Note: This Lenten Season during prayers and meditation we have been asking God to guide us to write personal answers to a question of a small piece of paper, which during the closing hymn is brought to the front and dropped in a large butterfly bowl of water, (in which the paper dissolves, forming a “cloud of prayers”; signifying our desire to work on what God is showing us.
Welcome We’re glad you are here, Today’s Lenten theme focuses on this plant and Bible -- a symbol conveying the idea that as we plant our lives in God’s word, rooting ourselves in his covenant relationship with us, he can stretch us to new heights of growth. Let’s stand and able as sing about God’s great provision for us through any circumstance of life.
Bible Reading Psalm 119:9-16
L: Please read responsively. How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
P: By living according to your word.
L: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
P: I have hidden your word in my heart that I won’t sin against you.
L: Lord, I give praise to you. Teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come
from your mouth.
P: Following your covenant laws gives me joy just as great riches give joy to others.
L: I meditate on your precepts. I consider how you want me to live. I take delight in your decrees.
P: I will not neglect or fail to obey your word. (NIV and NIRV blended)
Message “Preparing for a New Normal” Jeremiah 31:29-37
Grow closer to God by answering:
- What temptations of doing or not doing harass me?
- What training/discipline do I need to undergo?
- What foundational ethics do I need to work on?
- With whom do I need to reconcile? For what do I need forgiveness?
Lent is a time to reflect, take stock of our spiritual condition, and realign our lives. This season we have done so by meditating on answering the following questions:
- What temptations of commission or omission might God be asking me to work on?
(3) Which foundational Judeo-Christian ethic (of the 10 Commandments and the 2 most important commands that Jesus mentioned) do I need to work on more diligently?
(4) Is there someone with whom I need to reconcile? Is there something I need to confess to God to receive his forgiveness?
Of course, the intent of this reflective self-examination is not to ask and answer the question and maybe work on it until Easter, and then simply return to our lives as they were. The intent is to undertake a deliberate effort to allow God to transform us to a new level of living. It is not easy. It is easy to make excuses.
The excuse in Jeremiah’s day was that life was hard because of the decisions and examples set by those who came before them. “They were the ones who sinned, and we are the ones who suffer the consequences. We are innocent victims of our parents and environment”, they claimed, as they struggled against sin’s consequences and maintaining their side of God’s covenant relationship with them.
Jeremiah answers the excuse …
“In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29-30 (NIV))
God’s covenant relationship is effective because it is: based on God’s initiative.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah offers hope because he believes God’s purpose and power is still working for and in his people -- and new days are coming – and a new covenant. And while he doesn’t spell it out in this text, the new covenant, like the old one; will be effective because:
God’s covenant relationship is effective because it is: meant to fulfill God’s purpose
It is based on God’s initiative. It always has been – God sought us in the Garden of Eden, he sought us as he called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he sought us as (through Moses), he led them out of slavery and into the promised land, he sought us in the prophets, priests, and kings, and then more prophets, and ultimately in Jesus who said, “[I have come] to seek and to save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 (NLT))
And his mission and goal was that there should always be a people of God in His created world. The covenant formula “I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33b) was well known. It meant and means an intimate personal knowledge which arises between two persons who are wholly committed to one another in a relationship that touches mind, emotion, and will.
God’s covenant relationship is effective because it: recognizes our inability
Historically, God’s people have always been happy to bask in all that God had given them, but they have also been unwilling, or if willing, unable; to live up to God’s expectations of being his holy people. Everything breaks apart on the sheer stubbornness of our sinful nature.
Therefore, even if we don’t make excuses and take responsibility, we still are forced to acknowledge the challenge to change – after all; I don’t know what answers God has guided you to be putting in the waters each week, but many of what I believe God is wanting me to work on – it isn’t the first time I have had to work on them.
Jeremiah acknowledges this early in his book when he wrote: Can a [person change the color] of his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah 13:23) Yet even so, Jeremiah recognizes that even though the people’s inability to fulfill the covenant was known from the beginning, it had never deterred God from working with his people. In the midst of a nation suffering consequences from sin and looking for excuses or failing no matter how hard they try, Jeremiah offers through God’s promise the hope of something new…
God’s new covenant relationship is effective because it moves us from: Stone to Heart (Jeremiah 31:33b, Also see Ezekiel 11:19)
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people … It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people…” (Jeremiah 31:31-33a)
God’s new covenant relationship is effective because it moves us from the old way of -- an external response to outward demands. It becomes what it was always intended to be – God writes his will on our minds and hearts; and because he reaches our lives deeply, and inwardly in our mind and will, our response to God becomes second nature from deep
God’s new covenant relationship is effective because it moves us from: Conformation to transformation (Jeremiah 31:34)
within our conscience --
God’s new covenant relationship is effective because it moves us from: heritage to inheritance (Jeremiah 31:32)
-- and is empowered by the Spirit he gifts to our hearts when we believe in him. Therefore, we no longer try in our own strength to conform to God’s standards. Because it is already written within all God’s people, “we will no longer have to teach each other right and wrong – everyone will already know” because God transforms everyone from the inside out. Jesus doesn’t just show us how, he enters us and helps us die to sin and rise to life. Once he is within, we begin to live it – out.
Our faith is no longer found in lineage, in our historical heritage. In the old ways, everything pointed back to the Exodus and being in the lineage of their ancestors Abraham and Moses. God’s constant care -- and God’s people perpetually failing the covenant -- led Jeremiah (and other prophets), to shift from primarily looking back to what God had done for them (as it didn’t seem to be sufficient enough of a motivation) and begin looking forward to what God was going to do -- the coming of the Messiah – in Jesus.
We too, look back to the Old Testament salvation story of the Exodus yes, but primarily to the New Testament salvation story of the cross – but we also look forward to a new day; a new heaven and a new earth; and we are living in the present day, day by day – step by step – with the Spirit of God residing within…
God’s new covenant relationship is effective because it moves us to God’s gracious forgiveness (Jeremiah 31:34b-37)
But the biggest reason that makes it all possible, then, now, and in the future, is God’s promises to be faithful… Jeremiah expresses it eloquently, but I’ll just summarize his words… The God who makes the sun shine by day, the moon and stars by night – who stirs up the seas so that the waves roar – only if all this vanishes will my people ever cease being my people, in spite of what they have done. The day you can accurately and physically measure the heavens above and explore the foundations of the earth below is the day I will reject my people for all their sins. I will never abandon them, I will forgive them and remember their sins no more…
With a God like the God we have, who did what he did in Jesus and in the Spirit of God, creating a new covenant and willing to transform us to become the best people of God we can become; how could we not desire and strive to be the best people we can be?
In many areas – dieting, exercising, drinking, physical therapy, maybe what we have been putting in the water -- just to name a few – what we are learning is that temporarily going through the process is one thing, but we cannot return to the old habits of living -- or we gain the weight back, we get out of shape, we fall of the wagon, we slip back to where we were before. Not that the journey is always forward, is always smooth and straight ahead – we may have set backs and reversals; I said earlier that what I placed in the water were not necessarily new topics for me.
But I am also convinced that the intent of Lenten disciplines, even if they are deliberately designed as a temporary self-denial, is part of training ourselves to increase our self-discipline and self-control; enabling us to move forward to a new level – changing from what was normal to a new normal way of living.
Paraphrasing Paul into our context, he warns us not to go back… Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to [ungodly living]… But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? … I fear [everything you have gained will be wasted. (Galatians 4:8-11) (NIV)
For as Proverbs says – [The one who goes back] in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. (Proverbs 14:14) (ESV)
So the author of Hebrews encourages each of you to show… diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Hebrews 6:11-12)
For as Paul concludes, what really counts is that… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… (Galatians 6:15b, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a)
In a moment we are going to sing about God’s faithfulness in bringing us to newness day after day. As I pray, and then as we sing about how faithfully forgiving and caring and recreating God is to us -- so that we can be the best people of God we can become, think about the question for the day: What new normal, what new pattern, what new habit, what new way of living -- does God want to accomplish in me so I can soar to new heights?
Prayers and Meditation
Let’s pray. Lord when we recognize the initiative you took to save us, when we consider the purpose for which you have created us, when we realize the lengths to which you have gone to enable us to fulfill our part of the covenant, in essence fulfilling it for us by your gracious faithful love, re-writing your will into our hearts -- where it was always intended to be, shaping and transforming us into what we were created to be, constantly forgiving our failures and focusing on our future potential, how can we do anything less than give you all that we are so that you can make us become what we are meant to be.
You are the joy of every longing heart, so make our hearts beat with yours. Teach us again to live as you taught us to pray… Lord’s Prayer
Lord, we realize that today, the key to the living the answers of your questions is to dwell in your presence, growing and blossoming in your word. We hear the pure joy David discovered in seeking you with all his heart and memorizing what is your will so he could avoid disappointing you and he could live by your word. He was a man after your own heart. Yet he failed. We too, realize we are still in the wilderness and are still learning the way. But we want to get better at following, so we open our hearts to you as we become quiet and still, and even though we aren’t writing on paper this week, we still give time to consider your direction, to think of those in our church family that we have listed in the bulletin, named earlier in the service, or are in our hearts and minds; and on this Jubilee Sunday, guide us as we reach for the potential for a new normal as a church. Moment of Silence
Now most merciful God, receive the prayers of your people, In your compassion, forgive our sins, stir up our hope in your redemption, and make our hearts beat more and more with yours, our Creator, re-creator, Savior and Lord who makes everything new each day. Amen. Now let’s continue to pray by singing…
Hymn # 145 (vv 1,3) Morning Has Broken
Special Music Good, Good Father Praise Band