“God Will Forgive!”

Jeremiah 31:31-34, March 21st, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Hear now these words from the Old Testament Lesson from the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah chapter thirty-one, verses thirty -one thru thirty-four.” 

“31 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.”

“Having listen with our ears let us now hear from our hearts the message, the lesson that has been passed to us through the vast passage of time… for our use in today’s time.”

“God Will Forgive!”

What is most striking about this Old Testament passage is that the prophet of old, Jerimiah, was speaking of a compassionate and forgiving God and a God who expected to be in covenant, to be in fellowship… kind of like a partnership with an expectation that the people would hold up their end of the agreement!  The words of the prophet were saying and are saying, that we the people of God would come to know, clearly know what was expected and we would come to fully know the heart of God, just as God knows our hearts.  The conflict for us… as we hear these words, is whether we really want God to know our hearts!  We are still in the time of Lent my friends, this a time to take stock of our relationship with God.  Which is comparable to a relationship with a close friend, or perhaps an advisor.  In some circles of faith folks have Spiritual advisors to help one with one’s relationship with God.  Let us pray that most of us are understanding this dialog.  Therefore, you know the heart of God and God knows yours.  If you are not there yet, then pay heed to what is being said here, for it is crucial to your faith journey.  Preparing your journey of faith will take preparation and will require some action some initiative from you.  Yes, we are saved through faith, yet it takes action to follow through and journey with God.

Therefore, we shall approach our lesson this morning with hopeful hearts, drawing on this statement form John C. Holbert – regarding the prophet’s words.  “Jeremiah’s famous words are thus hope and warning; do the work of God but allow God finally to reap God’s own harvest.”  Hope is certainly something which we all need, which we all long for actually!  Even way back before the time of Christ, this prophet believed that that the word of God offered hope to a broken and discouraged people; the tribes of Israel, these Hebrew people who had escaped from slavery in Egypt, only to face the harshness of the barren wastelands as they migrated toward a promised land.  Thus, the prophet spoke to the house of Judah and the house of Israel prophesying that God would again covenant with them, forgiving them of their past sinfulness.  He was telling the people God was offering them, a second chance, an opportunity to allow God to once again be their God! 

Let us draw from current experiences.  Say you are interested in hiking up a high mountain.  Why would you want to hike up a mountain you ask?  Because those who have gone before you speak of its beauty and splendor and how exhilarating an experience it was for them and you now get interested in experiencing it for yourself.  OK, so let’s start with a small one like Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  It is only six thousand two hundred and eighty-eight (6288) feet tall.  Tallest mountain in the northeastern region of the United States, but small in contrast to Mount Denali, in earlier times it was known as Mount Mckinley in Alaska.  It is twenty thousand, one hundred and fifty-six feet tall (20,156).  Now that’s a really big mountain!  Consequently, we will stick with this smaller one in New Hampshire.  If you were to plan a day hike up that mountain you would need to do some preparation and invest in the correct gear to carry with you.  If you are spontaneously deciding to hike this mountain you may be in for a rude surprise.  The same goes for you that have decided, suddenly, that you want that closer walk with God.  If that is where you are… then you will need to prepare to give up your less than faithful lives, thereby making room in your life to become devoted and faithful to the ways of God.  You need to realize – it takes a bit more than the “statement” ‘I will faithfully follow God!’  Let us endeavor to more fully understand this thought as it is very important to all of us and especially you – if this is the start of something new in your journey. 

Personally, I have climbed Mount Washington a good six or seven times.  In a youth group within my home church, we went as a group.  We were advised ahead of time as to what clothing to bring: hiking boots that cover and support your ankles; key to a safe hiking experience.  Wool socks, several pairs.  A wool hat to cover your head down to your ears, wool mittens, or gloves and a wool sweater.  Don’t forget a good rain suit, pants and jacket, and other personal items needed, including a canteen to carry clean drinking water.  Still want to hike this mountain(?) The youth group was being prepared for just two nights on top of the mountain with three days of hiking.  The second day was one hundred percent above the tree line where the trail is primarily just rocks.  Preparing for a mountain hike is sort of like preparing to accept the agreement which God was offering the people of old.  Great benefits to have God on your side and in your camp, yet there is a learning curve, sort of like a time of preparation.  All adventurous first-time hikers long to see the world from its top!  And it is a glorious view and most worthy of the effort to get there.  But preparation is needed.  Thankfully, God was promising the Israelites a lot of help in preparation for this transition.  Likewise, the leaders of our youth group guided us, step by step to be prepared for our mountain experience.

Alan Brehm reminds us of the promise which Jeremiah said, “the days are coming.”  Days of restoration, days of rebuilding, days of returning to hope and faith and joy.   With this promise in mind, we can find the faith not to lose heart in the face of all that is wrong with our world.”  The youth director and the Pastor of the church himself, promised an adventure that would change our understanding of God’s Creation.  And it did!  Even after the pep talk about how strenuous eight hours of hiking in a mountain can be… we all still wanted to go!  Even as the adventure began, the bugs, flying insects and mosquitoes in the low valley areas as we hiked in close to the base of the mountain, they did not stop us, and they were soon forgotten as we begin to hike up into the mountain.  As the trees changed from oak and maple to pine and spruce, then it began to feel different.  Half-way up we got a glimpse of the vastness as we gazed out into the valley now far below.  Wow!  What a sight!  Being fully in relationship, in collaboration with God is that exciting as well!  And yes, there are some adjustments to be made.  Rearranging our schedules to be involved with like minded followers of God’s covenant will be needed.  We each must personally make the commitment to partner and link up with God.  When we do this with an attitude of humility and a desire to set things right, with those we are in relationship with, then we can feel the fullness of God’s release from past misdeeds.  As we become clearer as to how it feels to stand in the light of God’s love and grace we shall realize, just as a mountain hiker realizes as they reach the top, that the world takes on new meaning – as our vision and insights into the order of things… shifts. 

Such a shift in focus is clearly what the prophet Jeremiah was seeking for those his words were first intended to reach.  Like the mountain hiker who needs a bit of encouragement to climb over that next large boulder in his or her pathway, so shall we as we continue forward on our journeys of faith.  The warning can easily be understood for the hiker who becomes nervous when they realize the trail, which they are being led on is long and there are streams to cross and rocks to climb and obstacles to face as they seek the ultimate victory of getting to the top.  To stop moving forward no matter the challenge, means they might be left behind and never experience the promised reward.  Thus, it has been for the ancient people of which Jeremiah first spoke.  If they did not respond to his prophesies that feeling of desperation and hopelessness would continue to dampen their spirits and darkness would once again surround them.  As we begin to transition from our scripture account and analogy of the mountain hiker, we need to consider how this lesson shall influence our current lives.  We may wish to consider the landscape of these past months going back a year.  The whole world has felt the tension which has come with the misfortune and burden of this virus.  We all want relief from it as well as relief from the social inequalities which have surfaced as we seek a new world order and a return to normalcy. 

There are always false trails on any hike into the mountains.  It is why an experienced hiked gets acquainted with the terrain by looking at maps and, in many mountain adventures, checking with the rangers who know the terrain well and are there to help you safely enjoy the journey.  No one wants to get lost in a strange place.  Likewise, we do not need to feel lost or alone as we journey forward with our quest to be in relationship and in covenant with God.  The irony in our contrast to the seeker of God’s grace and the mountain hiker is that once we are lost and the darkness over comes us, there is only one source of help.  God is the answer.  If we can cling to this there shall be renewed hope.  If we come to the end of our rope… to whom, do we turn?  “We turn to God!”  To not reach out seeking the hand of God, we shall continue to be lost.  Perhaps the hiker has been wise and has prepared well for the trek into the vast forest surrounding the mountain and after saying a prayer, ‘even though lost’ they calm down and refocus.  In that moment they accept their plight and make camp right where they are… realizing they have the things needed for such a moment, radically improving the likelihood of being found sooner then too late.  We each need to trust God as we journey.  By following the simple directions which we glean from a Bible class or the Pastor’s sermon each Sunday, or from that Spiritual adviser we have been talking with regularly, we shall find our way through those cloudy darkened moments with – new hope

The days are surely coming, says the Lord! /Jeremiah 31:31/

New hope is surely coming says our God.

Don’t give up before the miracle comes!

The view from the Mountain Top – well it is just something you must experience for yourself!

Amen.

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