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the sermon for

the Fifth Sunday in Lent

18 March 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Faith is rooted not in our obeying,
but in god's forgiving!

03182018Jeremiah was the prophet. And to him, the future was crystal clear. Not because he saw it in the stars. Or because he read it in tea leaves. He, simply, remembered the past and saw it repeating itself. The future he saw was as bleak as the past he remembered. And so, the word he spoke, sounded a lot like that billboard just north of town. "REPENT | RETURN TO GOD NOW | JUDGMENT IS AT THE DOOR" In big, black capital letters!

True, one threat – that from Assyria – was over. And for a while – a generation or two or three – the future was bright. But that was coming quickly to an end. The storm clouds were already gathering on the horizon. Babylon was on the rise. So Jeremiah warned the people. Warned and cautioned and alerted...

Thus says the Lord:
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it were held guilty; disaster came upon them,
says the Lord.

But now? Now! Look at you!

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children and your children's children.

"Repent," Jeremiah begged! "Change your ways," he pleaded, "Change your ways... or else!" Change your ways or god's people will surely be destroyed! After all, it happened, once. And it could happen, again!

In the end, Jerusalem would lay in ruins. And the Temple – god's dwelling place – was in ruins. Rubble. Ashes. The high and mighty led away in chains; trophies of war paraded through the streets of Babylon itself! And the powerless and poor exiles in Egypt; just as they had been back in the beginning, before thy became pharaoh's slaves! Jeremiah had tried to change the end. But when all was said and when everything was done, Judah didn't and wouldn't and couldn't! And for that, the nation paid a price for their stubbornness, for their obstinacy. And the prophet was shocked. Jeremiah was shaken, stunned. After five-and-a-half centuries, after twenty-five generations, god's eternal – everlasting – covenant had ended. And Jeremiah grieved, mourned...

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

The lament goes on, pitiful, pathetic. Jeremiah had spoken. Loudly. Clearly. Passionately. Without hesitation. But the people didn't listen. The people didn't heed. It was, then, Jeremiah realized it wasn't that Judah would not, it was that Judah could not! No matter how long the prophet spoke. No matter how loudly. The people just couldn't do what he asked! They couldn't be faithful! They couldn't be obedient! They were captive to sin! In bondage! And they couldn't free themselves! No matter how hard they tried! And all of Jeremiah's ranting and all of Jeremiah's raving accomplished absolutely nothing! Even when their lives hung in the balance! Their lives and the lives of their children and of their children after them! They, simply, couldn't do it!

Even with judgment at the door, they couldn't repent! Even with judgment at the door, they couldn't return to god! And so the nation and the city fell. Cracking, crumbling under the weight of self-righteousness and sin. Past, one more time, was prologue. By their own understanding, by their own strength, they couldn't. And if they were to be redeemed... if they were to be saved... if they were to be delivered... god and god alone would have to do it!

In the end, it was Jeremiah who changed his mind, changed his way of thinking! It was Jeremiah who repented! Repented of everything he had, once, believed in! Repented of everything he had spoken! And it was he who returned to the LORD! Returned to god's grace and mercy! Returned to god's forgiveness and love!

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.

That is the new covenant! Israel doesn't change. Judah won't become different. But god... GOD will forgive and GOD will forget! In joy and in sorrow, god forgives and forgets! In plenty and in want, god forgives and forgets! In sickness and in health, god forgives and forgets! God loves! God cherishes! No matter what!

It isn't that Israel becomes better! Or that Judah becomes more! Goats don't become sheep! Chaff doesn't become grain! Weeds don't become wheat! They remain goats and chaff and weeds! But god forgives and god forgets! Our life with god isn't determined by our dedication or our devotion. It depends on god's commitment and god's persistence! It's not our faith, but god's faithfulness! When we fall short, when we miss the mark, god's doesn't threaten, god doesn't bully! God forgives and god forgets! And if there's a price that must be paid, it's god! It's god who pays it!

"The days are surely coming, says the LORD! Truth is, my friends, those days are already here! They've already come! But it's not the law god has written on our hearts, but the gospel! It's the love, shaped just like a bold black cross on a red heart! "In the mercy of almighty God, Jess Christ was given to die for us!" God forgives! Forgives AND forgets!

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