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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremiah 31’

A Brand New Day

10.17.10
Jeremiah 31:27-34

The Great Stock Market Crash. Pearl Harbor. The JFK assassination. 9/11. These have been life-changing events for lots many people in America. But certainly they haven’t been the only ones you’ve known. Deaths of loved ones. Medical diagnoses that made your heart tremble. Loss of jobs and the things that have meant so much to you. You’ve felt the very earth you were standing on seem to shake. Everything you’ve known and held dear has seemed to crash around you, leaving you fairly uncertain of much of anything. The things you thought you knew about who you are and who God is seem to crumple right before your very eyes.

Maybe the ways you’ve felt as the world has crashed down around your shoulders is much how the Israelites felt when they became exiles. Their nation fell. Like the Chilean miners that we’ve all watched this week, they became captives in the worst sense of the world, uncertain that life would ever go back to “normal”. But they remembered that they were God’s beloved… where, and for that matter, who, was God in all this? And how, if they were really God’s beloved, could all these bad things happen?

Don’t we ask those same questions when the worst comes our way? Even if you’re in a stage where you’ve seen so many things come and go, and you’ve learned to weather the times when God seems so far away, I know you’ve asked these questions. Even we can boldly proclaim “It’s God’s Will” or “Everything is in God’s hands” at the worst of times, a small voice inside us always wonders not only “How can this be?” but “Will I live to tell about this?”

Our culture tells us “If you’re a good person who does good things, you’ll live a good life.” And conversely, whether we admit it out loud or not, we’re pretty sure that bad people who do bad things will have bad lives. But of course, nothing is that simple.

I know I’ve mentioned that my best friend since childhood died in a skiing accident when we were twenty, but I’ve had a hard time admitting, even to myself, some of the questions that her death raised for me. Melissa was one of those people that I would call a really “good” person. She was always working for the good of someone else. She did all the right things, and try as I might, I could never convince her to do something she shouldn’t. Even when I was in a gossipy teenager phase, I don’t think I ever heard her say anything negative about anyone. She made excellent grades, she volunteered all over the place– she would have made a real contribution to the good of the world. How could a “good” God take such a “good” person? Why not someone who hurt children or stole from the poor?

I’ve also asked these questions in communities of folks. I asked these questions in Home Room senior year when we learned that one of our classmates had been shot to death while working to help support his family. I asked these questions at the funeral of a friend’s mom who took her own life, leaving behind two children my age. I asked these questions waiting in line to give blood on 9/11, and then again later that night as I prayed with people all over Knoxville who flooded the church looking for answers. Where was God? Didn’t God care that “good” people were hurting and brokenhearted? Why wasn’t God fixing it?

In the place of these brutally honest questions is where we meet the prophet Jeremiah with his word for today. The people were tired and worn out, body and soul. They were displaced, with not even a place to call home. They were angry and bitter. Anybody who might’ve been able to get them out of this mess had died. Just how long was God going to let this go on? They wanted answers, and they wanted them now.

I’ve understood the exiles, as I’ve seen the brokenness in my life and in the lives of those I love. I weep with them every time I read something from one of the prophets. But not until this week, when I was reading over the words that God speaks in today’s passage, did I realize the tone with which God was speaking. Hear the words again, this time as they appear in The Message translation.
That’s right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.”
God is tired, and brokenhearted, and generally pessimistic about the people’s ability to live a new way. That’s why this covenant is going to be so different. It’s going to be written on their hearts, not in some cute, sentimental way, but as a matter of logistics. It won’t be carried around in a box, but it will be permanently installed on their hearts. If it’s written on their hearts, it can’t be broken, burned, lost, misplaced, destroyed–or any of the other things we manage to do with really important things! And even better, it really requires no work on the part of the people to adopt this covenant. All the work is on God’s end.

There’s a scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlett has come home to her beloved plantation to find it in ruins. Her father’s gone mad, her mother has died–she’s hardly the noble lady she thought she was, and more than that…they’re all starving. She grabs a handful of dirt, and shaking it at the sky, vows that things won’t ever be like this again, no matter what it takes. If you watch this scene, you get the feeling that Scarlett believes she can make these things happen, if only by the sheer force of her will.

Don’t romanticize God here. He’s upset, but, like Scarlett O’ Hara, he’s vowing to do whatever it takes to make this thing go– to bring these hardhearted people back to him.

And it turns out that “whatever it takes” is forgetfulness. The people are bogged down in their own hurts, and guilts, and frustrations, and God is tired of being the only one interested in being in a real relationship. A little band-aid won’t fix this. As the saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” So God, by willfully forgetting the people’s sins, completely wipes the slate clean.

It’s interesting to me that God doesn’t stop with forgiving. He says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” How unlike humans this is! What do we say when someone has wronged us? “Well, I might forgive, but never, as long as I live, will I forget!”

I know many of you, especially those of you that are veterans, remember the phrase “Lest we forget”. It’s a phrase based out of a poem by Robert Frost, but it’s become a huge part of veteran’s day remembrances. Though the original poem didn’t use it that way, the phrase has been held up to challenge our country not to forget the sacrifices that were made so that we could be free. But, by some, this phrase has also been used to evoke generations old hatred of other nations. Lately, it’s even been used with to remind us of the destruction that happened on 9/11.

I think the first use is entirely appropriate– after all, our freedom has never been free. It’s appropriate to remember those sacrifices. But what about calling up old grievances? What are we doing to ourselves when we force ourselves to remember these things, over and over? And what, exactly, would be the cost of forgetting?

No, people don’t like to forget. We don’t like to forget anything– that’s why we make long grocery lists and todo lists. It’s why we keep meticulous records. It’s why we’re spending great amounts of money to fund alzheimer’s research. There’s something terrifying about forgetting– especially when it comes to the ways we’ve been hurt or the things people have done to us. It’s almost as if we draw a certain power from the memory itself.

Think about it. When someone has done you wrong, you tuck that piece of information away in the depths of your heart– almost as if you will be able to use it as “evidence” against them should they ever hurt you again. If you file away a hurt, you’ll be able to pull it up later to tell yourself “I know I shouldn’t have gotten involved with them.”

But the thing is, holding on to that grievance means that you really aren’t done with it. It means that that old hurt is still pulling away at some of your peace of mind.

What if God had a “lest I forget policy”? What if God kept a little notebook of every infraction, both big and little? What would our life now and our life later look like?

That must be why God doesn’t stop at forgiving the sins of the people. He doesn’t want to use everything they do wrong as further evidence against them. He doesn’t want to keep reliving those moments of the people’s infidelity. No, he wants a brand new day– and that can only happen if God is really willing to forget.

There is a difference between forgiving and forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving gives people room to make mistakes, but forgetting removes their mistakes as a barrier to relationship. Forgiving will accept apology and regret, but forgetting will allow old wounds to finally close up.

I wonder what we need to hear from this passage, in this place, on this day? I think we need to hear that sometimes we break God’s heart. Sometimes, the things we do must make God cringe, if not out and out weep. And sometimes, like the exiled Israelites, we get so caught up in our own lives and worries, we forget that. Sometimes, we like our ancestors so long ago, need a completely fresh start in order to get things right.

But I think we also need to hear that has not given up on us yet. We look around, and our world is broken, and sometimes we wonder. God takes our hurts, our guilt, our messups, our patterns of failure, and transforms them into a new covenant that’s built on brand new life and relationship.

Because God loves us, God forgives us. But because God wants an ongoing, real relationship with us, God forgets. As I say every Sunday, “The past is finished and gone, and your sins are forgiven.” Turns out they are also forgotten.

Today is a brand new day– a day free of our past guilts, and hurts. A day without the questions “Where is God?” and “Why isn’t God fixing this?” because God is working through these things not only to fix “things”, but to fix relationships. Yes. Today is a brand new day. What will you do with it?

Amen.

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