the hard shell around my heart does feel like death, but it is life and peace in the universal community on the level ground at the foot of the cross.
So if this New Covenant begins in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, how might we move into this new life? What does it look like practically to live as those who believe YHWH has forgiven and forgotten all sin on the cross of Jesus?
Tripp Fuller, a thirty-something founder of Homebrewed Christianity podcasts, which have the largest audience in the world for a theology podcasts, says, that “to figure out much of what Jesus was teaching, his followers had to become part of the community and its mission. Only in walking, talking, serving, healing, and empowering others did the meaning of Jesus’ teachings, like his parables, become evident.” Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus page 156
When he teaches a confirmation class of teens he says they slow read one of the gospels and come up with experiments in living by practicing those teachings of Jesus.
For instance for a month each member would try to live out the teaching, “Love you enemy” every day at their high school. As they practice not gossiping about their enemies and instead praying for them, they feel an inner shift in themselves.
Jesus calls us to follow him because we experience the New Covenant, not by thinking about it, but by practicing it. And we can practice it anywhere we are—at school, at home, at work, in prison, or in a parade.
The catechism in the back of our prayer book on page 854 says this:
- What is the Church?
- The Church is the community of the New Covenant.
We are the people who practice living as if the hard shell of our ego-self has been cracked open by Jesus Christ who says, “I forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”