Sunday September 22nd 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
How many of you always read all of the fine print when you sign a contract or document? The “fine print” is the part of an agreement or document, usually at the bottom, that, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, spells out “restrictions and limitations often in small type or obscure language.”
If you are one of those people who always reads all of the fine print on every document that you sign, then you are most likely in the minority of people. Recently a teacher in Georgia by the name of Donelan Andrews won $10,000 for being one of the few people to actually read all of the fine print on her travel insurance policy. The company wanted to encourage people to read their policy documents, so they buried a secret reward for the first person who read through the whole policy. “’If you’ve read this far, then you are one of the very few Tin Leg customers to review all of their policy documentation,’ the fine print read. It included an email address and said the first person who replied would win the prize” (CBS News).
When it comes to reading the Terms of Service, or Privacy Policies on-line, apparently only 1 in 1,000 people actually read them (according to Forbes Magazine).
If you don’t read all of the fine print, it makes sense why not. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon recently published a paper suggesting that it would take 76 work days to read all of the privacy policies that an average internet user encounters in a given year! Imagine spending 15 work weeks just so you could keep up to date on how not to let Internet companies violate your privacy! The fine print on policies and documents and contracts and social media websites has gotten out of hand.
Covenant and Law
Our scripture reading from Jeremiah today is all about laws and covenants, which are sort of like contracts. But before you just skim past this or click away, there’s something different about the covenant that God wants to establish with us. Jeremiah tells us that God wants to write God’s laws — not in teeny tiny print at the bottom of a long boring contract — but instead God wants to write God’s law on our hearts.
But before we unpack what that means, let me just remind us how we got here.
Today we’re wrapping up a 4-week series on the book of Jeremiah.
In the first part of our series, we saw that the people of Israel had turned away from God and were worshipping false idols. Jeremiah likened the people of Israel to people futilely and desperately trying to dig out cisterns, or wells, into solid rock to collect rainwater, but the cisterns they dug were cracked and couldn’t hold water. And all they had to do was to turn around and to drink from the fountain of living water that is God.
The following week, we journeyed with Jeremiah down to the potter’s house, where we learned that the prophecies that God had given Jeremiah and the other prophets were not for the purpose of causing the people to fatalistically throw up their hands and say, “well, we’re doomed so there’s nothing we can do about it!” instead, the prophecies — even the ones about God’s punishment and wrath, were for the purpose of causing people to wake up and repent, to turn around, and to turn to God. If they had turned back to God, God would not have brought the punishment that Jeremiah predicted.
But last week we learned that the people of Israel had foolishly ignored Jeremiah’s warnings to turn back to God, and God had allowed them to be taken far away from their homeland. They hoped they would soon be able to return home, but we read the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the captives in Babylon, in which he told them that they should settle in and make the best of it — to build houses and plant gardens, and seek the peace and wellbeing of the city where they lived, because it was going to be a full seventy years before they would be allowed to return home.
And now today in Jeremiah 31:31-34 we see Jeremiah looking far into the future – past the 70 years of exile in Babylon, past even the Israelite’s return to Jerusalem, all the way to the New Covenant that Jesus would one-day institute. We see Jeremiah prophesying about this time when God’s laws would be written on the hearts and minds of God’s people.
Now if the New Covenant would be written on people’s hearts and minds, what was the Old Covenant written on? Well, according to Exodus 31:18, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai was written on two tablets made of stone, and they were “written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). Of course, the ten commandments that were inscribed in stone were only part of the covenant — the whole Mosaic Covenant (which was presumably written on scrolls) consisted of 613 commandments, or mitzvots, including 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments.
But Jeremiah tells them that there will come a time when God’s laws will be written — not on stone tablets or on scrolls — but on people’s hearts and minds. A time when no one would need to “teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34), a time when our sins would not only be forgiven, but when God would not even remember the sins of God’s people.
In other words, God’s people won’t just know about God – they will know God personally, intimately. They won’t just follow a list of rules, they will live and breathe God’s word. God’s people will not live in constant fear of breaking God’s laws but will instead rest in the assurance of God’s love, mercy and grace.
Now, it’s worth noting that in speaking about this new covenant, Jeremiah is not putting down the covenant that God made with the people back on Mt. Sinai. In fact, Jeremiah describes how God had led the people out of Egypt “by the hand” (Jer. 31:32) and how God “was a husband to them” (Jer. 31:32). But it takes both parties to uphold a contract, and although God faithfully upheld God’s side of the contract, the people had broken their side of the bargain. Because of that, God is going to make a new contract (or covenant) with humanity, one that will not be composed of a list of external rules imposed upon us, but one that will come about through the inward transformation of our hearts and minds (see Romans 12:2).
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament, written after the death and resurrection of Christ, quotes these verses from Jeremiah and tells us that Jeremiah’s prophecy was ultimately fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:6-13). And our communion liturgy reminds us that it was “By the baptism of [Jesus’s] suffering, death, and resurrection” that we were delivered from slavery to sin and death, and it was through Christ’s ministry that God “made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.”
God’s Law Written On Our Hearts
Now for some, this concept is of God writing God’s law on our hearts and minds sounds a little scary. To have God’s law written onto our hearts describes a level of closeness and proximity that some of us might not feel comfortable with. Some of us might prefer to keep God at a distance, to read and study about God rather than to have God so intimately involved in our lives.
But there’s something so beautiful and life-giving here that I don’t want us to miss. As we learned earlier in Jeremiah, God is a fountain of living water, and God is inviting us to drink deeply from that fountain. The whole purpose of the law given on Mt. Sinai was to help people get to know who God is. But because of Christ we can know God personally, intimately. We don’t have to just read stories about God, nor do we have to spend our lives simply reading through all of the rules and regulations and all of the fine print to know if we can trust God or take God at God’s Word — instead we can have the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit, living inside of us, empowering us to live faithfully each moment of the day.
And sure, we’re going to make mistakes. At times we’re going to go astray. But when we do, God’s Spirit is right there with us, guiding us back on course, reminding us anew of God’s love and grace, God’s mercy and forgiveness and peace.
Spring Water Commercials
As people who have God’s law written onto our hearts, sometimes we think that our role is to condemn everyone around us for not obeying God’s laws.
But as people of faith, I see our role sort of like a commercial for bottled spring water. You know how you come home from work, and all you want to do is plop down on the couch and watch TV. But then a commercial for bottled spring water comes on the TV, and by the end of the commercial, you don’t want to just take a sip of bottled water. You wish you could dip in and splash and play in the cool refreshing spring where that water comes from. You want to just stand under that waterfall and throw your head back and drink deeply.
And that should be our goal as Christians — not to guilt people into reading the Bible or condemning them for not going to church or knowing God’s Word — but instead to live in such a way that others want to experience the source of our joy, to experience God for themselves, and to drink deeply of the fountain of living water.
As people who have the Word of God written onto our hearts, let’s show the world how good God is! Let’s proclaim how wonderful and amazing God’s love is, and let’s invite others to drink deeply of the fountain of living water.