Monday, March 23, 2015

What Language is God's Language?

Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
March 22, 2015

What language is written on your heart? This is the question of our text this morning.

Jeremiah, as most of you know, was a great prophet of Israel. He did his work during a particularly difficult time in Israeli history. His Hebrew nickname was: Hagor Mishabebh meaning: death and destruction. With good reason.

In the chapters preceding our text this morning, Jeremiah tells the people of Israel that they are sinful, wicked, ungodly, idolaters. He says: They run after sin a swiftly as a horse runs into battle.

Because of these sins, God is willing to wipe out God’s own chosen people. Sin has gotten the better of them. Rebellion has taken too strong a hold.

I always tell you that there is nothing that can separate us from the love and grace of God. But Jeremiah is telling us something else. What is the sin that could be so life threatening? What is the rebellion that is so damning?

One of the things I love, love, love about our VBS program is that most of the songs our children learn are bible verses set to music. I learned a song in church that is from the Psalms It is a song that the Hebrew people would have sung in their worship services. Not the same music but the similar words: “I’m gonna hide God’s word in my it’s a lamp unto my feet. I’m gonna read God’s Word everyday, it’s my food, my bread, my meat.” (http://www.psalty.com/track/688275/the-bible-alphabet-song?trackship_id=771070).
We are called by God to write the words of God in our hearts. Inscribe them on our hearts.
But Jeremiah says to them: You act as though your evil ways are laws inscribed with a diamond point on your heart.
God’s law is what should be written in the hearts of people, but at this time in Israel, evil was written as a law on their hearts.
Written with a diamond point. Which means it was written pretty deeply and permanently.

And worse yet, God says, my people like it this way. (Jeremiah chapter 5)

My people like it this way They don’t feel sorry or even seem to know that what they are doing is evil.

Evil upon evil upon evil, written on the stony hearts of Israel, God’s chosen people.

This is a good scripture for Lent, don’t you think? It is a good scripture for the state of our country today.
Now, at this time in human history don’t you think? We need a Jeremiah to call us out of our stony hearted ways.

I read a story yesterday that would have caught Jeremiah’s attention. It certainly caught mine.
This happened in upstate New York. A school was helping students understand that multicultural world in which we live. The multicultural America in which we have always lived. So they decided that for a week they would have a student recite the pledge of allegiance in a language of another country. So on Wednesday of last week an Arab speaking student recited the pledge, respectfully, in Arabic. During his recitation some students ridiculed him. When some parents heard about it, they were outraged. Enough to cause the school is issue an apology.
Because a student asked another student to recite the pledge in Arabic. A language that is as ancient and as beautiful as Hebrew and related to the language Jesus spoke: Aramaic.
The parents immediately jumped to the conclusion that the student was speaking the language of an enemy instead of the language of a neighbor. (http://www.bbc.com/news/31989874)

This is what Jeremiah was condemning the nation of Israel for: You act so holy and pray in all the right ways but you exploit and do harm to your neighbor and the stranger that lives in your land. You teach your children how to hate instead of how to love. You teach your children that neighbors are enemies instead of people of God. You have stony hearts. Etched with hate instead of love.

For those who think the bible has nothing to say to the current affairs of the day or is a boring book, I suggest a good modern translation of Jeremiah.
For thirty chapters Jeremiah fries Israel. There are few words of mercy and only moments of forgiveness. For thirty chapters their own God through the prophet Jeremiah condemns Israel.

Then right in the middle of the book chapter 31
 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.
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. For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This is the part that really floors me. After 30 chapters of scathing condemnation God says: I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. I will write a new law on their hearts, my law, my way. The Law that the Psalmist writes about: The law that gives light and life instead of darkness and waywardness.

This is grace beyond understanding. And yet it is the grace which God offers his people. Every day in every time in history.

Stony hearts that have evil laws etched upon their hearts can be erased. Erased and restored to hearts that love God and neighbor and self.
In every time for every one, God promises a new covenant.

This is why I refuse to give up hope, even as I read the news every morning and evening. Even when I hear stories about teaching our children how to hate their neighbor.
This is why I refuse to give up hope.
Because even when God is disgusted with us, God is able to forgive the worst of sin. Even when God threatens us with death, it will not come.
Even when God threatens us with death because of our sin, it will not come.
And even more: God will erase the hatred on our hearts and write on them the Holy Law of Love.
And the holy way of living in the will of God.

You have been given pencils with erasers but no point. For a reason. It is easy for us to write our own laws on our hearts. To write ways of living that are full of distrust and hatred and anger and prejudice. The reason parents were upset about the Arabic is because some of the students’ family members had been killed in Afghanistan. But here’s the thing, Arabic is not the common language of Afghanistan.
Maybe when I told you the story about the pledge of allegiance you too were thinking, the pledge should only be said in English. Arabic is the language of our enemy.
So I want to gently ask you, what if it had been spoken in French or Norwegian or Swedish or German. Would you have had the same reaction? What about Greek or Hebrew? Or Japanese or Lakota?
Our hearts can lead us astray and turn us into people who turn neighbors into enemies if our laws are written on them.

But God is a God of erasers.
Someone once said: I desperately need God to not be like me. – Nbw.
Thankfully God is not like us. God is a god of erasers. God will, if we are willing, erase the etchings on our hearts that keep us from being followers of Jesus.
Jesus who came and lived and died and rose again to show us how much God loves even those who claim to be God’s enemy.

As the praise team calls us to prayer, I invite you to hold your pencil in your hand and think of those things that need to be erased from your hearts. Give them to God, be willing to allow God to make in you a clean heart. Even if it hurts a little. Be willing to allow God to create a clean slate whereon the holy laws of God can be inscribed.


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