August 14, 2022

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

I’ve been a pastor for over 50 years and I’ve noticed that in spite of all sorts of squabbles and seeming incompatibilities, people keep longing to become, in some one of a thousand different ways, committed to one another! 

I used to think I would like to understand that longing and drive to be committed to someone – how and why it works or doesn’t work. Even after all these years, I can be walking down the street and come across a couple walking together and I shake my head in bewilderment:  “How in the world did those two people get together?  And why? And what kind of glue keeps them together?” 

I think that drive all started with God.  As the story goes, God had this goofy idea of creating one human and then God had the notion that one was not enough, so God created a second one. And we’ve been trying to figure out how to make those connections work ever since! 

And if that weren’t complicated enough, God decided to get involved and the Genesis writer says:  God came in the cool of the day and walked with the humans God had made. So God has a longing for intimacy and commitment.  So God gets lonely too!?  And it seems that God can’t get enough of us!  This mysterious and wonderful bond that God feels toward us is so strong that God has always longed for a mutual commitment – a covenant, if you will, where we sort of exchange rings and we say “You’ll be our God and we’ll try to be faithful to you.”

Those are the words of COMMITMENT and COVENANT.

They are words repeated again and again from Genesis

to Revelations:  the words of Covenant:

“I’ll be your God – You will be my people.”

But it has always seemed that we have a much harder time being faithful to God than God has trouble being faithful to us!  Faithfulness and unwavering love seem to be in God’s DNA! And that love is the centerpiece of this covenant arrangement with God.   

All through history, God has been bound to us like a mother to her child.  Day after day, year after year, God has continued to reaffirm that loving commitment. 

God offered it to Adam and Eve and then to Noah and again to Abram.  Always there have been responsive people who have loved God to the best of their ability and always there have been those of us who just can’t seem to figure out how to return that love. The promises that we have made to our creator get broken and sometimes we simply break the entire covenant and the relationship with God. And, in so doing, we break the heart and dream of God.

The history of God’s people from the beginning has been littered with sad and disappointing behavior.  We have been capable of the most outrageous and unthinkable behavior toward one another, violating our commitment to truly be “people of God.”  We still can’t seem to get it right after centuries of trying to make our Father in heaven proud.

And how it has grieved the prophets of old.  Take Jeremiah for instance.  He is called the weeping prophet because like few before or after him, the waywardness of his people brought him to tears again and again.

But the startling thing is not the extent and unthinkable behavior of which we are capable.  The startling thing is the ever-faithful, ever-tender, ever unfailing nature of the love of God for every last one of us.

Hear the words of this weeping prophet: And notice the words of covenant:  (in bold).

Jeremiah 31:1 “At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they will be my people.”

   3. The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love;  I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

   10.“Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands:  ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

   19 After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

   20 Is not Ephraim my dear son,  the child in whom I delight?

Though I often speak against him,  I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him;  I have great compassion for him, declares the Lord.

   31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,“when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

   32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors

when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,

because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

   33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their heart.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.

   34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,”  declares the Lord.  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The thing I want you to understand this morning is that this invitation to enter into a relational covenant with God always stands open to you and nothing you have ever done, said, or thought negates it.  God’s love is everlasting and eternal.  It is the most amazing reality I know!   You see, no matter how far we stray and wander from the heart of God, the hands of God are always extended in welcome!  Covenant is always INVITATIONAL – never an OBLIGATION.

Over and over through the years, Israel knew she had been proposed to.  Over and over she said “Yes” then “No” and often “maybe.”  Sometimes she just ridiculed the offer and out of spite ran to the competition.

This covenant  is not just a dance of words that are being said, this is a dance of the heart and of our hands and feet – of our behavior.  It isn’t just a matter of words SAY we love God.  But covenant is a matter of whether or not we also walk the walk – whether or not we act like a true lover would. And, no matter how much we disregard the offer, it is always there as everlasting love and unfailing kindness.  What an amazing invitation