Paying Attention: Renewing Your Faith Jeremiah 31: 27-34

I despise reality shows; we have enough reality each day.  I want my TV to give me news, sports and unreality, thank you!  Colonial House, a PBS show; following pastor Jeff Wyers of Community Baptist Church in Waco, along with his family, and 20 volunteers who for four months lived as a Puritan colony.  They milked goats, raised corn, and produced goods to repay British backers.  Women submitted to men, and everyone submitted to the pastor, who was also the governor.  There was mandatory attendance at three-hour church services.  Ah, the good old days!

Things didn’t go heavenly for the moderns living by God’s laws; working the land.  Work was hard; food was bad.  The rigidity set by strict interpretation of the Commandments was a challenge. The commandments they thought needed attention were usually the ones they were least guilty, so someone else would get the worst of the judgment.  Pastor Wyers, John Winthrop: “You can’t force people to believe by putting a knife to the throat.  They acquiescence, but you’re not going to get faith.  Instead of people listening to the Holy Spirit, they focus on pressure from other humans.  Persecution brings the wrong results; working against the spirit of the gospel.”

God and Israel took vows at Mt. Sinai after God delivered the Hebrew slaves.  The Exodus and parting of the Sea gave God’s people a current event, which to build their faith as they experienced future.  They knew there’s only one God and others are pretenders, created by the powerful to keep them in power.  They knew God is on the side of the powerless instead of a pharaoh. They knew only their God can make and keep promises.  They knew they were partners with God to make things happen.

Israel was to show loyalty to her God by paying attention to the Ten Commandments.  These laws regulated their faith life together and teach them how God loves them and how they were to love God and each other.  The religious laws had a spiritual purpose; it kept their hearts from going astray, their souls from warping and their relationship with the God.  They fail to keep the old covenant, not paying attention to the law God had given.  The covenant was shattered by their unfaithfulness and they were exiled.

“I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah.  For, I was their husband, and they broke the first covenant.”  The God of their old covenant comes speaking through the voice of Jeremiah saying: “I’ll do something new with this old covenant”.  We can imagine how offering to do something new with that which was old must have lifted the weight of doom and buoyed their hopes.  This meant God had not divorced them in order to marry another.  God comes as a wounded lover and fights through their neglect to woo them back.  God was doing something new with the old covenant so to court the people back into their creator’s loving arms.

We contrast the Old Testament with the New, the Hebrew God of the Jews with the God of the Christians, and the letter with the spirit.  This causes us to leap over Jeremiah to Jesus thinking we need to jump over religion so we can have real true experience with God.  This makes little sense in light of this text, which points to the unbroken nature of the work God throughout all of salvation history.  God’s former people in exile are promised a new and genuine experience of God doing something new with the old.

The nature of the continual redemptive work of God is continuous.  God doing something new; is what God does in every generation; relentlessly and lovingly redeeming God creation so we may renew our relationship with God.  God continually updates God’s redemptive work that began in the Garden, and which God will be consummated in God’s time.

The Torah sill matters.  We have not grown up and out of the Ten Commandments because we have Jesus in our heart.  They would still need to pay attention to old covenant.  These rules give a peek at God’s heart.  What Jeremiah promises; God is relocating the law.  The remedy applied in this redemptive promise is summed up when God says:  “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  Writing the law on your heart means the law would be seared on their conscience; become second nature as it is first nature to God.

During the Vietnam War, American bombers would fly over rivers bombing every bridge in sight.  Yet thousands of Vietnamese troops would cross the rivers anyway.  Years later an American pilot met a Vietnamese general who was now a businessman.  He asks, “How’d you get them across the river”?  The guy replied, “We built the bridges six inches under the water.”  God’s new covenant takes what has been an external code of morality and begins to build it inside of us—six inches under the skin.

In both covenants, God wants love to rule.  Persons of faith bounce between a love of law and the law of love.  This struggle between law and love; we see in the people of Israel so long ago.  We see it in the synagogues and temples of Jesus day.  We see among the Puritans at Massachusetts Bay Colony.  We see it in every church of every flavor.  In every case, we become so concerned with conformity and control; we prevent people from knowing the continual redemptive work God, Jeremiah promised.  It is a failure to capture the essence of the new covenant of gracefully writing the law of God on the heart of God’s people.

Strict conformity to rules does not save; it competes with the grace of Christ that produces hearts of love.  God doesn’t want people who have to be instructed by written codes which are enforced by others who claim to know God better.  This causes people to point fingers, look at neighbors for what they are doing wrong, and creates climates of mistrust.  A community of faith that lives in fear of wrongdoing rather than by faith in right-doing is sick community.  Relationships based on “oughts” and “shoulds” never rise to the freedom and joy God desires.

Hear the irony; hearts filled with graceful love embrace the rules as guides on how to love.  They welcome rulers who oversee the community by infusing the living presence of the Spirit of Christ in all they do.  I have guest today who I want you to meet who lives in one such setting.  Let me introduce the setting with this video. 

Brandon Lazarus is a seminary student who lives in the Bonheoffer House.  It is a neo-monastic house that lives by rules of order and offers themselves freely to their neighbors.  I am going to let him tell you little more what this is about.  What is your understanding of intentional living?; Why do you do it?; What are its benefits?

The best communities of faith look like to lovers who just fall further and further in love.  When you are first attracted to someone; you have questions and listen carefully to see what she loves, what he likes, what bothers her, and what moves him.  As you come to know that person, there is a desire to please and anticipate what would please the one you love.  After a while, you learn what to say and not to say, how to act and not act.  You move before you’re asked; finishing each other’s sentence, you know them by heart.  God wants to move the ten words from stone tablets to human hearts and so our faith is formed and character reformed.  God will not rest until we know God so well we don’t need to be taught anymore because we have caught the heart of God.

Now that is the heart of the matter.

Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 8:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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