St. Paul’s – Lent 5 – 3/21/21
If I was to ask you what is the core truth of our faith, how would you answer it. Here is how I could answer the question: The God of the gospel brings life out of death. We can go into detail about the move from death to life physically, historically, literally, metaphorically, symbolically…any way you want. The truth is a rockbottom acknowledgment that God can probe into our deepest negations and create new possibility, new space for life, new energy for obedience, new waves of joy.In the Christian tradition, the seal of the deal is Easter. On that amazing Sunday morning the earliest church discovered that Jesus who had been executed by the state was alive and on the loose; death had no power over God’s will for life. The deathly systems of the empire had no grip on him even through his execution. It is an Easter mouthful!
In truth, the God of the gospel has been doing this forever. Way before the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is this God of the gospel who took primordial chaos in hand, who said, Let there be light, and formed a dry, ordered, fruitful land in which to live. And since that first moment, this God has been taking our dismal modes of chaos and forming them into launching pads for life. That is life out of death!
It is this God of the gospel who came to that barren, hopeless couple, Sarah & Abraham in their old age, and gave them a child, an heir, and opened a future for them. And since then, the God of the gospel has been giving people futures when they thought there was no possibility for newness. That is life out of death!
It is this God of the gospel who came to the slaves in Egypt, weary of being cheap labor in a harsh production system. God heard their cry under exploitation, saw their abuse, and came down to deliver them. And since the awesome moment, this emancipatory God has been hearing the cries of exploited people, and has been causing exploitative systems of cheap labor to collapse so that people can sing and dance in freedom. That is life out of death!
Everywhere we look in our memory of faith, we see this God who does these wonders of life where none was thought possible, into the hopelessness of chaos, the despair barrenness, the abuse of enslavement that seemed like dead ends. This God makes a way our of no way!
And now this text in Jeremiah 31. God speaks to the Israelites who ended up in the Babylonian imperial system; they were in despair of their life and their faith. God abruptly broke the despairing silence with a new declaration.
I will make a new covenant with you. I will establish a new relationship of fidelity with you. You will be able to count on my promise and my presence and my power for your life. As a result, the harsh reality of the imperial system of Babylon will no longer define your life, because it is my way of fidelity that will create now possibilities for you. That is why Handel, in the Messiah, could have us sing, Comfort, comfort my people. The new covenant is new life out of the death of despair.
In this new covenant, God will engraft God’s Torah into their hearts. The old Torah had been written on scrolls and they had resisted the scroll. They did not welcome the Torah into their lives. It was foreign to them and they wanted no part of it, and it ended for them in destructive recalcitrance, thinking they could have life on their own terms. But now, says the oracle, you will inhale the Torah, breathe in the commandments, so that they will become second nature to you; you will find in them a guide and a source for a different life in the world. You will be grateful for this icon of sanity in an insane world.
And, says the oracle of God, the basis for this new life will be the transformative declaration of God: I will forgive your iniquity and remember your sin no more. Imagine that, this God holds no grudge. This God keeps no score. This God, in a plunge into self-giving, intends to break the cycle of death and despair and enslavement to begin again…FRESH!
It is no wonder that the church took up this oracle from Jeremiah and claimed the new covenant of Good for the New Testament and the new beginning and the new assertion of God’s readiness for us in Christ. This newness is what God has been doing for a long time, self-giving fidelity on God’s part that permits beginning again. This is indeed the stuff of resurrection to new life.
It turns out that the new life in God’s fidelity is a life for the border….for the neighborhood….a life devoted to the vulnerable, a life that includes all the others who are unlike us who are left behind by the imperial system of economics in which we live. Thus fidelity turns out to be solidarity between rich and poor, between strong and weak.
This is a life about changed priorities, new polices, new practices, new initiatives of life for all our neighbors. This is why it is important to look at our commitments of time, talent and treasure. It a life about a shift away from the old ideologies of death that pervade our own imperial system. Resurrection life, here and now, is about resonance with the Lord of new life, with the freshness of forgiveness, with the inhaling of God’s commandments, and finding joy in the will and purpose of the God of new life.
When Jesus teaches his disciples, he tells them that he will die and be raised to new life. And he not only tells them of his destiny. He invites his disciples to walk that same way with him. He uses the image of grains of wheat being planted in the soil and being buried, so that it may sprout new life. The image is of dying to what is old, to be surprised by what is new growth. The image is about give it up. Give up what is old and deathly and greedy and anxious and hopeless. Give it up. Lose that old life.
And then he promises a new life given by God. He uses such imagery and teaching as a way of speaking of dying and being raised to newness. In the life of ancient Israel, such an image concerned displacement to exile, and homecoming to new covenant, new obedience, and new joy.
I do not need to tell you that in our society now, we must die to many old assumptions about wealth and power and control that have turned out to be a way of death. This is the drama of Lent, is it not? It is the journey of relinquishment of old visions of reality that are failed and being surprised by new life given in glad, inconvenient obedience. It is to this move that the God of the gospel invites us, again and again. This God is ready to give new life, more ready, as we say, to give than we are to receive.
Let us pray……
Write your love on our hearts
God of love,
write it in your own hand.
Make your love our heartbeat,
our instinct, our brainwave, our breath.
Soften the stone of our hearts;
and sculpt them with love.
Inscribe your ways
on our bones,
your love in our heart of hearts.
Write your love on our hearts,
Love, and seal it with a kiss.