Sermon October 16, 2016
Luke 18: 1-8; Jeremiah 31: 31-34
I remember walking around the Sunnyside Neighborhood in Portland one day. It was a normal gloomy day and I was feeling gloomy. The neighborhood was poor, slumlords wouldn’t keep up the housing, elders had no way to get to the grocery store, the church was dwindling. I was walking around the neighborhood trying to figure out what I was to do. Then I saw it- a lovely dandylion growing out of the crack in the sidewalk. I laughed. Life just wouldn’t give up! And neither would I.
As I said a couple weeks ago Jeremiah the prophet was the master of the prophetic act sign: a potter at his wheel, buying a field, a bowl of fruit. In this passage he refers to the central symbol of the people’s faith- the covenant between God and the people of Abraham. The covenant was continued when God liberated the people from slavery and gave them a way of life and a land. The people in Jeremiah’s day were on the brink of disaster because they had turned away from the covenant God relationship. They had tried to find security in military alliances, in temples, in rituals, in kingdom power. They had forgotten the ways of justice and right relationships that God had given to them in the covenant at Mt Sinai- the law or teachings that were to help them become truly God’s people. So their world was falling around them stone by stone crack by crack. The pot made by the potter was being shattered to pieces.
In the midst of all the trouble and tribulation Jeremiah hears a word from God that gave them and everyone ever since a new way of understanding this covenant with God. This is what I am doing, God says, “ This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days. I will put the law within them and I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people” ( vs. 33)
The seed of covenant that God had planted in the past, with Abraham and his family and then with Moses and the former slaves- now that seed will grow out of the cracks and sprout in people’s hearts. It will take root and grow. In the midst of this the harshest of times, when all seemed lost- God is doing a new thing! What was external, will become internal. What was rules and rituals will become heart felt prayers, what was a seed of ethical behavior will flower into a lifestyle of justice and peace making. We will truly become God’s people!
What a promise. Jeremiah tells the people this as an invitation- keep your hearts open to what God can do! God is not going to save your little nation of Judah or keep your Temple from being destroyed or your leaders going into exile. Nevertheless. God is just beginning. God is starting this new covenant- God is about changing you from the inside out!
No wonder the people who followed Jesus and tried to make sense of his death on the cross turned to Jeremiah for inspiration. They came to understand that Jesus blood creates this new covenant. His death meant that now God was putting this grace and peace they had experienced in Jesus into their hearts. When you remember Jesus – you will remember his grace for you, that forgiveness of God that sets us free from what ever keeps you from living God’s way ( sin).
This new covenant happens when ever we open our hearts to the spirit of God that brings forgivness and longing. Forgiveness for the ways we have strayed, the ways we have not loved one another and neglected the ways of God. This is the traditional understanding of the blood of Jesus- as the ultimate act of sacrifice for this forgiveness for all sinners. Jeremiah too understood that the experience of God’s forgiveness was crucial for the new covenant of the heart. Recognition that we need to change, that God offers that grace to do so is how the heart opens to the new covenant.
This is the making of the crack. I know that in my life, the times I have learned the most have been when I ran into my cracks, my mistakes and limitations, times when the concrete sureness of my life cracked open. These are tough times. Times when we grieve. When we cry out. When we hurt ourselves and others in our pain. Times when we face hard truths about ourselves or our community. This is the time when Jesus hung on the cross. When the people went into exile and saw their city destroyed stone by stone. We want to run away from such times. We try to protect ourselves and our families because we love them. Yet, Jeremiah and Jesus remind us that it is in these times that the seeds planted of God’s love can sprout and grow. These are the times when we can turn again and receive the grace and forgiveness of God in a new, deeper way. Into the cracks can come the soil and seeds for the new covenant , an internal relationship with God to mature.
Also, I realized this week that the new covenant will be the law written on our hearts in the form of a longing. A longing for God’s ways and kingdom where people are fed, housed, respected and all their gifts received and given! Into these cracks that forgiveness opens comes the seeds and plants of longing for a better world, a better self . Through that longing God grows in us. The law is put upon our hearts. Not as an outside rule but as an inner longing for wholeness. Not as prescribed rituals but as heart felt prayers, not a list of do’s and don’ts but a deep desire to care for the other and treat them with love and respect. This is what Wesley called sanctifying grace. The movement of God into our hearts and out through our lives. Into our cracks, the plants of love and care and a new covenant grow.
I think of my friend Margaret. When she came to our church in Canyonville, she was shy and unsure of herself and her welcome. She didn’t have very good grooming and was very over weight. That little church welcomed her. They inspired her to share her gifts. She experienced God’s grace and forgiveness in her life, which had had some rough times. She discovered gifts for Bible study and teaching. She found that being a Native American was acceptable and she began to explore that heritage. A desire to care for others and her community grew. She got involved in the Conference Native American Council. She used the food pantry regularly, for she lived on an SSI income only but soon she was one of their main volunteers. By the time Margaret died, she was living a life filled with friends and faithful service to Christ. I learned so much from her, as I grew to see her beauty and intelligence.
The reason I laughed at that dandelion growing from the crack in the cement was that I showed me the persistence of nature, of life. The covenant of God with us is like that. God said through Jeremiah and Jesus- I will never ever give up on you. And what happens when that covenant comes into our hearts, when we open our hearts to its gifts of forgiveness and longing that is that we are then able to join the persistent widows. We then have the energy and insight to keep on seeking the justice and peace, the kindness and compassion our world needs. We long for God’s kingdom and work for it tirelessly, persistently and gleefully. For you see, the concrete of injustice and evil and racism and greed cannot over come the persistence, the relentless pushing of the plants of life. The vulnerable, the marginalized of our world like that widow are often seen a powerless, but by not giving up and through respectful persistence- they can influence the outcomes. So I invite each of us today to welcome the news covenant of God into our hearts. Receive the forgiveness and grace Christ offers each of us. And open your heart to the longing for God’s ways of love and justice. Then the plants of life will grow up through our cracks. Then we can join the widow persistent and powerful movement for God’s kingdom. Oh what happened at Sunnyside in Portland? Well, a started a shopping program for seniors, eventually the church opened a homeless shelter and hardtimes meal. And even after the congregation close, there is work afoot to keep the work going as a Sunnyside Community Center. The dandelions are still growing.