REFORMATION 2008 Jeremiah 21:31-34
OCTOBER 26, 2008
It is amazing what we do with the Bible.
A lively debate once ensured during an adult Bible Study class, this must have been fifteen or sixteen years ago, back in my navy days, over little read books of the Bible. One of the people around the table was a woman, older, who prided herself in her knowledge of the Bible. She liked to argue about Scripture and most people just gave up and let her win discussions because, well, she just knew more than them so she must be right. I have no memory of how we got on the topic of little read books of the Bible – but there it was.
“Jude,” I offered as my contribution. She looked at me like I had two heads. “Jude? There is no such book as Jude. You don’t know what you are talking about,” she said to me. I think that she offered Numbers as the definitive answer. Nobody reads Numbers…there are too many numbers in it.” End of discussion, if I could only let it go. “I like Jude,” I said. Only twenty five verses, long sitting towards the end of the New Testament, there Jude waits for us to discover it. Of course, none of us were concerned at the time with what might actually be contained in these least read books. It was just an exercise in trivia.
As a child in Sunday school back in the 70’s, the teachers would put charts up on the walls with our names on them. Each week we had the opportunity to earn a gold star for memorizing the Scripture passage for that week. Nothing was better than having a long row of gold stars after your name for all the world to see and earning the praise of your teacher, all of whom seemed to know the Bible like the back of their hand. Today, this may seem a quaint, if busy, activity. In school children memorize facts for a test and dump them out for the next. Quick the capitals of Europe. Next week, the mountain ranges of South America then the weather patterns in Asia. We memorize and dump, memorize and dump. Admit, sometimes it seemed like our heads were going to explode. Exports, imports, major river systems, the dynasties of China. My head just can’t hold another thing! Arrrrg!
I suggest that there is a difference between what we memorized in Sunday school and what we learned in history or math or even biology and chemistry for that matter. The argument isn’t that one set of words is more important than another set of words, but rather something else altogether. As kids we may have thought that those gold starts looked pretty darn good, but that was a first step, the equipping with a tool, getting us into Scripture by memorizing it, rather than allowing us a free pass on opening the word of God for the rest of our lives once our line of Gold stars was complete. There are many different tools to get us intro Scripture, but why bother?
Why bother, indeed.
OK: Quick quiz. How many of you think reading the Bible is important for you personally. An important thing that you should be doing in your life right now.
Pretty much all of us, right? But why?
Our first reading today introduces us to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Now, Jeremiah is speaking to a people is serious crisis. Most of us remember King David, right? And he had a son Solomon, famous for his wisdom, for his many many wives, for having the first temple in Jerusalem built, for his riches and so on. Well, Solomon dies and chaos ensures. The Kingdom of Israel that David had built and Solomon had expanded to its greatest heights as a political and economic power ended up splitting into two parts, two kingdoms, the northern and the southern. In time, the Northern Kingdom gets invaded by Assyria and its towns and cities either destroyed or populated by other people from other nations. The people of the Northern Kingdom are scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire. There is no home to go home to – no nation left to put back together. It is a crisis with a capital “C” with no bailout, no strategy to fix it, not even the possibility of a strategy in play. The Northern Kingdom of Israel is no more. And into this crisis of unbearable magnitude Jeremiah speaks:
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. 32It 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. 33But 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. 34No 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 speaks of an impossible hope made possible because God continues to promise to be in relationship with God’s people. God’s law would be written on their hearts – no longer would they have to tell one another to know the Lord – they would know the Lord.
Anyone here ever drilled? Not with power tools, but with your own two feet with out on a hot parade field in the summer? My freshman year at the Naval Academy we drilled and drilled until those teaching us were convinced that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves when our parents showed up for parents weekend. Summers in Annapolis are hot and humid and we would sweat until our undershirts clung sticky to our bodies and we could feel the sweat ripping like a leaky faucet down our necks. Once drill was over we would race to the sink and fill our water glasses over and over again until you could hear the water sloshing around in our stomachs. It wasn’t cold, but it did the job – it took care of our thirst – a means to an end. We thirst, you and I, we thirst for God, to know God, to be God’s people - and God longs to be in relationship with us. Not to just fill our bellies - not to merely satisfy us - not to be a means to an end. No, that’s too small thinking.
How God wants to know us - the sense of knowing in our Jeremiah text today carries with a sense of deepest intimacy. It is not about knowing like we once knew the names of the rivers in Europe or even how we once may have known the 65 books of the Bible in order, of course, or could recite the 23rd Psalm by heart. It is the knowing of a loving God who came to us in the flesh, born of Mary, to live and suffer and die for us on the cross. Through and in whom grace was poured out to blot away our sins and reconcile us back to God.
Where do we discover that loving God? The primary means, the living fountain from which we drink our fill until we thirst no more, is Holy Scripture: The word, that through the power of the Holy Spirit may be written in our hearts and fill our very being with its promise, its hope, its joy, its challenge, its forgiveness, its grace. It is one thing to say that we own a Bible or have read a Bible (good book, interesting plot, drags at times) and it is another thing altogether to say that we have refreshed ourselves from its water, that we have been met by God there and walked with God and felt God’s love enwrap us, guide us, comfort us and give us strength. As a Book of Faith congregation we will be providing you with many opportunities to re-acquaint you with God’s holy word and invite you ever deeper into relationship with God through it. God wants to be your God. God wants you to know him, not know of him, but know him. Not the trivia, but the love, not a feeling, but a man, not just a man, but Jesus, The question is, do you know how thirsty you are?