Jeremiah 31: 27-34
A. Grey’s Anatomy
I’m a Grey’s Anatomy fan. I look forward to the television show each week like it’s a matter of life and death; if not mine it’s always someone whose life is on the brink of death. The storyline takes place at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital in Seattle, Washington with a group of curious characters, one whom is Meredith Grey. Its steamy romantic plotlines of the residents, doctors and interns interplay with emergencies and life threatening medical maladies.
There was an episode a while back where an elderly woman was admitted to Grey-Sloan who was in the active process of dying. But she had a pacemaker though that kicked in overtime when the rest of her body really wanted to go. Her family said she had been knocking on death’s door often in the last year and each time her niece and two nephews would gather by her bedside; they were her only family. Somehow though she would pull through, and they were getting annoyed with this pattern.
So when the woman was being examined by the doctor this time they wanted to know if she was going to die immediately and if not immediately, would it be in the next 24 hours; one had a very important board meeting to attend. They all had more important things to do. They were cold and, it seemed unsympathetic and callous. They explained that she had ‘pulled’ this so often that they were tired with all these false alarms. You could tell by the doctor’s faces that they thought the three of them were heartless. The niece explained that they had been through this before and that their old auntie always pulled through. Her ‘almost dying’ was a recurring annoyance in their lives.
Then the woman coded again and the intern tried to revive her with cardio conversion, or the shock paddles. It didn’t work and the woman showed all signs of dying but the intern was confused because on the cardiac monitor the woman’s heart continued to beat. The family wanted to know, is she dead or is she alive? With that a doctor comes in and electronically stopped the pacemaker and pronounced her officially, unequivocally gone.
The camera panned to the family. You could see that they were grieved. Tears came to the eyes of the niece, the one nephew drew closer to his aunt and took her hand and the one who had that important board meeting to attend, he asked if they could stay longer and have some alone time with the woman.
Their exterior actions and words from before did not convey the inner workings or feelings of their hearts. Their self indulgent behavior overrode the great possibility of empathic love. They had lost their way, and lost sight of the important things and people that make this life worth living. In the end though, the love that they really did have for their aunt was displayed. Their inner heart was exposed for all to see.
B. The Heart
The heart is one of the vital organs of the human body if not THE most vital organ for without our tickers, we don’t tick, it grants us life. It takes in de-oxygenated blood, swishes it around and sends it to the lungs. It receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and sends it out to the far reaches of our bodies. The heart is a work of magnificent art.
Healthy hearts keep on beating like a clock ticking the minutes away. Pacemakers, procedures and medication keep not so healthy hearts beating at consistent intervals. But the regularity of the beat doesn’t regulate our emotion or what’s going on inside of us.
So the human heart has another vital function. It is the place where our emotions take up residence. All of them. Love, joy, empathy, sympathy and their evil counterparts, hate, greed, or jealousy. Our hearts are regular emotion machines!
It’s no wonder that it is here in this very spot, on this critical organ of the human body that God puts the covenant of law and life, “I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be my people”. God embosses their hearts with hope and truth.
C. Jeremiah and the Israelites
Jeremiah, in last weeks lesson, came to the exiled people and told them to settle in, that it’s going to be a long, long time before they were going to be able to go home again. And so they did and many years passed. But then Jeremiah’s oracles changed from doom and gloom to redemption and hope. Restoration is promised.
So it is here that God says to Jeremiah, ‘the days are surely coming’, meaning not quite yet but in the not so distant future I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This covenant is not going to be like the other one, which, by the way, they broke (a divine dig, right?!). No, say’s God, I’ll write it on their hearts that I will be their God and they will be my people. I’ll forgive them and let bygones be bygone. God is ready to forgive and forget.
AS compelling and oddly dreamy as it may sound this God writing the covenant on their hearts, the people didn’t open up their hearts. The Israelites weren’t asking for a new covenant, they didn’t so much even care or pay attention to the old one, the ones written in tablets of stone. And that was just the point.
They had turned away from God on many occasions. God was frustrated and tired of their misbehavin’. So as Walter Brueggeman points out, this new covenant was given by God without warning or explanation. God is determined to have a relationship with the Israelites and will do whatever it takes. Even if it means unsolicited, prehistoric invasive ‘surgery’ on the most important organ of the human body.
It’s not an external covenant like the rainbow or the tablets of commandments but it’s an internal covenant inscribed upon their hearts. They won’t be able to turn away from my rainbow, or say that the tablets are too heavy or inconvenient to carry around, says God. No. It’s within. I will be YOUR God and you will be my people, all people, this covenant is for everybody. The people now have the love of God, but as covenants go, they too have some responsibility in this relationship. They need to turn from their old ways and embrace new ones.
D. Matters of the Heart
You’ve got to hand it to God and those divine brains. Looks like God is always learning how to deal with us humans. Sticking the covenant where it matters the most, where the people just can’t get away from it is pretty ingenious!
While we might want to romanticize this passage there is an edge to it that we must have a look at. As we accept the love of God we also must accept God’s will within us. We are no longer left to decide what’s right and wrong for ourselves but we now make those decisions in tandem with God and the intention of God for us. That’s the nature of covenant. Not our will but your will Holy One we pray that each time the words of the Lord’s Prayer seep out of our mouths like the nieces and nephews on Grey’s Anatomy. We too must turn from our self serving ways so that we can envision what God’s intention might be for us and for those around us by our words and actions.
Words and actions have been on my mind a lot lately. This has been a rough election season, I don’t have to tell you that. While, by law, I am not allowed to endorse a political candidate or party from the pulpit it does not prevent me from commenting on social or political issues or the rhetoric, fervor and vehemence of the campaign season because to me it has become heartless.
Do not wonder why bullying is on the rise. Name-calling and racial epithets whether in the workplace, on the playground, in the cyber-world are becoming the norm for our living rather than the exception of some misinformed, heartless, prejudiced person or two.
Do not wonder why women starve themselves to ‘look good’ or have so much surgery that they no longer look like themselves. Beautiful women, created in God’s image, have been given all sorts of messages that they are not good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough.
And this needs to stop.
No one should use their power and or their wealth over another person especially with the intent to harm that person or to make the gap between the rich and poor, male and female, gay or straight, black, Latino or white even larger than it already is. God gave us creative, inventive minds and we need to use them for the good of the common weal. God created us with free will so the choices we (Christians) make should reflect at all times the essence of the Gospel.
The Gospel is seeped with ways to live ethically and responsibly toward our brothers and our sisters. Please don’t get this confused with the Christian right’s agenda of restoring the country to ‘Christian’ values, it’s not that – Good ethics are good ethics, plain and simple. Christians don’t have a corner on that market! Good ethics have been around long before this country was founded and way before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John put their pens to papyrus.
Making decisions for Election Day
So how do we understand all of this through a Gospel lens with Election Day rapidly approaching? I believe in the right of each individual to use their creative, God given talents and minds. I believe in the Gospel and the ways in which its ethics play a role in our lives and in our lives as the body politic.
Here are some questions to ponder as you formulate or maybe rethink the candidates that you want to elect: Which candidate pays the most attention to the ethics that the gospel espouses? That is, which candidate will advocate for all people, for those with means and for those without means? Which candidate will not be persuaded by special interest groups but will raise up all people for fair wages, affordable health care, safe environmental stewardship, and access to top-notch education for our children? The Gospels are about equity and justice. Don’t be discouraged, don’t ring your hands and don’t point your fingers. You need to think and to pray, to use your reason and your intellect and to apply ethical thinking in your decision making and indeed in all of your living.
Fortunately we are not alone in making these tough decisions. God is always with us remember, I will be your God and you will be my people. The fact is, the heart IS the best place that God has chosen to impress upon us the steadfast covenant of love and law; you need to look no further than within.