Midweek Service: Written On Our Hearts

This summer series of long-ago sermons continues with one from Lent in the year 2003 – a full decade ago. We had a different Senior Pastor then and were facing into different life events as a congregation and as a nation. Yet, somehow, this message is not tied to a particular time in history, but an expression of one of the most powerful of God’s timeless truths.

Written on Our Hearts

Jeremiah 31:31-34
April 6, 2003
5th Sunday in Lent
preached at Montecito Covenant Church by
Diana R.G. Trautwein

My husband and I have just returned from a week away – something we both needed and thoroughly enjoyed.  We traveled to the desert, and a primary motivating factor for this trip was to see if we could find some displays of famous California wildflowers.

Now both of us are native Californians and we have lived here almost all of our lives, yet we have never done the wildflower bit. People come from all over the world – as we quickly discovered – to see the wonders of the desert on fire with the colors of God’s palette – but we, like the cobbler’s children without any shoes – had never taken the time to see the beauty that God provides for us each and every spring.  So this year we did it.

We drove to beautiful, downtown Palmdale the first night out, with the intention of seeing the Poppy Reserve near Lancaster.  And we did see the Poppy Reserve, and we actually saw thousands of poppies strewn over the hills and fields.  Unfortunately, we didn’t truly see them in all of their splendor and glory because. . .these little flowers, which land where the breezes blow them –  and at one time, according to the conquering Spanish explorers, flowed like rivers of molten lava toward the sea with colors so vibrant they could be seen from the decks of their ships as they sailed into what would eventually be known as the Los Angeles harbor area – these little golden flowers are incredibly crafty.

Somewhere written in their DNA is the helpful hint that neither shadow nor wind is good for them.  So. . . as the late afternoon sunshine casts longer and longer shadows over the landscape (as it did on the afternoon we arrived) – or as the wind picks up velocity greater than a gentle breeze (which it did the next morning, on our way out to Death Valley) these exceedingly well-bred, vibrantly colored cups of gold clamp their little heads tightly shut and hide themselves away from potential threat – and from poorly-educated flower-viewers like ourselves!

There is a law ‘written on their hearts’  – a law that says: “Darkness and high winds are dangerous to your future – protect yourself!”  And California’s golden poppies are totally obedient to that interior instruction. They don’t have to be taught to do this – they KNOW to do it, it’s become a part of their identity as poppies and it just comes naturally.

I wonder. . . what laws are written on our hearts this morning?  What do we at the core of our being, know so well that it has become part of our identity?  What beliefs/ideas/values/instructions/’laws’ do we hold so close to ourselves that they just come naturally. . .

Tuck those questions in the back of your mind and we’ll get back to them in a few minutes.  Because just now, I want to remind us all that for the past four weeks, we’ve been traveling through the Old Testament on our Lenten journey to the cross.  We’ve been examining the ways in which Almighty God reached out to his human creatures in order to engage them in relationship.  We looked at Noah, the flood and the rainbow promise; we looked at Abraham, a childless old man who was taken by God out into the desert, pointed toward the night sky and promised offspring as numerous as the sparkling canopy of stars above him; we looked at the 10 Commandments given to Moses on the mountain of God – the beautiful law of God that set out parameters in which God’s people could live rich and full lives.

Over these weeks, we began to get a picture of what God had in mind when he created a Covenant people for himself, a people who would belong to him in a particular way, enjoying his love, protection and blessing and, in return, worshipping him alone.  And then last week, Curt took us to a point in that covenant relationship that was painfully close to home, and we watched the grumbling, idolatrous, rebellious, cranky people of God decide to move away from the covenant relationship and go their own way, ultimately saved from dismay, despair and death only by the gracious deliverance of the God they had abandoned.  This wasn’t the first time God’s covenant people had turned away from the promise, and it most definitely was not the last.

Today, we come – in some ways, at least – to a very different place, in a very different time.  Yet some things never change.  The prophet Jeremiah has been warning the people of Judah that their days as landowners are numbered.  Why?  Because they have continued to be a grumbling, idolatrous, rebellious and cranky bunch.  They’ve worked their way through judges and kings and wars and alliances and misalliances, all the while ignoring God’s promises and disobeying God’s law.  In fact, the people of God are no more.  They are living in exile, scattered amongst their enemies, disheartened and disinherited.

And right there, in the midst of that kind of confusion, turmoil, dismay, anxiety. . .right there in the midst of it all, God decides to do a new thing, a radically new thing – a new thing that is based on an old idea – a familiar idea – a covenant idea.  And it comes in the form of a promise – a promise to the people of the land that was no more, the people of the divided kingdom, the exiled kingdom, the people whom God chose as his own special tribe, despite their disobedience, despite their failure to be all that he called them to be.  And the promise is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“The day will come,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD.  “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, `You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.”

 

These beautiful words were given to a people living in exile, a people who had ruptured their relationship with their God so severely that something entirely new was required to salvage things.  These words were given to Israel and to Judah and they were words of hope and delight, words of encouragement and reconciliation.  And they were built on an entirely new concept.  No more rainbows in the sky, no more stars in the night, no more tablets of stone – no more externalsigns for the covenant people of God.  No.  The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will write my law on their <em >hearts, I will put it in their minds – and they will KNOW me, really, truly, know me –from the inside out>, rather than the other way around.  This is a new covenant, says the Lord — a new way of entering into agreement with one another, a new way of enjoying relationship together, a new way of being connected, committed, intertwined, covenanted together.

The old way had not done the job.  Coming at things from the outside in wasn’t cutting it.  Signs and promises – as wonderful as they are – aren’t powerful enough in and of themselves to change things from the inside out, God knew that, and Israel learned it – through painful and difficult experience.  And every one of us in this room can testify to this truth.  Tablets of stone, lists of rules, even very clearly laid out instructions for good behavior and wise choices do not make a heckuva lot of difference if we don’t find them inside us.  If they’re something outside of ourselves, they can’t effect change that is real and lasting on the inside.  They need to be written on our hearts, part of our identity, a natural and normal part of who we are.

Is it any wonder, then, that the early church read these words and saw Jesus in them?  Is it any wonder that Jesus himself borrowed this language to talk about his mission, his purpose in life, his work here on earth?  As he gathered his disciples in the upper room the night before he was betrayed and murdered, he offered his friends the traditional cup of Passover wine, the cup of blessing, with these very words:

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” he said.  “Do this in remembering me.”  And so they did, and so we do.  For this is how God writes his law, his love, on our hearts. . . through the blood of Jesus.

About seven or eight years ago, Alison Krauss sang an old, old gospel song on a highly successful album, a song that puts this marvelous truth into poetry that truly gets your toes to tappin’.  It’s called “When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart”

When God dips His pen of love in my heart,
And He writes my soul a message He wants me to know.
His spirit all divine, fills this sinful soul of mine.
When God dips His love in my heart.

He walked up every step of Calvary’s rugged way.
And He gave His life completely to bring a better day.
My life was steeped in sin, but in love He took me in.
His blood washed away every stain.

I said I wouldn’t tell it to a livin’ soul.
How He brought salvation and He made me whole.
But I found I couldn’t hide /such a love /as Jesus did impart.
Well. . .  He made me laugh and He made me cry.
Set my sinful soul on fire (hallelujah).
When God dips His love in my heart.

Hallelujah.
When God dips His love,
His sweet love,
In my heart.

There was only one way that God could change his people from the inside out – and that way was Jesus.  With the incarnation, when God became human and came to walk and talk and live among men and women, it truly became possible for God to dip his pen of love in our hearts.

For in Jesus, the glorious, transcendent creator of the universe comes within touching distance.

In Jesus, the character and the glory of God are fully revealed and realized.

In Jesus, we are able to see the real deal, not our imagined images of either terror or comfort, those pictures of God that we carry around in our heads and our hearts, those pictures that are shaped by our culture, our parents, our own psyches.

We meet Jesus in the pages of scripture and then we meet Jesus in a personal encounter, an experience that changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, an experience that calls us to ‘know’ God, starting at the center, starting on the inside, learning more and more about what it means to trust.

Brennan Manning’s book called Ruthless Trust has been enormously helpful to me in understanding what it means to know God in the way that Jeremiah is describing in these beautiful verses before us this morning, especially chapter seven of Manning’s book.  For the intimate way in which this verb ‘know’ is used by the prophet implies a relationship firmly built upon trust. “For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.”  The door to intimacy with God is open wide and is totally inclusive – ‘everyone, from the least to the greatest’ – and Jesus is that door.

What exactly is trust and how does it help us know God?

Trust is that marvelous combination of faith and hope – faith that comes from a personal experience of the living God as encountered in Jesus – and hope in the promises of Jesus, with full expectation that the promises he makes will be kept.  We need both qualities – faith and hope – in order to grow in trust.  If we trust Jesus, we can begin to let him soften our hearts, to write his words of love in our very tender flesh, to rest and relax in that love and to be all of who we are without fear.  “I will forgive their wickedness,” the Lord tells us in Jeremiah, “and will never again remember their sins.”  Manning talks about it this way:

“Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be as we are (not as we should be).  The Holy Spirit moves us from the head to the heart . . .”

And as that trust grows, we find ourselves understanding at deeper and deeper levels what it means to be in relationship with a covenant-making God.  There are most certainly no guarantees that life will be trouble-free.  On the contrary, Jesus himself warned that following him would involve suffering, possibly even rejection and death.  What is promised is love, what is promised is acceptance and forgiveness, what is promised is peace, what is promised is presence, even when the way seems overwhelmingly difficult, even when life seems way too complicated, even when tears are our constant companion.  And we could add this morning, even when we are a nation at war, even when our pastor is leaving, even when our loved ones are suffering.  Even then. . . he is worthy of our trust.

The rabbis of old noticed that in this passage in Jeremiah the word ‘on’ is used when describing our hearts rather than the word ‘in,’ and they wrestled with that word choice for years.  Why did God’s Word say ‘on’ our hearts?  Why not ‘in’?  The answer they came to was this:

The text reads ‘on’ so that when our hearts are broken (as they always will be in this life), then the love written there can fall ‘in’ and help us to heal.

So now I’m back to the beginning. . . and I’m wondering. . . what is written on our hearts?  Do we find ‘laws’ like:

“Success at all costs.”
“Things are more important than people.”
“You can never be too rich or too thin.”

Or perhaps like these:

“I’m basically a no-good, worthless pile of nothing.”
“If I let people come too close, they’ll see what I’m really like and hate me.”
“I’ve been hurt before and nobody’s gonna do that again.”
“If I smile and say ‘I’m fine,’ nobody will know how much pain I’m in.”

When your heart breaks – and believe me, it will – are those the kinds of ‘laws’ that you want to fall in?  What possible healing can those words bring?

Ah, but if you are growing in your trust, your knowledge of God, then perhaps you are beginning to find laws like these at the center of who you are, words of love written on your heart:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Because of Jesus, I know that Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, is also Abba,           Father.”
“I am his and he is mine.”
“Jesus loves me, this I know.”

May it be so – by the grace of God, may it be so.

 

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Comments

  1. Good Morning,

    I just came across your blog this morning via the beautiful due, and have really enjoyed reading a few of your posts–your writing is filled with beauty and truth and is refreshing! I am thrilled to have found you and will be back. Just wanted you to know and to say thank you for sharing!

    Silvana

    • Wow, Silvana! To be found through John’s place is an honor, indeed. Thank you so much for letting me know you’ve been here. And kudos for plowing through a sermon post – I put them here primarily to have an archive of my preaching days for my kids to have at some point and am always surprised when anyone reads one, much less leaves such a kind comment. You’ve made my day – thanks so much.

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