October 16th 2016
Based on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Luke 18:1-8
During the theme conversation, I talked about those words of inspiration that are indelibly tattooed on our hearts. People offered suggestions of the quotes, and phrases that inspired them and kept them going during difficult times. Then, as the service progressed, people were invited to put on a temporary tattoo – see some of the results!
This is the last Sunday we get to hear from our friend Jeremiah for a while. The year is 587 BC. Jerusalem has fallen, the king has been tortured and shackled and joins his people in the march to forced labour in Babylon. The temple in the heart of the city has been burned to the ground, and the precious Ark of the Covenant, has disappeared. This was not just a holy relic, a souvenir of bygone days. It symbolized the very presence of God. It traveled with the people. And now it was gone. To this day, people speculate on its whereabouts. Jurgen Moltmann writes:
“Trust in the protection of this God, whose house stood in the centre of Jerusalem, was shattered once the Temple was destroyed. In confrontation with the powerful gods of Assyria, Israel’s God had proved himself to be a powerless idol, and by surrendering his people and his Temple he had also broken his covenant with that people. It would have been no more than logical if the conquered people had gone over to the mightier gods of the victors, as was otherwise normal practice in the political history of the religions. It would have been no more that consistent if the survivors of this catastrophe had abandoned their existence as God’s people.”
But against all odds, it didn’t happen. Why not? Because, Jeremiah has a vision, and he gives voice to it, amid the cries of despair, and abandonment. He gives voice to it and he tells the people, `God isn’t in the Ark of the Covenant. God didn’t die and God didn’t abandon you. God is going with you. He’s going in your hearts. The covenant stands. The covenant lives…a new covenant emerges – here, in your heart. No one can take it away.
I expect none of us here are going to memorize the whole Bible, but there are verses that stand out for us, there are songs, or prayers or sayings that sustain us when everything else is gone. We hold them in our hearts.
When I was serving the United Church in Merritt I had a lovely drop in visit one day with my friends Lynne McNaughton and Gerald Hobbs. Gerald was my history and theology professor at VST and Lynne, who studied there with me is now the Anglican priest in Lynn Valley, North Van. They also co-lead wonderful Spiritual Pilgrimages.
While checking out the sanctuary, Gerald noticed a banner at the front, which says `We Are Not Alone.’ He remarked that that simple Creed was probably the United Church’s greatest gift to the ecumenical church. It is written in my heart.
“We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God :who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Gerald and Lynne told of visiting a 97 year-old friend in hospital. As they prepared to go, Gerald offered a blessing from the last lines of Psalm 121 “The Lord will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” From the frail body in the bed came a resounding, “ABSOLUTELY!” It was written in his heart.
I share this story from my friend Ralph Milton, whose adopted son committed suicide: “I am at a memorial service for my son who ended his lonely life of suffering the devastation of fetal alcohol syndrome. I am confused. I am angry at his birth mother whose drinking shut down his nervous system, and made it impossible for him to give or receive affection. Why should a child grow to be a man and never know that he is loved? We play a song that was my son’s favorite. “The Rose.” It is about the love which he never understood or felt. What did he sense when he heard that line, “..and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong.”? The song’s gift to me is the final verse. “Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies a seed, that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes a rose.” And so, when the minister tells us with passion and hope that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus,” I know that my son now knows that love – the love of Christ Jesus and his earthly father’s love, which he never knew before. I know that, because the knowledge of resurrection, of Easter hope, is written on my heart.
What words from that emerging covenant are written in our hearts? What is tattooed there in permanent ink?
Is there a scripture, hymn, prayer, or saying that comes to you and keeps you going in times of grief or joy? What is it that you know to be life-giving?
I do want to say something about the gospel as well. Here we have the parable of the persistent widow wearing down the hard-hearted judge. And we are encouraged by that to be persistent in our petitions to God. Well…so the commentary surrounding the parable says. But the parable ends at verse 5. Then we get the explanation. However, Jesus rarely explained his parables. A parable is a type of storytelling that is meant to shock us, to catch us off guard. So is it as straightforward as it sounds?
We are told in the commentary following the parable that we, like the widow, must be persistent. And God, being God, will be more kind than the unjust judge. I should hope so. But let’s look again at the parable. The judge himself admits that he neither fears God, nor cared for humanity. That, alas, sounds like many people, but it doesn’t sound like God. The judge has no attributes of God.
But who does? The widow. The widow calls for justice, the widow comes back again and again and knocks on the door of the judge’s hardened heart. The widow is God.
So it’s not `If I pray long enough and hard enough, God will give me what I want. I think what Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable is that God is saying, “If I knock on the door of your heart long enough, you may yet let me in. You may yet recognize your own divinity and see that beauty in others and live a life of wholeness and justice.”
As we worship today and we will soon sit and talk together about the future of a shrinking national and local church, what is tattooed on you heart that sustains and strengthens us? What guides us? What guides you? How will you respond to that holy knocking at your heart?