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Sunday Sermon 21st March Lent 5

The chosen hymns for this week, And can it be that I should gain and Will you come and follow me can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.

“I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

So says the prophet Jeremiah.

How do you react to this statement?

Is it comforting – to know that God has indelibly written his law on your heart? That you and God are inextricably linked for ever?

Or is it more disturbing - that you have been branded by God? That it is there and there is nothing you can do about it?

Some may see it as like a tattoo – it is more or less permanent. Getting rid of a tattoo involves painful surgery that can leave a scar.

It also says something about the person - whatever symbol a person chooses says something about him or her.

A football fan may have his club’s badge or motto.

Lovers put each other’s names on their bodies. (Better make sure you are still together 30 years later!)

The occasional ardent Christian gets an icthus fish or a cross.

Pain, indelibility, identity.

These are the central aspects of what it means to be marked.

If it didn’t involve pain, it wouldn’t be indelible: marks that don’t hurt are the ones that wash off.

If it were not indelible, what it revealed about a person’s identity wouldn’t be so critical.

Pain, indelibility and identity are also the hallmarks of God writing the covenant on the heart of the people.

Mainly, this is a consoling passage, but the pain of God inscribing himself into souls must not be sentimentalised.

God is invading the heart.

Yes, this will make them God’s people, but it will also mean a death of the self, and a radical transfer of loyalty from all competing claims.

This is not the people overcoming their sinful natures; this is God overcoming the people.

This is permanent.

It cannot be erased without painful surgery cutting out part of ourselves.

This is forever.

Laws written in stone can be broken or lost. But God’s law written on our hearts can only be removed by cutting out a part of ourselves.

God is promising us a time when he will write his law on our hearts.

He will make a new covenant with his people.

It is the promise of new life – the promise of God to love, guide, bless, and save the people, if the people would follow God.

Jeremiah is speaking to the Israelites who are held captive in Babylon, after the Babylonians had destroyed ancient Israel.

The Hebrew people were taken from their homeland and scattered in foreign countries, surrounded by strange religions.

Without their central place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Hebrews were asking difficult questions about the source of their identity.

Like us, they wanted to know what rules they should follow, the standard of behaviour that would keep them in contact with their God and hold them together as a people.

What would happen if the people could not follow God?

That’s the question of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon.

Was this because the people of God had forgotten to be God’s people?

They had forgotten their part of the covenant, and now, once again, they were captives.

So, they are full of questions.

What could happen now? Would God do something? Could God do something?

The covenant wasn’t working. Something new was needed. It had to be changed. It had to be made new.

But, could it be made new?

Jeremiah envisioned a renewal of the covenant with God.

When they had looked at God’s covenant, God’s promises to them, all they could see was how badly they had failed.

But now God gives them a way to see new life.

“I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

God gave his people hope.

The renewal of the covenant wasn’t going to come by some new laws, or even some new promises, it was going to come when the people let the promises of God, the, unending, uncompromising love of God change their lives.

Lent is winding down; next week is Palm Sunday, and then there is Holy Week and Easter.

For many of us, the focus of Lent is on sin. Sin is real, and it is what separates us from God.

Too many times we are all like the Israelites, forgetting how to be the people God has called us to be, forgetting to be God’s people, forgetting to act in God’s ways.

And we have become captives to the things of the world, the things that keep us away from God, the things that keep us from living in God’s ways

But sin is only one side of the story of Lent.

Repentance is another, and repentance means more than feeling sorry for our specific individual and communal sins, or even for the general category of sin.

Repentance means turning to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and trusting in his grace and love.

It means joining him in his purpose of showing God's love in the world, bringing abundant life to those whose lives we touch, and being willing to lay down our lives for others.

Lent is a time for us to reconsider our relationship with Christ, and recommit ourselves to Christ.

The poet Ann Weems describes it like this:

“Going through Lent is a listening. When we listen to the word, we hear where we are so blatantly unloving. If we listen to the word, and hallow it into our lives, we hear how we can so abundantly live again.” (Weems. “A Listening.” Kneeling In Jerusalem. p. 33)

“I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

The calling of a life centred on God is not an easy choice when the will of God is not the thing closest to our hearts -- and we do not like making hard choices.

The hard truth is that we listen for other people's voices first, listening to God’s voice only after we are finished with everyone else.

But that's not what we do when the love of God is grafted into our hearts.

We seek the light of God's face, follow God's lead, and make choices that reveal God's glory.

Such a transformation is never easy, but it is truly possible because of the Christ who endured all of human experience, with all its peaks and pits, to show us the way to live.

So as we continue our Lenten journey, let us loosen our grip on the things that distract us and hold onto God.

Let us pray for growth in the Spirit, that we might be open to God’s law written on our hearts. Amen.


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