A New Covenant—–5th Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31: 31-34—–March 21, 2021—–John 12: 20-33
Being a PARENT is full of surprises! I always imagined myself teaching my kids—passing on wisdom and understanding and humor and insight. But, you know what?! My kids (and other people’s kids) have taught me! Today I want focus on one of the things that parenting has taught me about God. Here it is in a nutshell:
God is our loving Father; in love, God carefully lays out directions for living life fully; we violate them and God often lets us suffer from the consequences; God re-negotiates the covenant with us and finds a way to help us come out okay in the end!
I got to thinking about this as I considered our Scripture texts for today. And, actually, a recent review of Genesis kicked off the whole idea. Here’s a quick summary of parts of Genesis:
In the story of Adam and Eve, they are told that they can enjoy almost all of the garden, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” This is the arrangement between God and Adam and Eve. You know the story: they ATE of it, but did not die. God modified the arrangement so that they could live—but outside the Garden of Eden. Then we skip to Abraham.
When Abraham was in his 90’s, God established a covenant with him—a promise between them. God would give him and his post-menopausal wife, Sarah, a multitude of descendants and a land full of promise for the nation that would come from them. And Abraham and Sarah and all their descendants would live in faithful covenant with God. Pretty simple: “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”
Keep in mind that one of the rules of parenting goes like this: Have as few rules as possible, but as many as necessary. When a few rules aren’t enough, add more.
As we think through the history of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we will see how God has refined the covenant—again and again.
When God brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, it was time to revisit the covenant—so God gave them The Ten Commandments. Later, when things got really bad, God sent prophets to call the people back to the covenant. Their job was to guide the people into God’s ways again. And that’s where our reading from Jeremiah comes in. Many years later, God finally had to revamp the covenant once again—to become human in the person of Jesus Christ, to live for us and die for us so that we might live with God.
As Jesus put it in today’s Gospel reading, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Let’s take a look at these passages and see what God might be telling us about God’s plan for us—a plan that God describes as one to prosper us and not to hurt us.
Through Jeremiah, we hear God’s intention to write the Law on people’s hearts.
It’s an acknowledgement that God’s people BROKE the old covenant which was written on stone, the one God made when he “took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” This is the covenant they broke even though God cared for them like a husband cares for a wife. In Jeremiah, we hear about God’s intention to make a NEW covenant with them:
- I will put my law within them;
- I will write it on their hearts;
- I will be their God and they will be my people
- (understanding, of course, the people still have free will to follow…or not)
Then we get a glimpse into the very heart of God, hearing God’s desire: “And they shall all know me.” God understands that we will not always obey, not always respond to God’s love. So God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more!”
In re-writing the covenant, God is revealed as one who keeps being faithful to us even when we are not faithful to God!
Save Me from This Hour?
Roughly six centuries after the time of Jeremiah, the plan spoken through the prophet was not enough. People had taken God’s loving law and had made it a prison…a prison of rules and regulations. Experts in the Law found “legal loopholes” that would allow them to do as they pleased, but still keep up the pretense that they were following God’s Law. They and all the people missed the Spirit of the Law.
But God’s love was NEVER going to give up! So God came up with a new covenant. Paul writes about it in his letter to the Philippians: “Jesus Christ, while being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus made the choice to save us. He understood that if you love your life, you will lose it. He understood that if a grain falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit! Then he asks, “Should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ NO! It is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus had a crystal clear vision of his purpose, his mission. And, right before his arrest, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me…even so, let YOUR will be done, not mine.” Jesus loved life, but God’s plan for saving the whole world was more important to him than his own life.
On the cross, we see his commitment. He chose to STAY on the cross, and, in his agony, he prayed for forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.
I Will Forgive Them
I want to revisit the word we have from Jeremiah. It is a statement of HOPE! It expresses God’s plan to re-write the covenant, to put it in our hearts. And God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” That determination to forgive is re-affirmed from the cross. Perhaps this is why forgiveness is so central to the teachings of Jesus!
We are taught to ask for forgiveness, as well as to be ready to forgive others. Forgiveness is a major part of the NEW Covenant that we have in Jesus Christ!
I’ll finish today by revisiting a story from the life of Corrie ten Boom. Her family had been hiding Jews from the Nazis, but they were caught and all sent to a concentration camp. In the camp, her family all died. She, also, suffered brutal treatment and near-starvation and fleas and withering cold—but she survived. After the war, she was invited to speak at various church gatherings, and her message was one of forgiveness.
She was speaking at a church in Germany one night, sharing that forgiveness is the only way forward. In the audience was a former guard from her camp—one who had been particularly brutal. He was now a Christian, and he approached her after her talk, so relieved that she believed in forgiveness. He asked, “Will you forgive me?”, and he held out his hand to her. Corrie froze! How was she supposed to forgive this man who contributed to the death of her sweet sister?!
Then she remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion! She couldn’t bring herself to feel forgiveness for this man, but she was able to raise her hand up to his. And as they shook hands, she was flooded with warmth and peace. She said to him, “I forgive you, Brother, with all my heart!” Later, she wrote, “I had never known God’s love so intensely!”
So, there you have it. The New Covenant is all about FORGIVENESS. We receive God’s forgiveness, and we offer it to those who have hurt us. It doesn’t matter if you’re “not feeling it” because forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion!
When you and I forgive, we are reflecting the glory of God!