March 18th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the prophetic words of the prophet Jeremiah, taken from the writings of 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.
“From out of this ancient writing let us now open ourselves, thereby, allowing our hearts to grasp its full meaning in our personal lives today, as modern-day Christians whom seek to know God.”
“We Shall Know God”
Getting to know God started a long, long time ago. Can you remember when you first became aware of God? Was it when someone close to you said: “God Loves You?” Was it when your Sunday School teacher first said: “The Bible tells us that God loves each one of us?” Or was it when you investigated and ‘looked’ into your first sunset and saw the mystic beauty of God’s Creation, displayed for you across the heavens! When did you first know God? If you do not know God, I must assume you are seeking to know God. Why else would you be here? I do fervently hope that each of us shall come to know God in a very personal way! Our scripture from the prophet Jeremiah is clearly meant to be words of hope. Let us cling to these words and not leave behind this ‘uplifting’ reminder of the promises of our God!
Many pastors would embrace this passage as one of hope, just as the people of Jeremiah’s time would have as well. Jeremiah was considered one of the more credible and recognized prophets of the Old Testament. It was believed his words were prophetic, foretelling what is yet to be. This visionary, believed that God would reach out to the people of Israel… making the love, the grace and the mercy of God, available to all people through a new covenant. This new promise would replace, updating the agreement God had made way back in time; that time-period when Moses led the tribe of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Many would agree that: “The promise of a ‘new covenant’ in this passage may evoke the Christian scriptures, stories, and promises for many readers. Yet in their original context these words signified the promise of a faithful God to a devastated people for restoration, perhaps even in their lifetimes.” /Wil Gafney/ Today, as we look to these ancient words, surely many of us are still seeking such restoration and renewal. Therefore, it is so important to pause and be reminded of the prophecy of a new covenant.
Pastor John C. Holbert, reflects on this for us as well. “The early Christians saw this new covenant as dawning in the life and ministry of the one they called Lord. Yet, obviously, the day, now two millennia gone, has yet to move beyond the mere shadow of that dawn.” If you have come to know God, then you perhaps do not feel that the new covenant has yet to be fulfilled. Nonetheless, you cannot be blind to the realities of our neighbors all around us! There are a great many whom still feel marginalized and left behind in the Twenty-First Century. Or, perhaps this is how you are feeling. Lonely, isolated and not a part of the “American Dream’ or not a part of the ‘Saved” within the rhetorical proclamations by Evangelical Preaches throughout these United States. Surely, there are a great many of us in this category.
One, well respected pastor takes this thought just a bit further. “Sometimes we find ourselves asking whether God is anything more than a “supportive” but ultimately powerless presence. And yet 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 and not lose heart in the face of all that is wrong with our world.” /Alan Brehm/ As we approach our annual Easter celebration, let us be reminded of the promise, the new covenant that God made through these prophetic words of Jeremiah. Through this promise let us allow ourselves to raise up this message of hope! For without hope we are a condemned people!
Everyone of us, whom have ever started a project, then having reached a point of near exhaustion or hopelessness, know the feeling of despair. And yes, more than once, we must admit ‘if’ we are honest with ourselves, the project we started was left unfinished. That feeling of failure is something all humans experience at some point in their lives. If you do not believe you have ever failed, then you are most certainly in denial, or you are truly a unique individual! Either way, ever successful person knows what must be done after being defeated and the goal was not achieved! I am praying that everyone here knows the answer.
At a low point in my life, having failed at yet another sales or marketing position in the computer industry back in the 1980’s, a friend pulled me aside. For he saw my feeling of hopelessness spilling over into my life. He shared with me a story. A story I have every reason to believe was true. “Tim,” he said, “you know I am a wealthy man, yet, did you know I have gone bankrupt several times along the way. Yes, I lost millions; lost my home and even my car. Yet, the difference between failure and success is how one responds to defeat. What I did was, I picked myself up and started over. That’s right, you are only a failure ‘if’ you give up on yourself!” Then he went on to give me some practical advice in my personal life. Time has proven him to be absolutely correct! I reevaluated who I am, reeducated myself and started over. Thank God, my friend was willing to re-gift me with the promise of Hope!
Neither my story, nor my friends was unique. It is usually when we humans are at our wits end, and feeling hopeless, that we are willing to consider something new. One accomplished theologian tells us: “We are most ready to hear these words when our own efforts are exhausted. When we are weary of our inner turmoil we are ready to hear Jeremiah.” /Charles L. Aaron, Jr./ When Jeremiah made his prophetic proclamation, the people of Israel had been overrun by the Babylonian Empire. They were a defeated people. They had been scattered and placed in exile. Jeremiah’s words were words of hope. Jeremiah believed and prophesized that God was going to come and offer them a fresh start. Yet, they were warned that the new covenant would not be like the last. No, it would not be another Moses whom would come and rescue them! As Christians, we have come to know this to be true. What we celebrate at Easter is not the Knight in ‘shining armor’ whom came to conquer our enemies.
When we ‘reach out’ and ‘grasp’ the ‘branch of hope’, that last gateway, that last flight, that last chance, put out there as an escape from our dilemma, our troubles, we need to be willing to do so, without reservation! We need to ‘reach out’ and ‘grasp’ the ‘branch of hope’! We have already tried it our way. And it has not worked. We have already had time to feel sorry for ourselves and it has not fixed anything. No, if we are ready to ‘admit’ that we do not know how to go on from here, then perhaps, maybe, we are ready to try something new. It is shocking to realize how many people do not really want help! You see, there are those whom, though defeated, don’t trust the helping hand of another. Why, we must ask? Simply, because they are not yet ready to accept that they are in the pit of despair, the pit of failure and the humiliation of failure is something which they will not concede to, nor acknowledge! No, they still think that when people, places and things, ‘get out of their way’, their way will work again! A totally insane and foolish position as their way has never worked!
Most Christian theologians, well, at least most of whom I am willing to listen to, believe: “The New Covenant will embrace everyone in the community of faith. God, not the community will create love and fidelity so that everyone ‘from the least to the greatest’ will know God.” /Cathy L. Smith/ Right away, we have a problem, for this creates a dilemma for far too many people. Pride, ego, and personal biases get in the way for too many in our very own society, especially when we say something like this. Like what you should ask?! Like, “The New Covenant will embrace everyone, ‘from the least to the greatest’.” Public officials, politicians and leaders, most of them are smart enough to know they must at least say that they are serving everyone. Yet, wasn’t it Jesus whom said: “you shall know them by their fruit.” If Jesus didn’t say that then he sure inspired it to be said! If you believe we ought to live in a community where everyone is held in ‘high esteem’ and loved ‘equally’ by God, then what you do needs to portray that! Forgive me for focusing on public figures and leaders to make this point; they are not totally at fault. We as people, and I am talking about we Americans, we have become way too “I” focused. So much so that we are willing to disregard the needs of our neighbors and continually push aside the marginalized, especially, when they get in the way of our wants and desires!
As a typical small and struggling church, we pray we shall attract others to journey with us, as we seek to live out our personal journeys of faith. Also, those we are seeking to attract to our church want to know how we see God and most importantly how we come to know God! Furthermore, they want to know how we live into our relationship with God. In order to do so we need to be honest with them as-well-as with ourselves. We must confess our bias, we must acknowledge what everyone already knows: we need new members and friends to journey with us! Yes, sometimes we as a church become too “I” focused and it is embarrassing to confess this. Being a church, which serves the community in which it lives must draw together enough active members to do the work of the church. It is a fundamental principle. And to be effective in the local community we must draw from those whom currently reside within the area of our outreach. This is important as we need to represent the community which we are called to serve. The God we worship and the God whom we seek to serve, already knows this about us. The only question remaining is where shall we go from here?
Coming to know God from the experiences of those whom walked this earth before us – is a good place to start. Jeremiah fits that description. Like my friend, Jeremiah is saying to us “Get up and shake yourself off! God is not done with you yet! There is still hope! God is willing to make a new covenant with you and all people, and all churches! But you need to reach out and grasp onto this new vine, this new branch which shall be your rescue!” Knowing God by experiencing God in others, is a real step forward for many Christians whom have gotten bogged down with the ‘old ways’ of doing things. Just like knowing how to best contact a person in their twenties; ‘text’ them – don’t leave a message on their answering machine!
Coming to know God in a new way also means learning to do things in a new way! Once, it was OK to hide your feelings from others. Once, it was OK to pretend that everything is going well. Try something new: if it hurts… tell someone. If you are upset, don’t pretend you aren’t. Everyone already knows you are! If you want to be a part of the “New Covenant” the “New Hope” which Jerimiah spoke of, then Let God lead you in a new way! Then, We Shall Know God in a new way as well!