Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
A long time ago I heard a story of a pastor who got fired. Do you want to know what he did to get himself fired? I’ll tell you. This church had a piano – a grand piano in the front of the church – and he didn’t like where it was located. He felt like it was kind of in the way. So he moved it. He moved it a matter of only three feet off to the side. Not too extraordinary – but enough to anger the right people – and he was asked to leave.
Well, about a year or so later this pastor was invited back as a guest preacher. And he noticed that the piano was sitting exactly where he had wanted it to be – sitting in the very spot that had gotten him fired. He turned to the new pastor and asked him what had happened. The new pastor said, “Well, I heard about what happened to you and this piano. And I didn’t like where the piano was sitting either. So every week for nearly a year, I would come in here and push the piano over – one inch every week. And nobody noticed.
Folks, I have heard that story so many times, and in so many versions – that what I once thought to be a true story, I wonder if it really is. But even so – it makes a point.
Truth is, many people don’t like change. You’ve heard me tell you before that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. Even if you don’t mind change – I would guess that the change any of us have ever experienced has come with at least some discomfort at some level. And as a representative of the baby boomer generation I can tell you I don’t like the changes that come with growing older. Don’t like it one little bit.
So when it comes to Christianity – when it comes to our faith – I am here to tell you that change is inevitable. I can guarantee that as disciples of Jesus Christ – some amount – some degree of change – is going to occur.
And that’s why I want you to listen to the words of the prophet Jeremiah once again. I Love these words. Absolutely love these words. They are among the best there are to be found in all of scripture. Listen.
“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. It will not be like the old 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, even though I was their husband, says the Lord. But 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 will be my people. No 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 I will remember their sin no more.”
Did you catch that last sentence? “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
These are powerful words from a powerful God. And did you catch what it is that the prophet Jeremiah – speaking on behalf of God says? He’s talking a new – what? Covenant. A new covenant. A new contract. A new understanding. And whenever you hear that word “new,”– you know that there’s something different coming, right? Something different has arrived. New always means what? That’s right. Change.
And when it comes to your relationship with God through Jesus Christ, let me tell you it’s not going to happen —in fact it can’t happen – without change.
A woman by the name of Kathleen Mifsud once said this about men. Ladies, you are going to love this. She says, “Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it’s our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with.” And no, I am not going to repeat that. And I also know, that that’s all some of you are going to remember from my sermon today.
But the thing is – I believe that God wants us to mature – men AND women – and children. And not by stomping on us – or keeping us in the dark – but I believe that God wants to change us – God wants to change us from the inside out. Sometimes it’s extreme – like moving a piano three feet all at once. Sometimes it’s subtle – like moving a piano one inch at a time. But in the end, the result is always the same. What we get is change – in other words what we get is new life in Jesus Christ.
You see, what Jeremiah is saying is that God is about to do something – new. Something different. Why? Because the old system wasn’t working. The old system was based on a set of rules. It was based on Law.
Now most of you are familiar with the Ten Commandments. I am teaching our 8th and 9th graders about the Ten Commandments in Confirmation instructions right now. And you remember the big 10, don’t you? You shall have no other gods before me; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; honor your father and your mother. You remember those. In part they show us the difference between right and wrong. But anybody who has ever tried to go through even one day without breaking one of those ten commandments – well, you know just how impossible it is. The Law – the Ten Commandments – cannot make us good. In fact, they’re not designed to make us good. They have no power to do that. They can only show us when and where and how we have messed up. And that really is the purpose of the Law.
So God says, “I’m going to try something new. Going to do something different. Going to be a few changes around here.”
You see, more than anything else, God desires to be in a loving relationship with you. Did you know that? God desires to be in relationship with you. So God chooses to do something new. God calls what He is doing a new covenant. The new covenant takes the old way of relating to God and moves it.
Moves it from following commandments to living in grace.
Moves it from rules to relationship.
It’s a relationship with Jesus Christ and – by extension – with each other. That’s really what the new covenant is. A new way of seeing – a new way of believing – a new way of understanding – a new way of being – a new way of living – a new way of relating to God through Jesus Christ.
And when was this new covenant inaugurated? Well – you’ll hear about the event later on in our service. In fact, you hear it every week when I stand behind that altar and you hear me say or sing, “On the night in which he was betrayed...” You remember those words, right? And for those of you who are studying for the test – we call these words the words of institution. Just thought you might want to know that so could write it down. Well, I want you to listen – to listen closely when I say, “...and Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new’ – what? – the new covenant – the new covenant in my blood.” The NEW Covenant – the new agreement – the new relationship between us and God. No longer based on Law. No longer based on good works. Those are the things that religion asks of us.
And I ‘m going to tell you that there is a difference between religion and being in a right relationship with God. I like to define religion as human effort to reach up to God. I like to define Christianity as God’s effort to reach down to us. So Christianity is not so much about religion as it is about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Religion is about the Law – about trying to be good enough.
Religion is about ritual – saying and doing the right things in the right way at the right time and that’s all you need to do.
Religion is all about what you do – to try to make yourself acceptable to God.
But a relationship – a relationship with Jesus Christ is all about who you are – and who it is that you belong to – and how it is that God wants you to see yourselves. Sinners saved by grace.
In our Gospel reading today certain Greeks come to Philip to tell Philip that they want to see Jesus. They want to – see – Jesus. Not just hear about him. Not just know about him. They want to see him.
Friends – if that is what you want today – if you have come here today in order to see Jesus – then I am here to tell you that that is what Jesus wants too. Jesus wants you to see him. Jesus wants you to know him. Not just know about him, but to really go deeper – to really get to know him and to grow in your relationship with him.
And this may be the hardest change of all. You see, for too long too many of us have heard or have otherwise believed that we can do it on our own – that if we are just good enough that God will welcome us into the Kingdom. I have no idea – short of perfection – what it means to be good enough. But this I can say. Being good enough is not good enough.
It takes Jesus – and what he has done for us on the cross. It takes entering into a relationship with Him that lets go of all other efforts to make ourselves right with God. It’s all God’s doing – and it’s all up to God. Remember God’s promise to you today – speaking through the mouth of Jeremiah – God declares, “I will forgive their sins, and I will remember their sins no more.” Man, how I love that verse.
Are you beginning to see this difference between religion and being in a right relationship with God? Religion is something that you do – and you can never do enough, by the way. Christianity says through Jesus Christ it’s already been done. What you and I need to be in a right relationship with God – has already been taken care of. It’s already been done. Therefore – you can trust God who makes you His own daughter – His own son – through faith in Jesus Christ.
Friends, if you’ve been thinking that all you have to do is be just good enough, hen it’s time for a change. Time to embrace a new story. A new convenant. Time to move away from religion that says, “Do this. Don’t do that,”
A time to embrace grace – cause “it’s all about that grace, bout that grace, bout that grace.”
Time to embrace a new way of being. Time to embrace the new covenant that God offers each one of us today in Jesus Christ. God wants you to know him. Not just know about him. But to know him. To move what we know about God in our heads – and let it be driven into our hearts. A move from religion to a right relationship with God is all about. Because that’s what the new covenant with God is all about. Amen