The Days Are Coming (sermon 10/20/13)

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 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
   and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

 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. It 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. But 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. No 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.    – Jeremiah 31:27-34

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He sat in the restaurant, nursing his second refill of coffee. They were supposed to meet here this day, but she was now past the point of being fashionably late. They’d actually known each other for a year, even though they’d never actually met in person. Like so many people these days, they met online; their entire relationship up to this point had been words on a computer screen, the 21st-century version of pen pals. During that time, they’d gotten to know each other pretty well, not just in a shallow, flirty way, but sharing their day-to-day lives, as well as their deepest thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams. They clicked; they connected.

And now, it was time to connect in person, to really meet face to face, without the emotional security of being behind a keyboard. So they’d made plans to meet at this little place they both knew, which was just about halfway between them.

But now, she was late. He’d actually been a bit early; he’d allowed extra time in case he hit traffic but he hadn’t, so he had even more time to sit there being nervous about the meeting. Where was she? Maybe *she’d* gotten stuck in traffic. Maybe her phone died. His emotions bounced from excitement to worry to confusion to anger and back again. At one point, during his third refill, he felt like a jackass; that this all might have been some cruel joke – some teenager making up an imaginary online person. At another point, he thought it was probably just as well if she didn’t show. He really wasn’t any great prize anyway, and she’d probably be unimpressed with him when his words became flesh.

These words that we read from the book of Jeremiah were originally written to people who were feeling stood up similar to this – but far worse, because they felt like they were being stood up not just by another person, by God; and not just for a half hour or so, but for some seventy-odd years. That’s how long the Israelites would live in slavery after the Kingdom of Judah, and the city of Jerusalem, were overrun by the Babylonians. Several generations would pass, and they still lived their lives in captivity, paying the price for the events long in their past. As Jeremiah put it, it was the parents who had eaten sour grapes, but it was the children who had a sour taste in their mouths. Or as my father might say, the parents burned their butt, but the children were sitting on the blister. They were suffering injustice, not because of anything they’d done, but because of situations beyond their control. And in the midst of all the pain and suffering in their world, they wondered – Where was God? When would God return and set all this right? Does God even exist at all?

We can feel the pain of the Israelites, their wondering where God is, if anywhere at all, because we share their humanity. We think, and feel, and bleed, just like they dd. the 2,500 years separating us haven’t changed that. Those years have actually given us more injustice to consider. Genocide, not just in ancient Judah, but in modern Judah, too, and in countless other places on every continent except Antarctica, and that’s only because there aren’t any people there. Slavery, not just in Babylon but in Birmingham and Bhopal. Military warfare, and social and economic warfare, and environmental warfare, cutting swaths of human devastation across the globe. And it isn’t just suffering on a global scale, but in our own lives, too. Trying to make life work in an age of downsizing, stagnating incomes or complete loss of incomes. Being just one major illness away from financial ruin. Suffering the consequences of things outside our control, paying the price of bad decisions made by others. *They* ate the sour grapes, and *our* teeth are set on edge. We know something of the pain and uncertainty that the Israelites were feeling, and we can wonder the same questions. Is God ever going to do anything to fix all this?

Through Jeremiah, God told the Israelites to not give up hope. As hard as it might be to believe at times, God hadn’t left them. God was with them, and in a way, was suffering through their problems right along with them. Their pain was his pain. But as bad as things seemed, God promised them, the day were surely coming, when God would renew them, and restore them, and bring them into new life. Hang in there, God said. I’m with you. Keep up hope – keep the faith.

God did keep the faith with the Israelites, eventually bringing them out of slavery. And God continues to keep the faith, not just with them, but gradually unfolding that new covenant to all people. Gradually speaking to our hearts, leading us toward that time when God will usher in that covenant in all of its fullness. That time when all the pain and brokenness and disconnect of this age, felt by the Israelites and felt by us, will finally come to an end; and when we will know and feel the reconciliation of all things; we’ll know the peace, and justice, and mercy, and most of all, the love, that God has designed and intended us all for. The days are coming, God says. Hang in there. Keep the faith.

We can do that, you know. We can keep the faith, because God has continued to speak into our lives, into our hearts. We can have hope, because those 2,500 years separating us from the Israelites in Babylon haven’t just shown us brokenness and disconnect, but also examples of great goodness – all of them signs to us from God that God is with us, and the days are coming. In those years, we’ve seen not just genocide, but also justice, and reconciliation, in countless situations. Not just slavery, but liberation, too, and freedom; freedom of body, freedom of mind,  and freedom of conscience, too. Not just devastation, but rebuilding, and reconstruction, and renewal. Not just death, but new life, and new hope, seen in the smile of every newborn child.

And most importantly, during those 2,500 years, we’ve seen that God has kept the faith with us through the birth of one child in particular, Christ himself. God literally entering our world, entering our lives; our joy becoming his joy; our sorrows becoming his sorrows; our pain becoming his pain – his life becoming the very seal and proof of God’s new covenant with the world. Seeing in him, and learning from him, what the fullness of that new covenant, that new life, will be like. The days are coming, God says – make no mistake, they are coming. So until then, have no fear. Have faith. Have hope. And try to extend that hope into the lives of others, giving them a glimpse of this new covenant, this new way of living, by loving them in the way shown and taught by Jesus himself – the one in whom God’s Word became flesh.

 The fifth cup of coffee was his breaking point. Maybe it was all a sham, or maybe she finally wised up and realized that he just wasn’t worth her time. He’d probably been kidding himself all along. So he gathered his thoughts and his things, and he started to get up out of the booth and head for the door. But just then, when he was at his lowest point, he looked up and saw her coming through the vestibule. And in that same moment, she saw him. Their eyes met, and her entire face broke out in a smile. And suddenly, everything was right in the world.

 The days are coming. Thanks be to God.

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