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Fifth Sunday of Lent

This last week of Lent, we will once again focus on the Old Testament reading because it once again has to do with a covenant. Before we get into a more, I’d like you to take a moment and read over this passage from Jeremiah again. Just take a moment and read it silently to yourself. When you are finished, look up so I know when you’re done.

I hope that you notice first of all how beautiful and poetic these verses are. This would impress you even more if you had read the rest of the book of Jeremiah. Much of Jeremiah’s writing speaks of judgment…on Israel, on Judah, on other nations around them. Today’s passage is one of the few in this book that speak of promise and hope…a bright spot in the midst of A LOT of darkness!
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But that is important for you to understand. The prophet is speaking about judgment because the people have been doing horrible things. When we talked about the third covenant, in which God promised to be the God of Israel, we learned that this was a two-sided agreement…God gave Moses the Law and the Ten Commandments so that the people could learn how to live as God’s chosen people. Many generations have passed between that story and the prophet’s words in front of us and if you read the rest of Jeremiah you would know the people were not holding up their end. They forgot about the Lord God’s deliverance and started worshiping other gods…were vengeful rather than reconciling, focused on military and political power, building up wealth and comfort for some while others suffered in poverty. They were not a light to the nations, they were not the city on a hill that God envisioned.
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In other words, sin ran amok. Regardless of the fact that another nation invaded their homeland, destroyed their Temple and sent numerous citizens into exile, the people of Israel themselves had not lived according to the guidelines that God had given them in the third covenant. Even while they were still governing themselves, their lives were not matching the laws God had given them…they did not remember who was their god, they did not remember the purpose for which God had chose them. This inability to remember led to a lot of destruction and despair.
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It was a real mess…for more on this mess, read through the books of Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. But I think you get the point. So with that in mind, think about this…

…when you know of someone who doesn’t know what they believe in or doesn’t believe in anything…

…or someone who has real behavioral issues, doesn’t seem to know how to treat people, how to be nice or respectful or quiet, is a bit of a gossip, likes to admire other people’s stuff and wishing they had it instead

…or someone who doesn’t know how to talk to authority, to respect those in charge … or someone who always wants to get back at people for what they’ve done …or someone who doesn’t really care about anyone around them, doesn’t care that there are people who are homeless or hungry or imprisoned unjustly…
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How do we usually react to people like that? Do we ignore them? Do we keep a distance from them? Do we join them? In some cases, depending on howdestructive the behavior, we may have distanced ourselves from people like this in order to maintain our own sanity or mental health.
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But imagine that those descriptions pertain to the people of Israel to whom Jeremiah is speaking. And then, imagine God saying these words: “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…I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” If you knew that a person had the capacity to cause all of this pain and destruction, would YOU make a covenant with them? Would YOU be able to wipe the slate clean as though nothing has happened?
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That is God’s promise here…that is the new covenant. This is the only place in the Old Testament that mentions a NEW covenant. A NEW covenant is apparently necessary, since as we hear in today’s passage, the previous covenant had been broken. Remember, the sign of the covenant with Israel that came through Moses was that the people would live according to God’s ways, God’s law, part of which was the 10 Commandments. But the people did not hold up their end of the covenant.
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Yet God comes back AGAIN with ANOTHER covenant. Despite all of the wrongdoing, the destruction, the unfaithfulness to the God who saved them, God speaks God’s promise anew: “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.” Although this is a NEW covenant, it does not throw out God’s Law. Actually, you may notice that each of God’s covenants have built upon each other. We missed the fourth covenant, which was to King David, but otherwise, each covenant builds rather than negating the previous one. In this NEW covenant, rather than throwing out the Law, God is going to put God’s law right into their being, into their hearts. The law will no longer be something external…this time it will be internal.
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The prophet does not say how God will do this. But this is God’s next solution to creating a chosen people…put God’s Law within their hearts. I’m not going to try to explain how God planned to do that or if God has done that yet. What I want to point out about this whole covenant, what I want us to learn about God from this passage is that God is relentless when dealing with God’s people. After establishing, THREE covenants…after delivering the people from slavery inEgypt and from the Egyptian pursuit…after the people forgot about all God had done, forgot about the Law God had given them…after all of the misery and destruction that the people caused…God decided to try again.
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God is relentless when it comes to God’s people. I’ve learned over the years that the Bible isn’t an instruction book for life; it is a story about God and God’s relationship with God’s people. That has never been more obvious than over these past few weeks as we’ve learned about the covenants God has made. I believe that what we have learned about God is priceless…
…that God truly learns and adjust to humanity…that God wants humanity to live in relationship with God and according to God’s ways because God’s ways are best…that God really wants all nations to know and worship and follow God as they witness the ways that God’s people live their lives…that although we as humans have our idolatrous, destructive and self-serving tendencies, God will relentlessly pursue us and stop at nothing to bring us into relationship with God, to teach us the best ways to live in relationship with one another.
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This will become abundantly clear when we get into Holy Week and hear once again the story of Jesus final days and hours.
There was not a sin so terrible…
not a person outside of the grasp…
not a boundary God would not cross to seek a relationship with us all. Amen.

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