Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Pain and Promise: A New Song

The Psalter - the entire book of Psalms - ends with the Psalm we just heard. Psalm 150 is the last of seven psalms of praise, an extended call to praise - that invites everything that breathes to praise the Lord. Everything that breathes. People. Animals. Birds. Fish. Plants. All of God’s creation in this psalm is invited into an attitude of praise.

Yet, we know that not everyone experiences grace from God. We grow sick. We can be killed. We can be oppressed. We can experience disaster.

Over these past six weeks, we’ve been reading selections from Jeremiah and the Psalms. We’ve heard of Jeremiah’s call and his subsequent challenge to the kings and people of Judah to turn back. And of their failure to do so. And the resulting destruction and exile. We’ve sat in Saturday with them for a time as they lamented. Grieved their losses. Trapped in a place they did not want to be. Wondering how they might go on. We’ve witnessed Jeremiah’s symbolic act of hope and heard his call to the people to prosper where they were planted, even as they waited for restoration.

Today, we hear the promises of what that restoration will be. How God will restore, not only the people, but the nation and its leaders. Today, we read our last reading from Jeremiah. This work of resilience. This survival manual. This story that seeks to help Judah, and us, make sense of the wreckage of their world. 

We begin with chapter 33. 

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. The Lord proclaims: David will always have one of his descendants sit on the throne of the house of Israel. And the levitical priests will always have someone in my presence to make entirely burned offerings and grain offerings, and to present sacrifices. --Jeremiah 33:14-18 (CEB).

This first passage is about leadership. It is a promise of a new shoot from an old tree. Here Jeremiah picks up a prominent theme from Isaiah, that in the grand restoration of the nation, an ideal king will come from David’s line, one who will bring about a reign of perfect justice.

Our minds immediately take us to the New Testament promise and fulfillment of The Anointed One. Jesus. Son of God. Son of Man. Yet, this covenant of which Jeremiah speaks is a continuation - not the end - of the covenant made with Israel and Moses at Sinai. It is a promise that, for Israel, David’s line will not end. That God will provide legitimate and righteous rulers - both political and religious - so that the people will once again live in safety. So that the nation can be saved. And, particularly, so that Jerusalem will be restored and will become known as a place of righteousness and justice. This is a covenant from which Israel can expect great things from God for its future leaders and for its future nation. 

But, this is not all. Because, not only is this renewed covenant between God and a nation and its leaders. It will be the old covenant reborn in a much deeper and more profound way. 

Our reading continues in chapter 31.

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “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 wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. --Jeremiah 31:31-34 (CEB)

This new covenant that God will create with God’s people is not radically new. It is the old covenant, reaffirmed, reasserted, and re-inaugurated, but in a deeper, more intimate, more equitable way. This relationship that it promises will be as intimate as the marriage relationship. God’s instruction will be written on the hearts of the people. So that they will know God internally. No longer will this covenant exist only on tablets of stone and require an obedience to an external rule, but it will be something that God’s people will live and breathe. It will move into their hearts and take residence within their very beings. They will know God. From the least to the greatest. No longer will any individual or group have spiritual superiority in the community. All of the members of God’s family will share equally in the dignity of their humanity. And all will participate in God’s life. Their knowledge of God will be the same as the knowledge of lovers, one for another. 

This is the gift of the book of Jeremiah - the gift of God’s Word spoken through Jeremiah. It provokes possibility and awakens within us a yearning for a better world. It breaks into the frightening aftermath of a diminishing disaster by insisting that God and God alone has the power to bring about new life and a changed world. It defends God, yet promises an intimate relationship with God - a relationship that is profound, life-altering, and life-sustaining. It promises a life for everyone that is marked by equity, by thriving, and by a radical joy that will help us to forget the bitter sorrow of the past. 

Finally, it disrupts the apathy and cynicism of the present time because it teaches us that God is the interrupting energy within the heart of the world, who breaks into our suffering, meets us where we are, then restores and leads us into a renewed place through the most mysterious Spirit of God’s incarnated, arisen and ascended Son. 

Is it any wonder that, in that new world that is about to break in, old and young, laity and priests, men and women, black and white, gay and straight, all people eat, rejoice, and dance together, singing the words of the psalmist: “All that is alive, praise. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah!”?

May we, too, join the song of praise! Amen.

Preached online July 4, 2021, with Grace & Glory Lutheran, Goshen, and Third Lutheran, Louisville.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-18, 31:31-34; Psalm 150

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