Sunday, March 22, 2015

Written on Our Hearts: Psalm 51:1-12, Jeremiah 31:31-34

Sunday, March 22, 2015 | Lent
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Year B

Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. [1]

Jeremiah 31:31-34
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 them,”
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.”[2]

Written on Our Hearts
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church

When I was a kid, it was a perfectly normal thing in our house to suddenly burst out into song. Someone would say something that happened to be a line from a song someone else knew or one of us would make a pun out of a song title or something along those lines. One person might start asking the question, “Why are there so many. . .” and before they could finish, another person would pop out from around the corner and chime in, “. . . songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?” I guess some people would think that’s annoying, but we always thought it was perfectly hilarious and totally normal.
I remember meeting one of my sister’s friends once and in the middle of our very first conversation together, he said something that triggered a song for me and I just burst out singing whatever it was. I don’t even remember what song it was, but I remember his reaction: WHAT!? That’s just weird!!!!! And my sister popped back in from the other room and asked what was weird. Her friend answered, “Your sister does it too! She does that thing where you just start singing in the middle of a conversation.” My sister started cracking up and my mom simply added, “We are family!”

I come from a family of musicians - some better than others, but all with a deep love for all things musical and dramatic. Associating music to every day life was just what you did.
One thing that I love about music is the way it seeps into your soul like that. The more you sing or hear a piece of music, the more it sticks and the more it becomes a part of you. And the more a part of you it is, the more likely you are to just burst into song in the middle of a conversation. That’s why we use music in church. Even if you aren’t a good singer, you can listen, you can let the music seep into your soul so that the words come back to you in the middle of everyday life.
Psalm 51 is the basis for the choral introit we have been singing over the past few weeks. In a way, we’ve been reading this morning’s Psalm every single Sunday this Lent. I wonder how many of you noticed that the words were familiar this morning.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God. . . Renew a right spirit in me.” The Psalmist seems to be in tune with something that we all know. . . there is a desire in all of us to get it right, but none of us know just how. We sing and read this Psalm in Lent as a reminder of the great need we have for something. . . someone. . . to help us learn how to live in ways that please God.
Jeremiah realizes this as well. Humanity just can’t fix the mess it’s in. Even God’s chosen people have been unable to live in covenant with God under the old order. 
The situation that the Hebrew people found themselves in was compounded by the Babylonians. Not only were the people unable to live out their end of the covenant with God on their own, the Babylonians had swept in. They had carried off the king as a prisoner of war and they had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. The signs of God’s covenant with the people had been destroyed. They no longer had before them the signs of God’s covenant- the symbols of God’s faithfulness.
Our church hasn’t been razed to the ground, nor has anyone been dragged off as a prisoner of war lately. But there are Christians in other parts of the world who are prisoners of war. There are Christians who have lost homes and churches and livelihoods and even their lives: some because of their faith, others just because they were in a bad place and something bad happened.
But even those of us who haven’t been dragged into a prison camp or watched our homes or places of worship fall at the hands of violent invaders can sympathize at least a little bit. Many of us understand what it feels like to have the signs of God’s faithfulness taken from us.
For many, God’s sign of faithfulness has been full pews. For others, it’s been a particular program or part of the worship service. I know churches in which having a good choir was always a sign of God’s faithfulness and as choir members age and can no longer sing, the choir disbands, leaving the members feeling lost and wondering, “Where did God go?” Other churches look at dwindling finances and think, “Where did God go?”
Jeremiah says to the people of Israel, “It’s not God. It’s you.” It’s not that the people have neccesarily brought the destruction on themselves, but their feelings of frustration and loss of God’s faithfulness are not because God has left. It’s because they have put their faith not in God but in the signs of God’s faithfulness that have been left to point them to God. As the people of Israel began to despair that God had left them, it began to grow harder and harder to live in the covenant.
The only way these idolatrous, unfaithful people were going to get the point was if the law was carved right onto their hearts. They had to have a new heart - a spirit made right. The trouble with carving the law in big stones to put on display and making physical signs of the covenant that could be carted away by invaders was that the people could see the law, but not follow it. They could make the reminders of  God’s faithfulness idols that could be taken off to a far away land.
So God sends an answer. The new covenant. . . this would be written right on their hearts! They won’t just know the right words, the right things to do - they won’t just know about God, the will know GOD.
            The closer we grow to God, the more intuitive our ability to walk in covenant and grace becomes.  The closer we grow to God through Jesus Christ - the new covenant in the flesh - the more we begin to reflect Jesus – to shine that light we talked about last week to all the people around us.
Just think about the ways this would change the church and the people the church interacts with. Think about how different our interactions with one another would be if we all focused not on trying to find signs of God’s faithfulness and covenant outside of ourselves but to see where the covenant is imprinted on our very being.
This is what frees us to be who we are in the place where we are at the time we find ourselves living. We aren’t stuck to old symbols of God’s faithfulness, but our eyes are free to look around and find new signs of God’s faithfulness. When we stop looking for the same old symbols from the past, we see that there are always fresh, new signs of God’s faithfulness in our midst.
God’s faithfulness is unchanging, but the ways in which God reveals that faithfulness to us are always changing. The thing that doesn’t change is Jesus and our assurance that He is the ultimate manifestation of God’s faithfulness. So we look not for the same old symbols of faithfulness as we did in the past, but we look for Jesus and say, “OK, where do I see Jesus around me right now?”
We are able to do this because we know that with God’s word written on our heart, we no longer have to turn to the old covenant and the old symbols of the covenant. The real sign of the covenant is written on our being by the Holy Spirit sent to us by Jesus. This is how we are able to live in the covenant. It’s not by our own might that we are made righteous, but by the unfailing faithfulness of God who sent Jesus.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 51:1–12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Je 31:31–34). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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