The Fifth Sunday in Lent (3/29/2009)
The Days Are Surely Coming
Lessons: Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16 Hebrews 5:5-10 St. John 12:20-33
Prayer of the Day: O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
31:31-34 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. 32 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. 33 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. 34 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.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
It isn't hard to imagine old Jeremiah, sitting amidst the rubble what used to be Jerusalem. It was almost 600 years before Jesus was born. Jeremiah was some sixty years old. He had been preaching and prophesying for forty-five years. In his day he had seen a lot of change. The northern kingdom had fallen years before he was born. He watched the southern kingdom slowly deteriorate. Finally, the Babylonians surged in, sacked Jerusalem, rampaged the countryside, and carried off many of his fellow citizens. And there he sat - with the remnant of Israel - the few of them left behind to somehow eke out a living in the shadow of a conquering nation.
It isn't hard to imagine old Jeremiah: sitting on a rock, looking back and forth across the landscape. Remembering how beautiful the ancient city used to be. Realizing that if only they had listened to him, this might not have happened. Knowing in his heart that God was unhappy with the chosen people - and perhaps even with him for not being able to bring them around. Trying to imagine how their country might ever once again become what it used to be in the golden years of Saul and David and Solomon.
It isn't hard to imagine old Jeremiah losing hope - being consumed with anger towards those who turned Israel away from God. But the truth of his story is: that didn't happen. When there didn't seem to be any visible sign that good could ever come of this situation, Jeremiah trusted in God. When there didn't seem to be any hope that they would ever enjoy their previous prosperity again, Jeremiah held to the promises God had given to them. When there didn't seem to be a prayer that the chosen ones would ever again appear to be chosen, Jeremiah continued to cry out to God. And so in the midst of the rubble, the despair, and the anguish, Jeremiah boldly spoke these words: "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."
Jeremiah had hope - and that is what held him up. He believed that no matter how bleak their situation was, God would carry them through. The days are surely coming, Jeremiah said, and he believed it with all of his heart. His hope was grounded in his belief that the Word of God, when clearly proclaimed, can change people from the inside out. His hope was that God would restore Israel to its earlier strength. But God would do so by changing and renewing the individuals who made up that ancient nation - calling them to faith, and challenging them to live with God at the center of their lives.
That's why the leaders of his day hated his message so fiercely, and opposed him so vigorously. They rather liked the way things were. They were comfortable with their habits and customs, and didn't want anything to change. So they ignored Jeremiah, and continued in the direction they had set for themselves. And it brought them to ruin.
But Jeremiah was persistent: even after Judah had been sacked, its leaders carried off into captivity, and its cities left ruined, Jeremiah continued to hope. He knew that God's power is greater than anything. He knew that with God, all things are possible. And so he continued to proclaim, "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."
Jeremiah knew that God wants to change hearts. The message Jeremiah brought from God was this: I will put my law within them, and I will write in on their hearts. Jeremiah had a vision of a day when God's people would no longer be enslaved to a set of rules. A day when believers would be touched by God's love, lifted up by God's presence, and moved by the leanings of their own hearts to work at being the kind of people God wants us to be. He had a vision of a people whose lives were so deeply rooted in God's grace, that they naturally and lovingly responded in ways that befitted their position as God's chosen people.
I like the word enthusiasm. This word comes from the Greek. En (in) + theos (God) = enthusiasm (God within). That's the source of Jeremiah's hope. When believers have God within them - when they are filled with enthusiasm for the faith - then their hearts have been warmed, and they have become changed from the inside. They begin to see life not just as one opportunity for gain after another, but instead as one opportunity after another to share the same love and grace that they have received from God with others in this world. Old Jeremiah knew that when God begins to infiltrate people's lives in this way, the community of faith grows and becomes a powerful thing.
And so, with Jeremiah, we pray that the spirit of renewal that was so much a part of his message could be a part of our lives as well. We pray that God will allow that new covenant to become a vital and central reality in our lives. We pray that our hearts will be moved to faith, and we will be enabled to see every moment of life as an opportunity to respond to the gracious love of our God. May the spirit of Jeremiah shape us and mold us into God's faithful people.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week's Text:
- What kept Jeremiah strong through the challenges of his life?
- Why did the leaders of his day oppose him with such intensity?
- How might his words be a source of strength for people today?
Connecting with This Week's Text:
- When has faith been a source of strength and hope for me, in a difficult time?
- How can my faith make a difference for me in this time of economic uncertainty?
- Does my enthusiasm for the faith rub off on others?