The Fifth Sunday in Lent (3/25/2012)

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 Will Be Written on Their Hearts

Jeremiah spoke some 600 years before Jesus’ birth, to a deeply discouraged group of people. They had seen the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah destroyed. They had watched as the Babylonian armies tore the temple down, demolished all that God’s people had built, and left it in a smoking ruin. Their hopes of ever seeing the promise to their ancestor Abraham be fulfilled were dashed, and their hearts were broken. To them, Jeremiah spoke a word of hope. He said that the days will surely come when God’s people would be renewed. They would carry God’s law, not in a temple that foreign nations could destroy, but at the very center of who they were. It would be written, Jeremiah said, on their very hearts. They would have such an intensely intimate relationship with God, that there would be no need for anyone to teach them, or encourage their faith: it would be their passion, their driving force, and the center of who they were. They would no longer need external rules and regulations in order to faithfully live for God. Their love for God, and their desire to please God, would make it happen naturally.

I never understood this text, until our first child was born.

You see, I had always imagined that when the time came for me to became a father, I’d rise to the occasion. I’d be able to give up some of the hours I spent golfing and playing basketball and racquetball and hiking and fishing. Betsy and I would be able to give up some of the private time were able to have together before kids were in the picture. I had always imagined that we would screw up the courage to dramatically alter our lifestyle in order to make a child fit in. And indeed, Betsy and I made some dramatic changes, but not at all in the way I had imagined. We didn’t have to force ourselves to do it. We didn’t hang our heads and think: “Well, to be good parents, we had better make these changes.” Not at all! We found that from the day that little baby looked up into our eyes, we were changed. We didn’t have the same drive to do all those other things that occupied our time before he was born. We wanted time with him. We wanted to be together as a family. We saw it as opportunity, and grace, and joy. God said, “You are now a family, and you are now called to live as parents.” And after years of waiting for that child to be born, we responded wholeheartedly: “Thanks be to God!”

This is the kind of faithfulness that life in Christ can engender. Not enslavement to another set of rules and expectations. Not grudging acceptance of the life into which Christ invites us. But the joyful embrace of a new kind of life: a life that is rooted in the grace of God. A life that is filled with the blessings of faith. A life that bears the presence of our Christ into this world. A life in which, even when we are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, we find ourselves responding enthusiastically: “Thanks be to God!”

So let us work hard to help each other know the depths of God’s grace. Let us be diligent in proclaiming what Christ has accomplished among us. Let us be clear about what a joy it is to live as God’s people. And let us do such a good job of it, that even when we are called to acts of selfless service, we are drawn to respond with joy.

“This is the Gospel of our Lord!” “Thanks be to God!” Amen!

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were the people of Jeremiah’s time so discouraged?
  2. What future did he envision for them?
  3. How did the people of the early Christian church understand Jeremiah’s hope?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has my faith stirred me to a joyful response?
  2. What is the difference for me, between joyful service and a grudging response?
  3. How might I increase, even more, my appreciation of God’s grace?