Summary: A sermon for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Series B

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5th Sunday in Lent March 29, 2009 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for all your many blessings upon us – for the gift of life; for the fellowship that we share with one another; and for all that sustains us from day to day. But we especially thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus the Christ, through whom you have revealed your unmerited, forgiving love, and called us into a new covenant relationship with you, our Creator, as your redeemed children. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, strengthen our faith, that we might prove to be worthy disciples of Christ. This we ask in his holy name. Amen.

In our first lesson for this morning, the Prophet Jeremiah, speaks God’s Word, saying: “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…” To be sure, this “New Covenant” language was picked up and utilized by the early Christians, including some of the authors of the New Testament, to express the redeemed relationship that God established with us through our faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

The fact that our Christian Bible is divided into the writings of the Old and New Testaments is a clear indication that those who have come to faith in Jesus the Christ, believe that through his death and resurrection, God has established a new covenant with his creation. The word “Testament” actually means “Covenant.” It is a word that describes the terms of our relationship with God.

But is it fair to assume, that Jeremiah, writing nearly six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, spoke these words as a foreshadowing of the new relationship that God would establish with his people, through Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to most of the commentaries that I read on this text, it is highly unlikely. Thus, I would like to begin my message this morning, by exploring this text from Jeremiah.

As Daniel N. Schowalter points out in his commentary, “The people of Jerusalem were probably sick of hearing from Jeremiah by the time he speaks this oracle we read this morning. In fact, the king and his court grow so tired of the prophet’s message, that they stuck him in a cistern. The reason is that Jeremiah has long been warning the king and the people about the danger of ignoring God and his covenant, claiming that their disobedience to God’s law would result in the destruction of the kingdom.” End quote. [New Proclamation, Fortress Press, 2005]

In other words, Jeremiah has, up until this point, been preaching gloom and doom for Israel. And that gloom and doom was about to happen, as the Babylonians were closing in on Israel, and Jerusalem. But suddenly, before Jerusalem was captured, the Temple burned, and with its demise, bringing to an end to the ritual center of Israel’s practice of offering sacrifice to appease for their sins, Jeremiah offers this vision of hope. By this time in the faith of Israel, the Temple had become the center of their worship and religious life. It was the place were God’s presence was thought to dwell among the people. The people of Israel living in outlying regions made yearly pilgrimages to the Temple, like many Arabs do today to Mecca.

Just think of the devastation those people must have felt, as Schowalter points out, “when the people look out at the army of the Babylonians laying siege to their city, or to the survivors of that attack, as they leave behind the smoldering ruins of the Temple, to be led off into captivity.” End quote. Their faith would have been devastated along with the destruction of their holy city. They would have been devoid of all hope for the future, even questioning the covenant relationship that God had long ago made with them.

It is here that Jeremiah’s message about a new covenant offers hope to the people of Israel, and forms the basis for a new understanding of their covenantal faith. Jeremiah had not only predicted an end to the kingdom, but also to the need for the cultic ritual centered in the Temple. Listen to this new covenant that Jeremiah says God will make with Israel: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days,” [in other words, after they had been led into captivity by the Babylonians] “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…”

The central point of Jeremiah’s “New Covenant” is that it makes all people of Israel “individually responsible for maintaining their covenant relationship with God. Unlike the broken communal covenant, this new agreement will be written on their hearts of individuals. As a result,” according to Schowalter, “this vision is a sharp rebuke of the existing hierarchy of Jerusalem and the Temple cultic practice… The result is, that God will go with the people who are taken into exile. Even though their nation and their Temple had been destroyed, God would not abandon them.”

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