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Covenant on Your Heart: A Sermon for Lent 5 March 22: Covenant Series: Jeremiah 31, John 12
March 26, 2015, 12:51 pm
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Think back to 2008. It’s been a while now, but do you remember what the Great Recession was like? It’s aftereffects are still around today. Many people are still dealing with the job and economic security issues that followed.

At that time, many people who thought they were secure in their jobs found themselves without a job. People who had spent their entire career, 30 or more years, working for the same company, diligent and loyal, were cast aside, downsized, facing a loss.

This happened to a man I knew, named Glenn. Glenn’s story exemplifies what made this so difficult for people.

Glenn had been working at the local Ford plant since he was a kid. Now, don’t get too hung up on the details, because I’ve changed them, and I don’t want to affect your brand loyalty. Ok?

So- Glenn had worked hard, training for new roles along the way, working his way up into seniority. He appreciated his employer and was proud of the product they made. He drove a Ford, encouraged others to drive a Ford, and thought of himself as a Ford guy.

When he’d have a summer barbecue, more than half the people there would be his buddies from the plant. He taught his kids to work hard, to be like him, able to provide a comfortable life for his family.

His work, his company, was a major part of who he was. Not only a paycheck, it was his community and his vocation.

When word started going around that the profit of the business was down, and plants started reducing hours and even closing, Glenn was a little nervous, and sad for those who would lose their jobs, but he never really expected that it would go so far as to affect him. But then one day it happened. He was done. Or rather, the company was done with him.

“Who am I now?” Glenn asked.

One answer Glenn might discover is that he’s always been something more. He was given an identity long before he lived into who he became at his company. There’s something more permanent that defines him.

All throughout Lent, we’ve been exploring how God gives us an identity through covenants. God forms a relationship with specific people by making promises to them. God’s covenanting work- God’s promise making- makes us who we are and tells us who we are. The covenant sealed by the rainbow told creation they are the work of God’s hands, work that God will never destroy. The covenant to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants made them a people set aside to be God’s own people. The covenant at Sinai helped the people remember they were God’s own people who had experienced God’s salvation: freedom from Egypt. The law gave them a way to live out their identity.

Difficult times still came to these people to whom God gave a covenantal identity. Some voices in the Biblical tradition interpret these hard times as God’s punishment for the people’s failure to live up to their identity as God’s chosen and blessed people. When their land was conquered, people questioned if they were still God’s chosen people. After all, the land God promised would be theirs, and the kingdom God promised to sustain were no longer. Even after God sent a new conqueror to free the people from exile and allow them to return home to the promised land, nothing was quite as good as they remembered. Did these hard times mean God’s covenants had ended? Were they no longer God’s people? Had they so failed to live up to their identity that God forgot them?

“Who are we now” was the question of the Israelites where we meet them in the book of Jeremiah. “Who are we now- after the Davidic Covenant seems to have been destroyed along with Jerusalem and our kingdom and our independence. Who are we now- after years of living in a foreign nation as exiles, desperately trying but sometimes failing to maintain our identity as a separate people? Who are we now- as we return to Jerusalem and the land God promised us, but without a king, without a temple, without knowing what forms the center of our identity?

God answers their lament with the promise of a new covenant. Once again, God affirms the relationship-creating aspect of this covenant: God promises, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” (33b).

God makes sure this covenant is based on nothing external, nothing questionable, nothing able to be taken away. God promises, “I will put my law within them, and I shall write it on their hearts.” God’s word will be inside of God’s people, so they will never forget and never leave it. God will be at the core of who they are.

God’s promises continue, “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”

God is recognizing that allowing humans to have any responsibility in this covenant, for any part of the promise to be dependent on them rather than pure gift, is not going to work. God is the one who takes action. God is the one who takes responsibility. God works so that everyone will know God, not only the best and the brightest, the most holy or the most studied: even nursing babies and elders with memory loss will know God.

Sin and failure, rejection of God, will no longer have the power to repel God from relationship.

We share the problematic lifestyle of the first people to receive this promise. We will always turn away. We make choices that hurt others. So, God commits to forgiveness and amnesia. Our failures aren’t going to matter, our sins aren’t going to affect God’s love for us.

In the Gospel of John, it’s the Greeks- the foreigners – who come wanting to see Jesus. They are outsiders who have never been in relationship with God. God hasn’t made promises to them, God hasn’t made them God’s own people. Regardless, Jesus responds. Jesus’ response is to reveal himself. When Jesus prays, “glorify your name” and God responses, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again,” this glorify really refers to being known. Rather than something being made greater than it is, Jesus is being shown for who he is. Who Jesus is is the God who comes to earth in order to die for not only the chosen people, but all creation, and to win over death so that our judgment is not death but is forgiveness and life forever in relationship with God.

We are among those Greeks, who come seeking without any prior claim on God. God welcomes us and brings us in to the community. God is making it possible for us to know the Lord- to know the one who has included us into the relationship given to the covenanted people. Jesus shows us that God comes to us. We don’t need an external law or specific rituals to make us holy enough to live into an identity as God’s people. Jesus has done everything necessary to seal our relationship with God.

What does God say, to those Hebrews no longer in their homeland, or returning to a place that looks nothing like they remember?

To Glenn who’s lost the base of his self-understanding?

To you and me?

God says, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” Thanks be to God for this everlasting promise. Amen.

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