Community Under Construction
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Well, I must admit... it occurred to me that I should speak about Noah and the ark this morning... but instead we have this dreadful passage from Jeremiah to talk about! Let's begin with a little history lesson.
The nation of Israel had an extraordinary beginning... one of the most unusual of any other in history. It began in the ancient world... with Abraham's departure from the Ur in Chaldea... with nothing more than a promise that God would give him and his descendants a new land of their very own. The story includes Isaac... and Jacob... and Joseph... and many, many years later... Moses.
Having been rescued from slavery in Egypt... a redemption that is honored to this day by the Jewish people... they became God's chosen nation... the people of God... selected by God to be his covenant people.
A special agreement... the covenant of law... existed between God and Israel... with both a condition and a promise. The condition of the covenant was obedience. They were to "obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant." The promise was that they would be God's special people... "a peculiar treasure unto me above all people... a holy nation."
The covenant with God... entered into by the Israelites in a solemn ceremony involving sacrifice and the shedding of blood... carried with it many privileges and responsibilities... not the least of which was to "have no other gods." The Hebrew Bible tells us the story of how God worked for his people... protecting them in the wilderness... giving them the land he had promised... making them a great nation under the leadership of David and his son, Solomon.
God was always faithful to his covenant promises... but the people did not reflect his faithfulness. Israel refused to take her covenant commitment seriously almost from the start. Even as Moses was up on the mountain receiving God's law... the people were down below worshiping a golden calf. It has always been difficult for human beings to worship a God they cannot see... and easy to develop idols... that have a material form.
Well, there is a long history of God's relationship with Israel... of the people's unfaithfulness... of God's anger... and mercy... and forgiveness. In those days God communicated more directly with his people through prophets. They were the ones who helped the people understand what their laws and rituals meant. They also warned the people of God's anger when they were failing to keep their covenant with God.
There were many prophets throughout the history of Israel... and Jeremiah was one of the last. He spoke to the people about their failure to keep the covenant... and he foretold their final demise as a nation. He pleaded with God for deliverance and restoration... and he pleaded with the people for their repentance. He was sometimes called the "weeping prophet" because of his personal anguish about the message he had to deliver to the people... and their utter disregard of it. He lived to witness the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple he loved... and he died in exile in Egypt.
In our story today... God's word came to Jeremiah in the form of a vision... a dreadful premonition of disaster about to befall the nation. God would send a "scorching wind" from the desert... too strong for them to withstand. This was probably a reference to Babylon's invasion which Jeremiah lived to see. Jeremiah pictured God's coming judgment as a cosmic... catastrophic undoing of creation... the land would be as formless... and empty... and dark... as it had been before creation. The creation of God's hand... the nation of Israel... would be undone... and the land would be left barren.
But Jeremiah's message was not without hope... for God's judgment of his people was not his last word. There runs a thread of hope throughout all of Old Testament prophecy... God's words... "I will not destroy them completely." God's mercy and covenant faithfulness has always triumphed... and Israel was once again restored... although never in it's former glory. God is determined to have "his people."
Sometimes folks wonder why we even bother with the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament... but I'd like to remind you that it is the history of God's relationship with humans... and it contains the seeds of the new covenant God has established in Jesus Christ. In chapter 31 there is an amazing announcement... about a "new covenant" that will be written on hearts.... and a permanent remission of sin... bringing about a new kind of relationship with God.
We learn in the Hebrew Bible that God is a God of mercy... forgiveness... and renewal. Remember Jeremiah's vision of the potter who did not give up on a stubborn lump of clay! God does not give up on his people... and that includes you... and me... and the entire church of Jesus Christ. Witness the renewal of Saul on the road to Damascus! And because of Paul's work with the Gentiles... we too are members of the new covenant...the body of Christ... made up of all believers.
God is determined to have his "community of believers" and we are privileged to be part of that community. The covenant has been established... and sealed... by the blood of Jesus Christ... who fulfilled the law in a way we could never have done. He came to earth to establish a kingdom that cannot fail. As a result... we have a new relationship with God that is not based on the law... it has been written on our hearts... and we have given ourselves to God... who is our rightful Commander-in-Chief.
The "spiritual Israel" is no longer a nation... but it is a community... made up of Gentile... and Jewish believers. It is us... and we are absolutely living a covenant life. We are fully under God's blessing... there is no more condemnation... no more judgment... no more curse... death has been overcome.
What is our responsibility in this matter? We are to live in fellowship with one another... honoring each other because of what we hold in common. The basic idea of fellowship is "having something in common"... and we hold the sacrifice of Jesus Christ... and our new relationship with God in common.
We hold our sinful nature in common... and our suffering... and our losses... and our joy... and our praise. We are family... we laugh together... we cry together... we celebrate together... and we worship together. We realize our weaknesses... and celebrate our strengths together... we treasure one another... we minister to one another... we allow others to minister to us... and we welcome others gladly into our midst. By God's grace... we are a community under construction. Amen.
A Sermon Preached on September 13, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA
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