From the prophet Jeremiah we hear today, 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. What I hear in this passage is that God doesn’t give up. Let’s recall the pattern of the story. God creates, God blesses the creation, and God promises always to be our God, we turn away from God, and God calls us back. God reconciles creation, and restores the relationship. The part of the story we read this morning in Jeremiah represents one of the many times people turned their backs on God and God reaches out again, as God had done many times, and continues to do today. God reached out to Moses and the people wandering in the wilderness, the people were whining and gripeping, and God gave the “ten best ways” to Moses, and what did the people do? They worshipped the golden calf. Then, under Abraham, God promised many descendants, and what did the people do? They continued to worship the Canaanite gods.
The story in Jeremiah is prophecy, and Jeremiah is a prophet. We sometimes get a bit confused about what prophets are and what prophecy means. Prophets were men and women who were and are in relationship with God, and their jobs are to tell the people to return to God, to repent and turn around. Prophet does not mean one who predicts the future, and prophecy does not mean stories about the future. Prophets need to constantly remind people to return to God, because people are always finding someone or something to worship other than God. The stories of the prophets are not stories that tell the future, they are stories told in hindsight about events that happen that seem like they must be judgment on the people for turning away from God to worship things and people who are not God.
In this story in Jeremiah, once again we hear God entering back into relationship with the people who keep turning away. Just think of it, all of these stories tell us that no matter what we do, no matter what we worship, God will call us back, God will not let us go.
This time, it’s not commandments on stone, it’s not a promise of many descendants, but this time the law is written on their hearts, the law is written on our hearts. And what is the law that is written on our hearts? In the other gospels, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, when the question about which law is the most important law is posed, Jesus responds from sacred scripture, scripture all good Jews know by heart, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
How is this law written on our hearts? There is a story that I have heard, that is attributed to Madeleine L’engle, my favorite author, that I think addresses that question, it goes like this.
A mom and a dad had a new baby, and one night after they put the baby to bed, their older child came to them and asked if he could go see his little brother. The mom and the dad being just a little fearful of the older child’s intentions, said that would be fine and one of them would go with him. The older child insisted that he go see his baby brother by himself, and his parents gave in. So the older child entered the bedroom of his baby brother and walked over to his crib. His parents, being very curious and somewhat fearful, eavesdropped at the door. In a soft whisper this is what they heard their older child say to his baby brother. Please, could you tell me what God is like, you just came from there, and I’ve been away so long I’m beginning to forget.
God’s law, is written on our hearts.I think it is part of our humanity to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love our neighbor as well. It is in living that we begin to forget. Our children, who can be prophets too, remind us what love of God really is. When we pay attention, we observe that profound desire to love and worship God. The sadness is that we learn a very different lesson. Our culture teaches that love is appropriately placed in things and stuff, and that each of us is more important than any God or any neighbor. Time will only tell what the judgment on our people will be, some may say that judgment has come.
But the Good News is that once again God calls us back, and in an absolutely new way. The radical shift in the gospel of John is that God gives up all power to come into our world as one of us, so that we may return to God. The Glory of God is Jesus, and Jesus, in living and loving and dying on the cross, the relationship between humanity and God is restored. But the story doesn’t end at the cross. The story goes through the cross to resurrection, because only in death and resurrection do we become a people, a community, a body of Christ.
And yet today we stand at the cross. We stand in the promise of the resurrection. We remember that after the pain and sadness of the cross comes the joy and new life in the resurrection, and we know that we are not there yet. We know that our journey today is in the hope that when that grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it will bear much fruit. That’s what the story in our scriptures tell us, that’s what we celebrate each time we come together here at this table.
We know that love of God and love of neighbor are not easy, in fact, love of God and love of neighbor
can be very hard and painful indeed. There is much pain and sadness in our world, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our lives. Pain and sadness are a part of living fully, pain and sadness are realities that we never choose for ourselves, but come part and parcel with the joy of living. We need to intentionally look for Jesus in our midst, we need to focus on God’s divine spark in others, so that we can find God in our midst, so that the transformation that God promises, will be realized.
The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, "the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?" "No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you." When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving --it was something cryptic-- was that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant." In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that's the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I? As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends. Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm. *
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection we can see Jesus, and the law is written on our hearts. Jesus is right here among us.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.
*attributed to M. Scott Peck
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