Ann Weems is a best-selling poet, writer, speaker, and conference leader. She is also an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. Ms. Weems has written a poem that echo’s this morning’s Jeremiah and John themes. She speaks to broken covenants, and necessary judgment.
Listen to how she captures the essence of the human condition in the first paragraph of her poem, “We Would See Jesus.”
“Broken covenant. Broken covenant. Broken covenant.
Over and over and over again.
Faithless faithless faithless.
Jeremiah, O Jeremiah,
I’ve seen how Rembrandt painted you:
Your head in your hands, eyes downcast,
God has been in covenant with faithless people.
But in exile they pray for forgiveness,
Reminding God who God is:
A God of covenant love
A God of mercy.
They promise to repent.
I have loved you
With an everlasting love:
Therefore I have continued
My faithfulness to you.
Weems in not bashful about rightly convicting us as broken and faithless people. Often our head is in our hands. Despite our cry for mercy, we sense in her poem God’s displeasure. Yes, “I have loved you…so I have continued my faithfulness to you,” but you, oh, you are a faithless people.
Before God can raise the hammer again, we protest. Yes, Lord, we have our “moments.” But we are, deep inside, good people. Our hearts are in the right place. Please Lord, give us another chance.
I believe Weems’ poem is an honest reflection of our human condition. Despite our good intentions, we can be the opposite of who God needs us to be. Despite our good intentions, there is evil in us. Despite our good intentions, our actions do not always match our words.
At the inauguration of Bill Clinton’s presidency, Billy Graham, arguably the world’s most famous Christian Evangelist, was asked to bring an inaugural prayer. It was not easy for him to get to the podium that day, by then he had been a minister for fifty years, he was aging and weak, yet he pulled himself up to the podium. He got God’s attention on behalf of the nation, and then went right to the opening statement of his prayer: “Oh God, we have sinned…”
The shock of this opening statement was like a slap in the face. You could almost feel the guilty downward glance of the nation as Billy Graham publicly put his finger on the real problem with us and the world. “Oh God, we have sinned.”
We know this is true, but we do not like to hear publically what we struggle with privately. Our guilt is ever before us, and it simmers deep in our souls.
So we try to soften the truth. We work hard to rid ourselves of the negative influence of words like sin, and hell, and guilt, and wrath. We are the “Frozen Chosen” after all, not the “Hell Fire and Damnation” believers.
That day, hearing the word sin on television, coming from the steps of the capitol, with the whole world watching, was a jolt to our sensibility. Billy Graham’s prayer, “Oh God, we have sinned,” pins us all to the wall.
Being so tightly pinned, God should be breaking off our relationship and casting us into those hellish and damning fires. Isn’t that exactly what we deserve?
Not according to Jeremiah, not according to John, and thankfully, not according to our God.
Our Lord promises in Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant with…” them. “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
John’s gospel then tells us how God will do these things. God will judge the world. But from that judgment, God will offer his son to take our place. Jesus will come to the hour of his death not for our glory, but for God’s.
Dear ones, our God is faithful to us, our Lord Jesus is faithful to God.
We have been rightly convicted, we have sinned. God’s judgment of that sin is self- evident. We know what we deserve. We have been faithless again, and again. We have broken God’s covenant again, and again.
Yet, here is our God, evidence and reason to the contrary, doing something shocking.
Our God wants to write a new contract with us. Our God wants to make a new promise with us. Why? Why would our God do this? God should cut and run.
Yet, that is not what God does. Because our God is a God of covenant love, a God of mercy, a God who continues being faithful to us, our God brings a new covenant, not of more written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
One of my home-church pastors, Tom Curry, says that God’s everlasting love in response to our sin “scandalizes, us, constrains our agendas, draws us out of ourselves, and into the strange polity of his body,” God’s church.
We are scandalized and constrained because we cannot live our agendas. We are drawn out of our selfish selves because, we cannot follow the will of our sin-filled ego when faced with the profound love that takes us kicking and screaming with Jesus to the cross.
To the cross where we are to die to self, and be born again, free of sin. Free from all ego driven infatuation, we will forever be wedded to this new life, a life of unrestrained love for God and all of God’s creation. Be they friend or foe, good or bad, loved one or enemy.
But there is more.
Not only does our God love us unconditionally, our God showers us with God’s infinite grace. We often forget about God’s grace. We often forget God brings the covenant of that grace into our lives through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Though our relationship with Jesus, in the form of the promise of salvation to sinful humanity, we know firsthand God’s grace and God’s glory. If this truth does not humble and silence our protest we are truly scandalized and unworthy.
Yet, we persist. Despite Billy Graham’s prayer, “Oh God, we have sinned,” we continue to whine! “Yes Lord, I have sinned, but I have several really good excuses.”
Is there no hope for us?
Yes, sisters and brothers, there is. God is not buying our whining. God knows us all too well. God knows what’s in our hearts. We know it too. We love God. We need God in our lives. It is time we admit it, and do something about it. Otherwise Jesus died for nothing.
What then are we to do? Are we worried it is too late for us? Has our time passed? Are these God’s questions or our own?
Dear ones, Jesus teaches us about life, and death. He teaches us how to live above our sin. He teaches we are to be faithful to God. There is no time line for these truths. We are never too young, or too old. We are to live God’s will of love and service, to God and others, always and in all things.
Loving and serving God in this way certainly has consequences, consequences, and by God’s grace, good news. Jesus tells us, “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor”.
God will honor us! Yes, God will honor us. If we step up and make this decision to be all-in, loving and serving God and others, always and in all things, God will honor us! God will bring blessings, and love, and hope, always and in all things. With friend and foe, good or bad, loved one or enemy, even when it is not so evident.
This may be too much grace for us to bear. This may be too much love for us to realize. Lord, did you not hear our pray, “We have sinned.”
Yes, God hear us. Now God wants to know “Have you not heard me!” “I created you, I am in love with you, and I want to be with you forever.”
Yes, this life is messy. Yes, it is not easy to be bound to one another forever. It is not easy to be family, or community, or church.
But here we are. Weak and dependent, sinful and unredeemable, bound together to serve the one who loves scandalized folk despite themselves.
Our God has continued to be faithful to us. Our God believes in us, and we are being called to the simplest life, to believe in God, and to serve God in our love for one another.
Dear ones, it is for this reason that we have come to this hour.
What now do we have to say?