Fifth Week of Lent A New Heart
March 21, 2021 Jeremiah 31:31-34
I want to begin today by asking you a serious question. If you could get a do over on one part of your body, what would you chose? Straighter teeth? A smaller nose? Maybe longer legs to be a few inches taller. I’m torn between having hair or having better eyesight.
I ask this because I think if given the chance, most of us would go under the knife to change how we look before we’d do the hard work of changing something that actually matters. Because let’s be honest, it’s easier to change one’s outer appearance than it is to change what’s on the inside.
As we continue our look in the Old Testament at the covenants God made with Israel, we see again and again how God works to renew our hearts. Today’s words are from the prophet Jeremiah, who has spent most of his life warning God’s people that their idolatrous ways would only lead to judgment being heaped upon them. And when it came, it came with a vengeance.
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and dragged their king and religious leaders off in chains. Everything they believed was important now laid in waste and God’s people are faced with a serious crisis. Not only had the lost their power and prestige, but they felt as if they had also lost their God. Or at least the assurance of God's faithfulness and security. Instead of shaking his head and saying, “I told you so,” Jeremiah offers his community these words of hope.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. Jeremiah 31:31-34
Despite the infidelity and idolatry, despite the corrupt kings and priest who twisted God’s laws to exploit and promote their own agenda, despite all the ways that people have broken faith with God, God does not break faith with them. This is the reoccurring theme we’ve been looking at throughout Lent. God remains faithful even when we aren’t. God is always there, even in our deepest despair, creating life out of death.
Although we are getting closer to our Easter celebration the good news seems still so far away. Thus, Jeremiah’s words offer us a sense of comfort and encouragement. He reminds us that God does not give up on us.
Whether we are worthy or not, God takes the initiative to pour out unmerited favor upon us. Because of God’s covenants of grace there is always hope when we have faith.
But even though we have the assurance of God’s grace, there is also the reality of what happens when we don’t live into what God is calling us to do. For example, when we choose to live in love we are more likely to receive love back. But the same is true when we choose to withhold justice or be inhospitable.
It’s safe to say the people of Judah faced the consequences of their actions. Now their hearts and faith are shattered like their beloved Temple. Again, Jeremiah could have stuck his nose in the air and said, “It sucks to be you.” Instead, he encourages God’s people by telling them hope is on the way. A new covenant is coming. One that is not engraved in stone for all can see but none to follow.
God is changing the game – engraving God’s law inside them. From the least to the greatest, everyone gets a new heart. And to celebrate this divine promise, God does the unthinkable. God wipes the slate clean and forgets their sins forever.
In his book Tattoo’s on the Heart, Greg Boyle shares stories about the many lives that have been transformed by God through his organization Homeboy Industries, which he created to give criminals and gang members a second chance at life. One such story is about a homeboy struggling to quit his life of violence. Boyle tells the young man that in trying to leave his gang, he was acting with far more courage than he’d ever shown shooting at enemies in his hood.
But what catches this young man off guard isn’t his courageousness but God’s willingness to wipe his slate clean and remake his heart. When Boyle told him that God loved him no matter what this homie blurts out, “Damn, G…I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”
Why does God do such crazy things like forgiving the unforgivable? Or loving the unlovable? Perhaps God knows that the only way we can truly live into God’s will is to have our hearts free of the anger, guilt and shame that traps us in the cycles of sin. The best way God can do this is by giving us a new heart one that is tagged with a tattoo gun filled with grace.
This is why I love these words from Jeremiah because I love the idea of a God tattooed heart. It’s like God wants to be a part of my life forever. And takes the initiative to make sure that our relationship happens. God has set up shop in everyone’s heart…no matter who you are or what you’ve done.
Why does this important for us? Because no longer are we defined by what society deems worthy, or by a particular religious affiliation or a set of rituals we practice. We are defined solely on the merits how we let God’s law of love shine from our hearts.
This is exactly what Jesus did. He made love his priority - touching the untouchables, eating with sinners, and raising the dead. When questioned about purity laws, Jesus’ response was, “It’s not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them but what comes out.”
You see our words, our actions, our faith, all come from the same place – from a God-etched-tattooed heart. Not only is this the place where God’s grace flows into us. It’s also the place where it flows out.
Now, it shouldn’t surprise us that God comes to be with us in the center of life. What is surprising is God is willing to risk it all hoping our actions will reflect the best of what God requires of us – to act justly and kindly, promote love and peace, and to walk in sync for the building up of God’s kingdom.
As much as we say we love God, we still struggle with the notion of doing the will of God. Don’t let that get you down. The world has never made this easy. Just ask Jesus. As the world threw the worst at him, his heart remained true to the law of love placed in him. Jesus kept his heart free of revenge, hatred or anger despite having good reason to feel that way.
But I imagine if we made the effort to live out God’s love in the world like Jesus did, then maybe it might get easier. Maybe we wouldn’t need to steal, cheat, or lie. Or make our opinions more important than someone else’s needs. Maybe we’d take better care of creation and the health and wellbeing of all the people in our communities.
Imagine the impact on the world, or this pandemic, if we lived like Jesus did. There would be no reason to withhold resources out of fear of not having enough.
For the love that God has etched in Jesus is etched in you, and everyone else. In harming or denying someone else’s heart, you are also harming and denying God.
Pascal reminded us that, “God wants to motivate the will more than the mind.” That motivation is initiated by God’s grace given to us through Christ Jesus. In him, we are drawn into this new covenant that was signed with his blood.
But Jesus does more than save us. He shows us how to do the same for one another. He gives us real world examples on how to live – fully and faithfully – so our heart beats in perfect sync with God’s.
While our world is more concerned with outward appearances, Jesus directs our attention inward – to seek and find the divine heartbeat in every person you meet. Jesus said the way to do this is to love them as if you are loving him.
Whenever you feed the hungry, welcome a stranger, care for the sick and the poor, or help someone trapped in whatever prison they are in Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it also to me.”
God doesn’t care what you look like or how you are put together any more than God is concerned about what you’ve done in your past. You may not like the way your nose bends, the curls in your hair, or the way you have treated people in your life. But God loves you, nonetheless. You are perfect with your imperfections as my wife likes to say.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make, or how popular or famous you are. God is only interested in your heart. And what you do with your money and popularity. For its in our actions that people will come to know God and believe.
We know that God knows our heart because God is tattooed in it. God has done this so you can share God’s grace and love with a world that hungers and thirsts for it.
This can be a scary endeavor for some of you to do. But as you leave here today, remember that Jesus not only revealed his divine heart to us, but in doing so was able to reconcile us back to God.
He is our common example, the model from which we learn to live truly and rightly. Following in his footsteps, we can endure, we can triumph, and we can change the world. Reshaping and remaking it in God’s image. And not in our own.
Let us pray:
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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