“A New Covenant”
Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8
16 October 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
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.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jeremiah was chosen by God,
Sent by God,
And Instructed by God
To bring bad news to the king and the peoples of Israel.
Over Jeremiah’s life span,
475 to 525 years before Jesus,
The people of Israel had been unfaithful to the Laws of the Covenant
And had turned their backs upon the Lord.
The people had been worshipping the fictitious god named “Baal”
And were even sacrificing their children in Baals name.
Our Lord, known by his Hebrew spelling, Yahweh, was not pleased.
Yahweh withdrew his blessing from his previously chosen people.
Yahweh’s message to his people was simple:
“I will no longer bless you.
Without my blessing, you will starve.
You will be defeated in war.
You will be carried off as prisoners to a foreign land
Where you will remain in exile.
You face my punishment because you have been unfaithful to me.”
No wonder Jeremiah was known as the “Weeping Prophet”.
Yet, all is not lost.
Yahweh created humankind,
Created in God’s own image, no less,
And he wasn’t prepared to throw in the towel.
“The wages of sin is death”
The apostle Paul reminds us
In his letter to the Romans.
But our God is not a God of death;
Our God is the God of life!
Therefore, withdrawing of blessing, starvation, defeat, and exile
… could not …
Be allowed to be the final word.
Again and again, with death, God responds with the promise of resurrection.
Through God’s chosen prophet, Jeremiah,
God follows condemnation with words of promise.
Jeremiah speaks these words from God:
“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.”
“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.”
“… for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
A few thoughts.
1. Don’t sin. Follow God’s Laws.
Our scripture does not teach us much about us.
It confirms what we already know.
We know who we are.
Humankind is made wonderfully in the image of God, on the one hand,
Yet flawed by sin taking advantage of free choice, on the other.
We all sin.
Sin is as old as the snake in the garden.
Sin is failure to obey God’s law.
Failure to adapt our will to God’s will
Pushes us apart.
God and the sinner become estranged.
God spells out his will quite clearly:
Don’t eat the apple.
Then come the big ten:
Have no other gods before the Lord.
Don’t worship idols.
Don’t make wrongful use of the Lord’s name.
Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Honor your father and mother.
Don’t cheat on your spouse.
Don’t desire what isn’t yours.
(adapted from the Ten Commandments, as found at Deuteronomy 5:6-21)
The advantage of following God’s laws
Is that good behavior not only brings us closer to God
But it also strengthens our community.
We know these laws from God
Because God’s promise from Jeremiah has become true.
The Law of God has been written upon our heart.
God has placed it within
And any one of us are capable of reading what has been written.
Every one of us know the law,
Therefore, ignorance is no defense.
Open your eyes.
Follow your heart.
As long as God makes faithfulness to his Law a priority
Our behavior makes a difference.
It is not okay to break the Law with the expectation
That we will all be forgiven in the end.
Breaking the Law
Is the failure to follow God’s will,
And this does not bode well with God.
There are consequences to bad behavior.
There are consequences to killing, stealing, lying, committing adultery.
There are consequences to idolatry.
There are consequences to placing other gods before the Lord.
Just ask our Hebrew ancestors who paid the penalty
With their defeat and exile.
God is not only a God of Law,
But has also been known to be a God of Punishment.
Be aware and forewarned.
2. God is a God of Justice.
Defeat and exile are proportionate
With breaking the Law, killing their children, and worshiping Baal.
Justice is apparent when cause and effect are proportionate.
Punishment isn’t overly severe,
Neither is it a simple slap on the hands.
Justice is very important to God.
The Prophet Isaiah proclaims:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
And “For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Then, there is our Gospel for today;
A parable about the need for prayer and not to lose heart.
I don’t know about you
But I pray a lot.
Not all of my prayers are answered.
Jesus prayed so hard in the garden that he sweat blood,
Yet his prayer wasn’t answered, either.
If your prayers aren’t answered all the time,
Consider yourself in good company.
Your pastor and Jesus are standing by your side.
Prayers that aren’t answered are hard.
And sometimes, I admit, I lose heart.
I lose heart especially when it appears that justice isn’t being served.
Jesus’ parable is a fictional tale created to teach an essential truth about God.
The judge is secular, not Jewish.
He didn’t fear God, he had no faith.
He didn’t have respect for people, therefore, justice wasn’t his primary concern.
And the judge doesn’t wear well when subjected to persistent, withering appeal.
The widow, on the other hand,
Portrays the poor, weak, vulnerable, the victimized.
She is dependent upon the Jewish community for all her needs.
She knows justice, she respects justice.
She is persistent in her search for justice.
So here Jesus sets up the conflict of the
Strong verses the weak,
Rich verses the poor,
Powerful verses the vulnerable,
One avoiding justice verses one who is the victim of injustice.
If even an unjust judge can relent
And offer justice,
Think of how much better is a loving God who seeks justice day and night.
God is not like that guy, Jesus points out.
God is loving.
God hears the cry of victims of injustice.
God doesn’t need to be worn down;
God sees injustice and works to correct it.
God sees injustice and corrects it without delay.
We lose heart when we see the injustice of the world
And we draw the mistaken assumption that it is caused by God’s failure to act.
It isn’t God’s failure to act.
Injustice thrives because of our failure to act,
Our failure to draw upon the limitless power of God,
And failure to wield the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Injustice thrives when God’s people fail to be
God’s faithful spokespersons for justice,
When we fail to be ones who right the wrongs
And break the yokes of injustice.
Injustice thrives when we are lazy, afraid, or just don’t care.
We are the laborers of the Lord
And the hands of Jesus.
God’s will for a just creation comes to fruition
When persistent prayer is joined
By the sweat of our brow and persistent justice making.
3. God is a God of grace.
This is not only a uniquely Wesleyan trait;
Grace can be traced back through scripture to the beginning of time.
A God who creates is a God of grace.
A God who forgives iniquity and remembers sin no more is a God of grace.
A God who sends his Son to die for our forgiveness is a God of grace.
The necessary balance for Law is grace;
And Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s gift of grace to the world.
Disciples of Jesus are reminded often that judgment is God’s own prerogative.
God is the judge of other’s faithful adherence to the Law,
And no one else.
Not you. Not me. Certainly not me!
We are not to judge whether or not someone is faithful or breaking God’s Law.
That’s God’s role.
Our job is to keep our noses to home,
Stick to our own business,
And pay attention to remaining faithful in our own behavior.
Calling out sin in another is not our role!
Living faithfully according to God’s Law is.
The Promise of Jeremiah and the fulfillment of Jesus Christ,
Is that while God is a God of Law, Justice, and Punishment (if necessary),
God is also a God of mercy.
This is not a release of responsibility.
God’s approach is to hold each of us individually and collectively responsible for our behavior,
Then to apply the remedy:
Absolution, forgiveness, and restoration.
One is not destined to live in a perpetual state of punishment.
Faithful children of God know by faith
That God desires us to overcome suffering and death.
God desires for us to be gathered, corrected, and recycled whole once again.
God desires to spend eternity with each of us,
Forgiven and remanufactured as pure as the driven snow.
Grace is the necessary balance to Law.
Without it, jails would be full and hell would be overflowing.
Heaven would be empty
And God would be alone.
4. Lastly, God is a God of fidelity.
I will be your God and you will be my people.
This is the new covenant,
The new agreement
Between God and his creation.
It’s signed, sealed, and delivered by the lips of Jeremiah.
Sorry, we didn’t get a say in it.
Fidelity is just the way it is.
God is our God
And there is nothing we can do to undo it.
We can’t shake free from God.
While secular humanism may appear appealing,
It is nothing but a delusion.
(Definition of secular humanism: - “The belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God”. As found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism)
Those who claim they don’t believe in God
And who don’t see a need to believe in any God
Can protest all they want.
Yet, they, nor anyone else are capable
Of breaking the New Covenant between God and humankind.
God is our God. We are His people.
There isn’t enough denial in all of the cosmos
To undo what God has done.
God created us.
God claims us.
That’s just the way it is.
Knowing that God is our God, and will forever be our God,
Should instill in us a sense of confidence.
We are freed to be bold in our faith
And in our work for justice.
We are freed from being overwhelmed with doubt and uncertainty.
We are freed to plumb new depths of faith
Unlike we had ever previously imagined.
God has placed his Law upon our hearts. Follow it.
Behave to the best of your ability. Choose faithfulness, not sin.
If and when you or I fail, know that there are consequences.
Consequences are painful.
At the same time,
Know that God is a God of grace,
Who forgives and restores without memory,
As if it never happened.
Pray and work persistently for God’s justice to be actualized.
God depends upon you and me,
Just as you and I depend upon our God.