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Jeremiah 31: Forgive and Forget


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. It 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. But 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. No 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.

JEREMIAH 31:31-34

Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor

Because it is Lent and we are journeying with Jesus to the cross, I have been preaching on the Gospels each week. However, today my attention was drawn to the words of the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is a reluctant prophet, he really didn’t want the job, but as happens in the Bible he did it anyways. He is often called the Weeping Prophet, because he speaks laments and words of judgement against the people of Israel. For example, in Jeremiah chapter 11 we read, “Therefore thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry to me, I will not hear them.”

Jeremiah often warns of impending divine judgement, in that Jerusalem would fall because of the nation's worship of foreign gods, mistreatment of the poor, and overall moral decay…and this happens, when the people are forcibly removed, taken into exile in Babylon, losing all they have. For Jeremiah, this historical event is a consequence of the people’s disobedience, so he emphasises that they must repent to restore their relationship with God.

In our first reading, Jeremiah speaks about God making a new covenant with the people, but this covenant will be different than any they have known before. In the ancient world a covenant was something like a contract, where both parties agreed to terms that would shape the behaviours expected of each in a relationship. In Exodus the covenant was external, written on stone tablets, 10 Commandments that the people needed to obey…if they did this, they would be in right relationship with God and God would be with them.

But, as we know, the people consistently go against God, breaking commandment after commandment. So, in Jeremiah, God decides to change everything: God says that God is going to “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. No 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.”

What is so striking about God’s words is that they shed light on how God chooses to relate to the people. The people sin repeatedly, as we have been hearing in some of our readings from Exodus, when things go wrong, they turn against God, they worship foreign gods or complain. But despite all of this, despite how often they ignore the one who has saved them, God never turns against them. God keeps working with them, today saying that God will take the external laws and put them deep within the people, that God’s laws will become an integral part of who they are, in other words, knowledge of God will be part of their DNA, then God will forgive them and forget their sins.

I and I am guessing many of you, can find ourselves among the people of Israel. They have God right there, manna is falling from heaven, fire and clouds encircle them as they journey, God is present, sometimes speaking directly to them, walking with them…but they still doubt God and turn against God. All around us we have so many blessings and signs of God too, and yet how many times do we turn against God, complain, sin? How many times do we put our egos first, make assumptions and judge others, mistreat or ignore our neighbours…we are the Israelites, doing what we want to do, looking out for ourselves, all the while ignoring God.

But if we turn to what Jeremiah says, we find that despite how the Israelites behave, despite how we behave, God doesn’t respond by ignoring us, giving up on us, or throwing us away, but God says that God will write knowledge of God within us, will forgive iniquity, and not remember sin. God chooses to touch humanity’s heart, an intimate move towards us, not away from us…God chooses to forgive and to forget those things we have done wrong. What an amazing sign of how God continues to love us, even when our own actions might suggest that we don’t love God in return. What a powerful message for Lent, a time when our sinfulness takes centre stage.

Maybe, we can even take this image a little further .Can we forgive ourselves and let go of what we have done wrong or the wrongs that have been done to us?? I know that for me, when I make a mistake or when someone says something hurtful, I don’t let any of it go. Scenarios play over and over in my mind, making anxiety and all other negative thoughts and feelings that I have about myself even worse. But if God, the most powerful, creator of all, can forgive us, if God is able to let go of the many, many times we turn against God, maybe we are called to do the same for ourselves? Maybe we are called to remember that God has written on our hearts, God’s fingers have touched the depths of our souls…we know God deeply, we are inherently loved, blessed, and good people…can we accept this? Can we stop beating ourselves up, focusing on our faults and our sins, to see us as God sees us, as truly worthy of forgiveness?

We are coming to the end of Lent, next week is Palm Sunday, then we begin the journey to the cross and Easter… there is so much that we might take away from this season, lessons for ourselves and insights about God, that we can carry with us as we look to what is coming. While the Jesus narratives offer a lot, so does Jeremiah, especially today. If we can work towards anything in our lives, I hope that we can try to live the truth we heard in Jeremiah…to remember that no matter what we do, God touches our hearts, God forgives all iniquity, and God remembers our sin no more. Amen.

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