31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It 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, says the Lord.
33But 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. 34No 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.
Prayer from Psalm 46
God is our safe place to hide,
ready to help whenever we need help.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe.
See the marvels of God!
God plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God,
God remains above politics, above everything."
Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.
The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
Reformation: event – day – movement
Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major wear red festival of the Holy Spirit. The church uses red for celebrations of the Holy Spirit and to commemorate prophets, martyrs, and renewal.
Martin Luther and other reformers acted as God's agents in response to the Holy Spirit of life, restoration, and resurrection. Three years ago we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming, a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular (the common, ordinary, easy to understand language regular people spoke) was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church that speaks the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity with vocabulary and with symbols everyday regular people understand.
Instead of different scriptures for each lectionary year, every year Reformation features the same four readings. Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation.
Jeremiah – New Covenant
God's covenants or agreements are a prominent feature of the Old Testament and continue into the New Testament with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from the Latin co-venire – coming together – and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East. Old Testament covenants include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David… creation itself was an act of covenant. On Lent 4 during spring 2019 we talked about covenants; here's the handout I prepared.
Jeremiah was very much into the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant the people received as gifts of grace and that we've described as working papers for our lives together. The commandments are about creating and sustaining community as they shape God's people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is our ultimate ruler, yet the commandments help us live as self-governing people.
Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the opposite of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets anything we've done wrong.
A new anything implies an old something, but this is much more a new location than it is a different agreement. Jeremiah says God's eternal covenanting will become natural and instinctive because it literally will be embodied in each of us and within the community itself. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions as we often consider it. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart is where a person's will or intention resides and goes beyond that to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment—and also emotion. During one of our discussions in a previous year, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other!
COVID-19 – Still Reforming
Although most churches own, rent, or borrow a physical, geographical space because they need a gathering place for worship and other meetings, during non-pandemic times the church (that's us) always leaves the building after worship and brunch to continue the lives of service Word and Sacrament have modeled. However, for the past eight months we've stayed outside the building most of the time, so we've been experimenting with new ways of being church. Fortunately(?) this pandemic has happened during a time digital connections are easy to come by, when almost everyone has at least a minimal online presence beyond an email address. These factors have made Zoom and YouTube worship, committee meetings, and bible studies commonplace. Months ago people seriously started discussing the possibility – or not – of virtual sacraments; by now many churches and pastors have gone beyond asking and have started offering online communion services with participants widely scattered, yet still gathered together through the electronic amazement of the internet.
In his seven marks of the true church, Luther mentioned worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular. Especially for churches in the Reformation traditions, Word and Sacrament remain earthbound, physical evidence we can sense (smell, hear, taste, see, touch) of God with us and among us.
• In the tradition of the Reformation, how can we interpret or re-interpret scripture, sacraments, and our everyday lives into a language or modality our neighbors from different cultures and countries easily understand?
• How do we separate appreciation for other languages and cultures from what people sometimes view as mis-appropriation of cultural styles and artifacts? (Cue endless discussion…)
• Are we spiritually and emotionally mature enough to direct newcomers to a church with a different overall style if our fairly formal, traditional worship doesn't attract them?
Reformation Sunday is an especially good time to reconsider dreams for this congregation, this neighborhood, and this city.
• When we return to more frequent in-person yet masked and distanced worship and other meetings, do you think our sense of mission to the surrounding neighborhood will have changed or been revised?
• If so, how?
• If not substantially, why not?
As people in mission, we live with and work through those concerns all the time, but this pandemic may make the questions clearer, finding answers more urgent.
• Or does it?
All Saints' Sunday next week!