Lord of the HeartChrist the King Sunday
November 25, 2012
Jeremiah 36.1-8 21-23, 27-28; 31.31-34
You find your blood coming from places it is not supposed to come from, or there is a lump in a place it’s not supposed to be. Perhaps your hand shakes when it shouldn’t and doesn’t do what it should. Maybe you are a bit short of breath, get tired more easily, or have some chest pains. Maybe it’s that you won’t step on a scale between now and New Year’s, nor will you schedule a physical until well after winter. In other words, you know something is not quite right and that you should go to the doctor, but you don’t go because the doctor is going to tell you something you don’t want to hear and what you need to do to fix it.
Doctors are truth tellers, and sometimes the truth hurts; the same can be said for prophets. Prophets bring a word from God to God’s people and most often the diagnosis is not a pretty one. We tend to think of prophets as people who predict the future, but they are most often forth-tellers rather than fore-tellers. Jeremiah is just one forth-teller, a truth-telling doctor who identifies sickness in the body of Judah, the southern kingdom in Israel. In the eyes of the King Jehoiakim and the people, Jeremiah is the Dr. Death of prophets. However, unlike our penchant for ignoring doctors, much as Jehoiakim and the people would like, they cannot ignore Jeremiah.
Jeremiah’s diagnosis of Judah’s condition is a familiar one: they have repeatedly broken the covenant God made with them through Moses at Mt. Sinai, a covenant that was written on stone. Furthermore, in the face of pressure from super powers such as Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon, they abandon God’s protection by seeking earthly protectors. What is worse, the people have presumed on God’s promise that the house of David would last forever, tempting kings such as Jehoiakim to do whatever they please. Ironically, Jehoiakim has an encounter with a scroll just as his father, Josiah does. (By the way, the scroll Josiah discovers is what we know as the biblical book of Deuteronomy.) However, whereas Josiah’s encounter leads to repentance on renewal, Jehoiakim responds with contempt for the word of God.
Of course, Jehoiakim’s trashing of God’s word does not prevent the word from being spoken. Jeremiah writes a second scroll and many observers believe that this scroll not only contains the word of the first, essentially the first 25 chapters of Jeremiah, but words of hope as well. (That’s why we read chapter 31 after chapter 36 today, because it follows both chronologically and theologically.) However, we also read chapter 31 last because God never speaks judgment without hope. God’s goal for Dr. Jeremiah is not punishment or getting even, but rather restoration and renewal.
You see, with God it is all about relationships, God’s relationship with us and our relationship with each other. That’s why God focuses on the heart, which in the biblical world is not just the place of emotion, but also the center of our being. It’s almost as if God is going to wipe the hard drives of our heart and writes a new program. Yet, this programming has much less to do with what we believe or imposing rules for behaving. In other words, back to the medical metaphor, it’s not just taking our medication, having surgery, eating right, and exercising regularly, though can be important. In fact, it’s more like a whole new operating system than a program. Instead, God invites us into a new way of living, a deep relationship of trust in his will for us.
About 650 years after Jeremiah’s words, the followers of an itinerant rabbi named Jesus saw in him the fulfillment of God’s promise of a new covenant. Jesus is God’s word made flesh written on our hearts. As we celebrate Christ the King today we realize that the reign of God comes through his persistent will to forgive sins, to transform lives, and to be God in spite of countless rejections. God writes Jesus on our hearts and in doing so invites us into a relationship with him and each other, not of dominance and subjection, but rather of mutuality and service. No matter what our situation, God never gives up on us and is determined to will love us back into relationship, a relationship of love. Amen.