If somebody were to compile a collection of Christians’ favorite Bible passages, I’ve got to believe, Jeremiah Thirty-One would make the list. This snippet of scripture has made its way into music and calls to worship, and you can hear why:
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 I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt —a covenant that they broke… God goes on to promise: I will put my law within them until it gets into their breath! I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God. And they shall be my people.
Here’s what just happened. Even though the people had broken the covenant by oppressing their workers, and exploiting the vulnerable, and forgetting how they had been set free —even though they had forgotten the LORD, God looked at the people and loved the people, and God uttered what must be some of the most hopeful words ever spoken: Okay said the Holy Spirit. Let’s try this again.
Beloved in Christ, these days, many of us are finding that our hearts have grown weary. Oh my gosh, we are tired of covid! You might be dealing with covid yourself, but even if you’re not sick, there’s the weight of worrying; there are the long shadows of loneliness; there’s the uncertainty of how long this will last. These days we’re still absorbing the revelation that politically, our nation is intensely divided. The election might be over, but the division is not. These days the holidays are looming! We’re in for all of the joy they bring, along with all of the sorrow, along with all of the ways that joy and sorrow wrap around each other, abundance and emptiness spiraling inside us.
Oh my friends, we are spiritually exhausted. And it’s not just you who’s feeling this way! And it is not your fault! The weariness in your heart is not a failure of your faith. It might be the opposite. It might be, we are desperate for a word of hope.
I will tell you, given this collective despair, there’s a rising impulse that is both tempting and trouble. It goes like this: Hey, you friendly neighborhood preachers. The people are weary. Now is not the time to talk about how faith is demanding. Now is the time to make things as easy as possible because geez louise, we’re just trying to get through the day. So the devil whispers, now’s the time to promote a “faith” where we simplify it as much as possible. Just trust in Jesus and don’t ask questions, don’t worry about the rest. Just make yourself believe, even when you don’t.
Well, you know what? You don’t have to settle for this. Faith is not a requirement that you and I better get right or else. Faith is not a cliche to cling to in order to feel better.
What if it’s this… What if faith awakens the receptors in our being that make it possible for us to hear and hold the truth— even when the truth exposes our sin, even when it demands something from us and we’re already tired, even when the truth reveals a glimmer of God’s promise, now we have to expand our sense of what is possible simply to perceive this flash of light…
What if our faith is what makes it possible for us to conspire with God in hatching something new…
Today our scripture comes to us from Jeremiah, the prophet who is famous for delivering terrible news. See Jehoiakim was the king of Judah, and the days were surely coming when there would be a revolt against the Babylonian invaders, and the Babylonians would displace the Jewish people in the first wave of the exile.
Everything is about to fall apart when the word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah: Take a scroll and write down what I say, says the Spirit. I want the people to hear what I am going to do to them because of their sin. I mean, who knows? They might repent and turn from their evil ways.
Here’s what I find astounding. The people show up on a day of public fasting. Now they don’t know all the horrible penalties they’re being sentenced to, but still. They show up wearing sackcloth, bringing their offerings to sacrifice. And we know this gathering does not stop the exile, and we don’t know whether hearing the word of the LORD made them fall down repenting. But it means something that the people turned up to hear their sin announced out loud. And it means everything that God thought, who knows? Maybe when they hear this, they’ll choose to turn away from wickedness and turn toward me…
Now whatever the LORD told the people that day, —whatever was written on that scroll— was positively terrifying. Once the palace officials heard it, they realized, oh the king is going to lose his mind. I would not have wanted to be the officer in charge of bringing the scroll to the king!
Sure enough, once the words were read aloud to the king, he couldn’t even. As each column was being read, he took a knife, cut the words out of the scroll, and threw them into the blazing fireplace.
The word of God, for the people of God, cut into pieces, thrown into the fire.
So God is furious. And I’ll tell you right now, I do not believe that God inflicts violence on people in order to teach us a lesson. This is not the God I know. But I do hear how the storytellers have decided this is what God was up to, because now, looking back, this story can be used to explain why Jehoiakim got himself killed in the revolt. Must have been because he rejected the word of God!
But before that… In the flashing rage of white-hot fury, the LORD our God does not storm out of the room. You’d think if God had reached his breaking point, and he was finished being God to these faithless people, this would be that moment. The truth of the Spirit had just been thrown into the fire with an unflinching, O God, F— you! You’d think that would be it. But it’s not.
The wrath of God was awakened. The LORD looked at the people, and loved the people, and the Spirit said to Jeremiah: Take another scroll. Write down everything I said to you before, plus I have more to say. Let’s try this again.
This keeps happening: God looks at the people, and loves the people, and the Holy Spirit has the faith that we could hear the truth of the brokenness in this world, and who knows, we might repent! We might hear the truth. It might do something to us that makes us turn away from evil and turn toward the love of the LORD! We could start over. And if you are weary in your own soul, I’m not sure there could be a more hopeful word.
Today Church of Peace is celebrating Stewardship Sunday. And that is a strange and brave thing for us to do this year! There are numerous reasons why a person would choose to not return a pledge sheet. If you’ve been giving the same thing every year in hopes that the church would keep on doing the same thing every year, well what happened was Twenty Twenty. There’s no more business as usual!
If you were thinking of your gift as a fee for service, well that’s not going to work. You are not getting the choir anthems that you paid for, or the fellowship from coffee hour; I can’t visit you in the hospital. If that’s why you were giving to the church, you should probably see about getting a refund, right?
But it could be that giving money to the church is not like paying a bill. It’s not a thing you have to do because you have to do it. There are oodles of reasons why a person might choose to not return a pledge sheet this year. But here’s what knocks me down: Some of you are going to do it anyway. Some of you, maybe more than some of you, are going to join me in pledging to give for Twenty Twenty-One, and do you realize what that means!
Every pledge sheet is an act of defiance against the forces of despair. Every pledge sheet is an expression of faith, a claim that God still has a dream for our world, that Church of Peace is part of what God imagines. Every name on every pledge sheet is someone signing up to help the church bring about God’s dream for the world. And I will tell you, God is about to do a new thing.
Could be there are people in our neighborhood who are desperate for music, and we have music… Could be there are children who need a circle of caring adults who will listen to them, and we have caring adults… Could be all around us there are people doing the invisible impossible work of getting up from the dead, and who’s going to be there to notice, who’s going to say the Hallelujah, and what if it’s us…
Even here, even now, there is so much to do. Go tell the weary ones, we’re gonna need their help!
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant. I will write my promise on their hearts, and they will be my people, and I will be their God.
God’s eyes are shining with stars, and she looks at us and loves us. That’s when the Holy Spirit speaks the words that create the world: Oh see… This is going to be very good! Take another scroll. Let’s try this again.