Based on John 12: 20-33 and Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“Quote: Our prayers and our worship make it easier for God to work in the world” George Hermanson, as found on David Ewart’s blog at www.textweek.ca
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and astounding God, we ask your blessing on our time of reflection as we struggle to understand the meaning and the power of your Holy Word for our journeys of faith this day. Amen.
All during the season of Lent, we have been fitting together our stories about God’s covenantal promises offered to our faith ancestors, the ancient Israelites, like pieces of a giant puzzle.
Over and against those stories about God and Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and the Ten Commandments, we have had a variety of stories about call and discipleship first from the book of Mark. Then, more recently from the gospel according to John.
Also during the Lenten season, a dozen or so of us have been gathering together on Wednesday evenings to chew on Mike Slaughter’s take on just what it means for us individually and as a church to ponder our faith journeys and God’s call for us to do that letting go, that giving over to God’s will as opposed to our own.
One of the things that caught my attention last week came from the video clip portion of the evening. In it, the author spoke about Lent as being a time we might not only “lay distractions aside…” but also “…lay aside daily activities or habits practiced most of the year so that we might be more fully focused and engaged in following Jesus in authentic discipleship.” p. 98
Imagine what that would look like to say, for example, to put aside the many other things we do on a weekly basis here at the church just for the season of Lent…..
All of this dovetails beautifully with our readings for this morning.
Here, again we have heard yet another story of covenant, this time from one of the chapters of what is known as the Book of Consolation, believed to have been compiled with stories of God’s love for his followers living in the kingdom of Judah some 600 years before Jesus walked the earth.
Here in the 31st chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, we are reminded of how God invites God’s people into a new and different covenant. This time, it’s one with no intermediaries, no go between’s. Instead of two tablets with the Ten Commandments scrolled on them for reference, here, a new and different kind of covenant is on offer: a much more intimate relationship with God. Surely this must have felt a word of consolation for those desperate, desolate, disheartened and discouraged ones as God, through Jeremiah promises: “I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people....”
Over and against this reading, we have one more story of call and discipleship from John’s gospel as Jesus offers his final public discourse in Jerusalem. Here, we hear Jesus declares that his true reason for being is about to be fulfilled. Listen again to these powerfully familiar words as Jesus relies once more on the public arena as a place to describe what Mike Slaughter, author of our Lenten study book, would call his big, hairy, audacious God given purpose” to all those who might have ears to listen: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.”
What great readings about covenantal relationships for our consideration this morning as the season of Lent draws to a close!
But, before we go any further, just a reminder, what is this thing called “covenant” again?
Earlier this week, a good number of us who are here this morning had the privilege and good fortune to be able to attend the covenant of circumcision and naming ceremony for the new baby of a family connected to this congregation at his grandparents’ home. It was a very special occasion indeed. While it will be some time before I am able to fully come to terms with all that happened in the ceremony, and my own response to the event, it was clear to me that we were there as much for the sake of each other as for our own sakes. Gathered together for that special purpose, I got another glimpse into the meaning of the word covenant.
What happened for me is that I got to see myself and those of us gathered as covenantal partners, as ones invited into something for the sake of the ‘other’, a wonderful reminder that the sum of the parts is always greater than the individual parts themselves and the promises we make for the sake of the “other” not only matter deeply but would not be easily undone, nor would we want them to be!
This was the case in my experience of this 8 day old baby boy’s covenant of circumcision and naming as it is also the case in other religious covenants.
For example, as we take part in and as we testify to covenants of marriage, covenants of learning, and covenants with new ministry personnel, we are making promises that are as much for the sake of the other as they are for our own selves. And these covenants matter deeply and they would not be easily undone, nor would we want them to be!
To my knowledge you have had two covenant services with clergy in the last four years. One was my own last fall and the other was 3 years ago with Rev. Jay Olson as your interim minister. In both cases, promises were made about how you would be in relationship together, we might even say that God’s signature was written on your hearts and God promised to be your God and you to be God’s people for those two very distinct beginnings.
Covenants…worth pondering….promises we make for the sake of the other and promises that not easily undone, nor would we want them to be!
During our theme time this morning, we heard about how some of the special symbols that have shaped your faith journey over the decades have informed your identity as a congregation.
I imagine that you may have had some blessings of the various symbols over the years or perhaps they were even part of covenanting services of some kind or another. Whatever the case,
I look forward to hearing more about that.
But, here, now as we enter anticipate the start of a new chapter in the life of the Knox congregation that comes with receiving the gift of the new logo, we have much to be thankful for and much to celebrate. The other good news for today?
Like our ancient faith ancestors, the people living in Jeremiah’s time, we, too inhabit a rapidly changing and increasingly chaotic world, one full of stress and distress and we need to be aware and understand that the church is no exception to these forces. Some of what needed healing and restoration here at Knox has happened but the journey to the future is not over yet. To put it another way, arrival at our destination is a ‘ways off yet and God is calling us, as a community, into new relationships with one another where our vulnerabilities, our hopes, our dreams, and our fears need and can be safely shared. In order to do that we are going to have to do the hard work of learning to be die to past ways of being in relationship, actively choosing instead to “real” with one another, not just with our friends, but also with those who we see as “other”. You might even say dying to our own wills, is the gospel’s imperative!
But, then, what might that being “real” look like? For further food for thought, I leave you with these words adapted from Margery William’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit”
“What is real?” Rabbit asked the Suede Horse one night when all was quiet in the nursery.
“Real isn’t how you are made” the Suede Horse said.
“Its a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked Rabbit
“Sometimes”, Suede horse answered, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once”, Rabbit asked, “or is it bit by bit?”
Suede horse answered: “it doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time.
That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose joints and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand....
Rabbit thought for a long time...he longed to become Real, to know what it felt like, and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad.
He wished he could become real without these uncomfortable things happening to him....
but he trusted that the Suede Horse who was real and who knew how to tell the truth would be his guide”
Let us close in prayer: Dear God, we thank you for your word to us this day and for another fresh glimpse at Jesus and how Jesus has taken up residence in our hearts and in our church. May we know your abiding presence as we continue to journey together as faithful followers in your Holy Way. Amen
THE RADICAL ROAD TO THE CROSS, RENEGADE GOSPEL, The Rebel Jesus, Mike Slaughter, p. 98 Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2014