Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lord, fix my wanter- Jer 31


Jeremiah 31:31-34

www.biblegateway.com
New International Version (NIV)

31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to[a] them,[b]
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Footnotes:

  1. Jeremiah 31:32 Hebrew; Septuagint and Syriac / and I turned away from
  2. Jeremiah 31:32 Or was their master





          We are funny creatures- human beings.  Have you ever known that you should do something but weren't able to do it? Maybe you know you should exercise or eat better, but you just don't seem to be able to make yourself do it? Maybe you need to apologize to someone and you have a really hard time bringing yourself to do it. Maybe you want to be more generous and you've always said to yourself, "you know I should really sponsor a Compassion child", but you never do. You tell yourself that you'll do it when you get a bit more stable, but you've told yourself that before and you never quite get around to it. Or maybe it's something else. There is something else that you know you should really be doing, but you just don't seem to ever get around to doing it. 

            Or, have you ever known that you shouldn't do something, but for some reason you can't seem to stop yourself? Maybe you deal with an addiction. Maybe you smoke and you know that its bad for you, but you just aren't able to stop. No matter how many times you plan to do it you just don't seem to be able to do it.

            It's as if our will is broken. Our ability to make choices is broken. Or, that's what it feels like. Why do we do the silly things we do? We hurt those around us? We do things that hurt ourselves even- why? Why do we do these things.

            The prophet Jeremiah was speaking to a fairly broken people in our Old Testament reading. They were the chosen people- Israel. God brought them out of slavery and gave them instructions on how to live and time after time they turned their backs on God. The prophets said they were like a spouse that was always committing adultery. They were always breaking God's heart by running off with someone else. Now the people were feeling the effects of the path they walked down. 600 years before Jesus was born, the Temple (The heart of Israel) was destroyed by a foreign power and the monarchy of the great king David was ended. They ate the fruit of their rebellion- their infidelity, their corrupt kings and priests, the injustice and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, their idolatry. It all came back on them and it was a very bitter fruit. Jeremiah warned them.

            Why did they do it? Jeremiah warned them. Other prophets warned them, and still they kept on in their rebellion. They were like someone who was diagnosed with Diabetes and their doctor told them what they had to do but they kept on eating everything they weren't supposed to. Suddenly they ended up in the hospital.

            We're not all that different from Israel are we? We have our own idols- we don't call them that, but we place all kinds of things on God's throne. We get all kinds of warnings to stop doing damaging things- from friends, family, doctors, psychologists,  parole officers. We get all kinds of encouragements to do good and healthy things. For some reason over and over we have a hard time deciding to do what is good for us and those around us. We want to do what is right and good and healthy- we don't want to hurt others. We don't want to hurt ourselves- and yet... we do.        



            In Chapter 7 of Paul's letter to the Romans he says this (this is Eugene Peterson's version from The Message): "... I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge."

            Just about everyone I know can relate with that passage in the Bible. It may have been written 2000 years ago, but it could have been written yesterday. The people of Israel were told what to do. They had it carved on stone tablets right from God's own hand, but still they didn't follow. We are not so different. We can be told what is right and healthy, but still we have a hard time doing it, or not doing it.

            Part of what's wrong is that our will is broken. We can know what we need to do, but our will seems to be broken. We need something more than information. We need help choosing. We need help wanting the good, and healthy, and true.  The philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "God wants to motivate the will more than the mind. Absolute clarity would be of no more use to the mind and would not help the will." It doesn't matter how much information we have or how smart we are. Our will still betrays us.

            The first three steps of the twelve steps for addicts are: "1) we admitted that we were powerless over our problems- that our lives had become unmanageable; 2) We came to believe that a Power [capital 'P'] greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; 3) We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God." This is a Christian process.

            In the middle of destruction Jeremiah is given a word of hope for the people of Israel: Jer 31:31The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, [...] “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD."

            At the beginning of this week I asked my friends on Facebook, "what does it mean for God to write his Law on your heart?" One of my Old Testament professors replied, "it means you fell asleep in church again and the vicar had a sharpie". I'm not so sure about that.     
            The Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggeman translates Jeremiah's words this way, "Behold the days are coming... I will make a new covenant, a new set of relations, a new community, and a new communion. It will not be like the old covenant which you broke. In the new covenant, I will put my torah, my requirements, my expectations, in your heart, and everyone shall know exactly what I require. They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest."

            Through the prophet Jeremiah God promises to put his Law in our heart. God won't just show us what the good thing to do is. God will help us want to do it by writing the law on our hearts. He will give us the power to choose the good and deny the destructive, and it will be what we want.

            This is a promise that is fulfilled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit now dwells in us. The Holy Spirit does not override our free will, but the resources have been placed in us to allow us to choose to do what is right and to not do what is wrong. God hasn't only told us what is good and true, but He has also given us the power to choose it. This is Paul's message in Romans- that through the power of the Spirit we have been given power to be the people God wants us to be.

            It's at this point we start wondering why we still have such a hard time. If we have the Holy Spirit, why do we still struggle? The Holy Spirit will not override our free will. Through the Holy Spirit we are drawn into intimate relationship with God. It is through deep, and continuous conversation with God in prayer that we will find ourselves being transformed. We sometimes want to claim the power without the relationship, but it doesn't work that way. God enters into our struggles and struggles there with us giving us power for that day. Our transformation comes through deep relationship with God.     

            Jeremiah's words have started to come true. His words will be fully realized when the kingdom is here fully- it is spreading. Jeremiah's prophecy is realized through sacrifice. In Luke chapter 20 at the Last Supper Jesus "took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." It is through the life-blood of Jesus poured out that we are given the strength to choose what is good and true. This is a costly act. Walter Bruggeman says, "God's power to make new is rather like the painful love of a mother who suffers the hurt of the child, in order that the child may be restored to hope and joy." [It is as if God says,] "I will create a clean heart for you, but it is not as simple as you think. I cannot act as though your wrongness does not exist, but I will take all that wrongness into myself, and you need no longer be burdened with it."  This New Covenant costs something. It is painful. It comes about through Jesus' outpoured blood received by Jesus' followers. 

            We receive the life of Christ knowing we are powerless to change ourselves and knowing that power to change resides in God. God can change us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit our hearts will be changed and be filled with love so that we don't have to be told to love our neighbor, we just do it because the life of God lives in us and courses through us and we can't imagine why you'd want to do anything else.

            As disciples we follow Jesus and learn to be more like him living in his kingdom here on earth. And as we learn to be like him we begin to feel that the really hard thing to do isn't the right thing. As we become more like Jesus we begin to feel that the hard thing is the wrong thing. As we work with God and open ourselves to be transformed from the inside out- as we allow him to write His Law on our heart- we begin to be motivated from the inside out and we want what God wants- we love as God loves. And what a beautiful world that will be. Amen.     

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