This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on September 9, 2018.
The following is a transcript of the scripture lessons and sermon.
Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31:31-34
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.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26:27-29
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
One of the things that I notice particularly when I’m talking about covenants is that people define it as an agreement between God and God’s people. And most of the time when people talk about agreements, they talk about legal documents. That’s typically the framework we put this in. But we probably don’t have quite the same conception of what a covenant is as the people of ancient Israel.
I remember the day that I went and signed probably one of the largest agreements that I will ever enter into. It was when we went to go buy a house. What I expected in my mind, and I don’t know why I expected this, was that I would be ushered into this grand hall filled with deeds lining the wall. There would be very serious people with suits standing guard, making sure that things were done properly and in order. After all, we were signing away the next 30 years of our life. This seemed significant!
But what we did is that we walked into a small room. I think the guy there had a tie on, but maybe not! And said sign here here here here, and then they gave us their congratulations. You now have a house to live in! The way that that felt, to a certain extent, felt significant but didn’t seem to have the gravity that I had built up in my mind to express the kind of commitment we were making to the bank, to the property, and ourselves.
We miss the mark, however, when we think about covenants and contracts with this kind of cultural framework. In the Old and New Testaments, covenants were matters of life and death. Covenants frequently used blood. It was serious. It was matter of life and death. It was so serious that, in Hebrew, it says “I will cut a covenant with you.” There is a gravity and a seriousness in which covenants are taken and spoken of in the Bible that too often we cast aside in our own covenants.
No; covenants are about deep commitments of the heart. And in Jeremiah, this comes in the book called the Book of Consolation. Most of Jeremiah is doom and gloom and it’s horrible because Jerusalem is being destroyed. And this particular passage comes from a moment when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the prophet is looking forward to a day when something new, something different, will happen. The way that the prophet envisions this, the way that God processes through this he says “l will take my covenant”–and a covenant is a relationship, it is not just a list of rules and regulations–it is a relationship he says that “I will write it on their hearts.”
What does this mean? I think it means that we take our relationship with God more seriously than perhaps many of us do at times in our lives.
Bobby was part of a theology pub group i was leading when i was in Ellwood. Bobby was one of my favorite people to talk to about just about anything. Bobby would ask the questions everyone was wondering but people were too afraid to ask. One day he said, “Hey Jason, I got a question for you. So what’s the least I can do good to get me into heaven?” He was serious! And the thing is that though we laugh at this idea, what’s the least i can do, I think that if we are honest with ourselves we all have aspects of our lives that we would really prefer God not be involved with. Sunday morning, yes, eating dinner with my family, yes, but if my neighbor is being really annoying or if I’ve got a boss or coworker who is driving me insane, I do not want in that moment to recall the commandment that we are supposed to love our enemies. We want to make sure God is in the right spot in our lives so that’s where God inhabits, and we’ve got this little thing on the side where we’re just doing our own thing.
But God had enough of that with the people of Israel. God had enough of that because he saw what that led to. It led to a people whose conception of where God needed to be was growing smaller and smaller in their lives rather than bigger and bigger. “How much do I have to do to get into heaven” misses the mark. And when we’re honest with ourselves, that’s where we live sometimes.
The reality is is that the nature of the covenant God has with us and for us and it is expansive and all-inclusive. It may have seen odd today that on a day where we’re not celebrating communion that we read from the institution of the Lord’s supper, where Jesus proffers up the cup saying “this is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of my sins” Remember that ancient practice of covenant. Covenant is serious business. And when Christ is coming to his disciples in bread and in the fruit of the vine he comes to them holding nothing back. Because God holds nothing back. God says to the ancient people of Israel “I will by your God, you will be my people.” It’s not a part-time position. It’s a full-time position.
When Jesus is gathered at the table with those whom he loves, he does not give them just the comfortable part of himself. He give his whole self. And we are called to give our whole selves too. If we don’t, when the covenant is not written on our heart, then there are things that we hold outside of it. We are called for our whole lives to be involved in the redeeming nature of God’s relationship with us and the world around us. And that will lead us to uncomfortable places. It may mean we are to have arguments in the church about what we are supposed to do. That is ok, as long as we are pursuing love.
Because that is what Christ did for us at the table, Christ brings his whole self, God’s whole self into this world to redeem the world to redeem the whole of the world. We are called to be those ambassadors.
So I share with you this good news, that when our hearts have God’s relationship, have God’s covenant written on it, the world begins to change towards God’s purposes, because our whole bodies and whole selves are moving into god’s love. And friends, when we do that and when we open the door just a little bit, if you find that part of your life that is cut off, just open it up a crack and see what God can do. And I guarantee you that when you do that, you will be changed. And when you are changed the world is changed, changed more towards the Kingdom of God.
And that, friends, is good news. Amen.