Sermon by Jonathan Firme
I have not often been invited up here and spoken about The Old Testament. In fact, looking back, I never have. I am not an Old Testament scholar. I was not an Old Testament fan. I have always felt that The Old Testament is, well, old. If I were playing that word association game, and the topic was The Old Testament, I would say words like, old, vengeance, angry, punishment, and rules. I have always percieved the God of The Old Testament and the angry one, that Jesus brought us word of the kinder, gentler God, along with this new covenant he spoke of. Jesus tells us that God loves us all. Jesus tells us about the forgiveness of God. Jesus tells us about peace, love, and joy. In The Old Testament, God was angry at his people, at the end of his rope, right? The Old Testament, once Jesus came around, pretty much lost it's punch – or so I thought.
While working on this week's sermon, I pretty much ignored the reading from The Old Testament, as I usually do. For some reason, I stopped to read Jeremiah. Jeremiah, apparently, was a profit, like Jonah. Like Jonah, he was relaying a message from God, to the people, this time, the people of Judah. But wait, Jeremiah says he is carrying a new message. Am I in the right book here?Jeremiah tells his people that his message is of good news, and that it is a message of comfort and hope. Hold the phone! That sounds a lot like the message Jesus carried. Rather, Jesus message sounds a lot lit the message Jeremiah carried.
Jeremiah says that God has compassion for the people of Judah. Compassion, isn't that one of Jesus new ideas? Jeremiah goes further, telling the people that God's heart has been touched, softened, by the suffering that the people of Judah have been going through, and that, are you ready for this..... God forgives them!
God forgives them.
Hold on a minute! That doesn't sound very angry, judgmental, punishing or scary. That sounds like the message Jesus brought. Either the ideas in The Old Testament aren't all that old, or the ones in The New Testament aren't all that new. Jesus tells us of God's new covenant with his people, and Jeremiah says, “That's right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. It won't be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master. They'll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I'll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I'll forget they ever sinned!"
I realize that Jeremiah is speaking of a day in the future. But I was really moved that here, in this Old Testament, was this new word of hope. It gives me hope. It destroys my false understanding of The Old Testament. There are words of hope in there. Angry, vengeful God, who only really gets any attention during Lent, when we are all sorry for everything we should have been sorry for all along, is gone. It is as if God is the parent of a disobedient child. Punishment must be dealt, and that does not mean God is pleased to do it. One reaches a point, however, when harsh punishments cease to work, and a new approach is warranted. One might call that a New Covenant.
It is interesting that I have come to this revelation the same week that Jesus tells us, in the reading from John, that the old must die to make new things. The seed must die before it can produce many grains. People fear this means we all have to die, as Jesus did, on the cross, in order to be his followers. That is quite silly. Jesus wants us to live, but we have to change. Oh, that word, change. What must die is that part of us that is hurtful towards others, the part that seeks vengeance on others who wrong you. The part that curses other drivers, that makes judgments about other people's beliefs, abilities, and level of faith. The part that ridicules social responsibility. Those parts of use must die, and I invite you to bury them this morning. Bury them with me, while I bury my ill conceived notions about The Old Testament. If we can all bury those things, to borrow a line from Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You'll Go!” I plan on diving into the Old Testament, and swim with God's word. God loves us always, and he always has. I feel invigorated, as my fear and loathing of the Old Testament is dead. Perhaps we should call them “The First Testament”, and “The Second Testament”, and, perhaps, “The Third Testament” will be written by someone who grows from the seeds we here at First Congregational are so good at sowing.