Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sermon starts at 17:29 in the recording
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 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.
Afterthoughts: Dying to be in a Relationship
Last Sunday’s sermon was about relationships.
I spoke about the difference between relationships that are transactional compared to those that are intimate.
Transactional relationships are best seen in something like the old covenant where the children of Israel were given the Law to obey in exchange for blessings or curses depending on how they behaved.
At least that was their perspective on it.
I believe the Law was given to help them transition from the way that they had always done life to life done God’s way.
Remember, their idea of the gods was,
“If I do this for god A, then god A will give me what I need.”
If it was the god of fruitful crops,
then I will sacrifice to that God so that my family eats.
If it is the god of fertility,
then I will sacrifice so that my wife is not barren.
If it is the god of war,
then I will sacrifice to have success on the battlefield.
And so on…
I think they saw the law as transactional but I believe God gave it to them as a baby step to a greater understanding of what an intimate relationship looks like.
God needed to take them from point A to point B.
They needed to learn something new.
He gave them a tutor.
He gave them the Law.
This idea and explanation of God’s intention of giving the Law is best understood from Paul’s writings to Galatians, chapter 3, verses 23 through 27. This particular translation is from The Message.
“Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.
But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.”
The goal for God was always an intimate relationship with us.
But we gravitate towards transactional relationships instead of intimate ones
Because we can control the terms.
Intimate relationships require risk.
In them, we are known.
Like, really known.
And that is always risky.
It is the age old question that says,
“What if they really get to know me and they don’t like me.”
If you have ever had intimate relationships,
Then you know it is in the knowing that great friendships thrive.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading make this clear.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
It is the “lose/gain” principle.
It’s Jesus turning conventional wisdom on its head.
In the Gospel,
Jesus is describing what it means to be in relationship with the Father.
Death to self.
Not the death of us.
The death of ego.
The death of the things that we use to prop ourselves up.
The facades that we use to distract away from who we are.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
No posers in the kingdom of heaven.
No charlatans in the family of God.
Think about it.
When we encounter someone who is “fake,” we very rarely would pursue a relationship with that person.
In fact, there is no real way to have a relationship with someone who is fake.
It’s true in relationship to God.
It is true in relationship to church community.
It is true in inter-personal relationships as well.
So we must die to our “fake selves”
in order to have intimate relationships.
Jesus, in talking about the dying of self through His illustration of the single grain of wheat, says this.
“…but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
It is counter-intuitive.
But it’s true.
Dying to self will bear fruitful relationships.
Being real with people encourages a “leaning in” for those around us.
It creates a trust that allows for encouragement and support.
Creating a façade does the opposite.
A person from the South that I knew some years back called the façade building that can happen in churches, “Creating the illusion.”
It is the quest to appear to have it all together.
To be the model Christian (or whatever for that matter).
To be the “perfect family.”
To be the “happy couple.”
To be a “leader among your peers.”
I have been in churches where this is rampant.
I couldn’t be friends with many people.
Not real friends, anyway.
Jesus says the same thing about churches that are not willing to be completely honest in the Book of Revelation,
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”Revelation 3:15-16
This is a passage of prophecy for a church.
They are “riding the fence” of relationship with God.
They are neither “in” or out.”
In order for God to do something with them,
they must decide whether they are “in” or “out,”
Relationships are like that.
The people that we know that hold their cards close to their chests rarely find depth of relationship.
Churches that feel this way rarely attract or keep new people.
Our relationships are important.
Can I encourage us all to take risks?
To open up to those closest to you.
I am not talking about over-sharing.
Or being accused of giving TMI.
Appropriate and timely knowledge of yourself to others.
A desire and goal of having relationships that are intimate.
A recognizing that without intimacy in relationships,
We cannot thrive in this life.
We want to thrive.
I want to thrive.
I want you to thrive.
Let’s lean in together.