Sermon – 5th Sunday of Lent – Year B
31 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. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. 34No 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, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
When I was a child, I had piano lessons. I longed to be able to play Chopin and Mozart as beautifully as my grandmother could and was disappointed to find that there was an awful lot of practice of the basics, such as scales, before what I was doing would become a thing of beauty. I would practice my scales and return to my teacher each week – who would glow with pride when I played well. Sometimes, though, I felt that scales were too boring and I couldn’t see the bigger picture of their relevance – so I played what I wanted at home. When I returned to lessons, the teacher (who contrary to what would be allowed these days) had a ruler hovering over my hand whilst I played and would bring it down on my hand with each mistake that I made. The sting was enough to remind me to mend my ways for a while in the week ahead to avoid punishment. My piano playing became something that was technically correct but stemmed from fear of punishment rather that the playing that is inspired by love and passion for what I was doing. Music like that can stir the hearts of all who hear. A thing of beauty, indeed.
There is a promise in today’s reading from Jeremiah of what, on the surface, might seem like a nice easy covenant. After all, it is so much easier to embrace a relationship based upon love that one with a dynamic of rebellion and fear. But life is never that simple, is it? Jeremiah is suggesting that God is about to give up on simply trying to teach things and then bringing down his heavenly ruler to slap our knuckles when we just don’t get it. Jeremiah is suggesting that God is going to change everything so that it will become as natural as breathing the air to know Him and to love Him. Relationship will be the yearning of our hearts.
With hindsight we may latch on to those words and think “How exciting! How wonderful!” But, of course, Jeremiah’s listeners hadn’t got the benefit of hindsight. These words would have been extraordinarily painful to hear. The story of Exodus is foundational to the Jewish people’s sense of self as God’s chosen people. Not only does it define their identity but it is evidence of the covenant that God has made with them. Now, Jeremiah is declaring baldly that they have broken that covenant and that it is gone. They are faithless and have not loved God. This new covenant that is promised is taking them back to basics and it’s necessity stems from the fact that this was their “covenant that they broke, though I was their husband”.
God’s reference to being their husband creates and interesting slant upon his relationship with his people. In those times, a husband-wife dynamic was very top down. The husband declares what will happen and it is so ….or he has the power to make it so because this is what he wants to happen. These days not many women promise to obey in their wedding vows so we would look at that dynamic and not be surprised if the wife flexed her muscles a bit even if she was perceived as being in a less powerful position. To do so in those times would have potentially meant that a husband could divorce his wife – but, as we have seen throughout history, regarding His people God has shown himself to be faithful and refuses to abandon his people.
God, in our passage today, is declaring his intention to relate differently to us. He will “write his law in our hearts”. However, we need to go on to our reading from Hebrews and the gospel to see how all this might unfold as God saves all of humanity and relates to us differently as parent to children who are all brothers and sisters in Christ. The music of God’s love for us will no longer be played like a symphony with technical expertise but no passion in it. It will stir our hearts to be on fire for God, to yearn for the beauty of his melody in our lives and enable that melody to to be played out in our own souls connecting all of creation into a magnificent symphony of God’s love for his creation and our live for him.
However, all this will come at a cost.
The promise of the new covenant through Jesus that will be “written on the human heart” is so much more than a painless metaphor. It is a painful reality that our inability to keep our side of God’s promise to us has meant that the life and death of Jesus is how God’s love is seared upon our hearts.
Hebrews vividly paints a picture of Jesus begging and weeping to God, who could save him from death. The price that he was to pay for our faithlessness is hard for us to bear. Jesus reminds us though, in John’s gospel, that it is at the cross that triumph will prevail. All of the world will see him raised up in glory. They will have known God in person through Christ, loved him, believed themselves to have lost him only to know the pure joy and liberation of the resurrection. We will know him through relationship and his costly obedience even though he was one of us. We learn about ourselves and about God through him. Through relationship with him we know gratitude in our hearts instead of our heads and the relationship with God becomes so much more than one of technical head knowledge – it becomes something beautiful stemming from the depths of our emotions and hearts.
God promises, through Jeremiah, that Jesus is so much more than an example to us. It is no more possible for us, in our human strength to completely copy him than it was for the Jews to never break the covenant – but we can, through faith, draw further and further into his likeness. Through Jesus, though, God keeps both sides of his covenant – he makes his promise of enduring relationship to us then Jesus faithfully keeps it on our behalf. That is spiritual freedom….the offer of redemption, forgiveness and healing in our lives.
So what does all of this mean as we continue our Christian journeys? If we stand in awe of God’s breathtaking love for us, what are our hearts saying in response? If God’s way is a risky involvement in the life of humankind, then what may he be calling us to do for his kingdom? Jesus invites us to offer ourselves saying “Here I am, send me”. If we can pray those words from the depths of our hearts and allow God to send us without counting the cost, he may use us to bring vital signs of the kingdom wherever we may serve him.
Let us pause to pray, as our Lenten journey continues, for Jesus to guide us as to what our heart’s response to his perfect sacrifice should be for his kingdom’s sake.