St. Philip Lutheran Church
31 October 2021 + Lect 31b (Pent 23 / Reformation)
Jer 31.31-34; John 8.31-36; Mark 12.28-34
Rev. Josh Evans
Before I get to my sermon, I want to offer a second gospel reading. I know… five readings on a Sunday morning, including the psalm, is a bit much, but I think it’s a helpful pairing alongside the text from Jeremiah we also heard moments ago. (And you can stay seated for this one.)
This is actually the gospel reading for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, which is also today. We just happen to be privileging the texts for Reformation Sunday this morning, but for congregations that don’t follow that tradition, this is the “regular” gospel reading. It also happens to be the Bible story we used as a part of GLOW Formation this past Wednesday.
So, without further ado… The holy gospel according to Mark [12.28-34]…
… The gospel of the Lord. [Praise to you, O Christ.]
Kind words… share a meal… hugs and snuggles… pray… thank God everyday… sing loudly in church…
These are just a few of the examples of the things that our GLOW kids (and grown-ups) wrote on paper heart cut-outs this past Wednesday. As a part of our activity related to this story from Mark’s gospel, we used pink colored hearts to write things that we do to show love to others or the ways that we ourselves have felt loved by others. Then we used red colored hearts to write things that we do show love to God.
On the wall in the fellowship hall, we hung up all the pink hearts in a horizontal row, and then hung up all the red hearts in an overlapping vertical row.
Together, those things that we do to show love in our relationship between us and God and the ways we share love with one another came together to form a cross. The two greatest commandments that Jesus names – love God and love each other – reveal the heart of our faith … in the cross, where we see most clearly the love of God revealed for us.
Late Wednesday night, as I was leaving church after GLOW Exploration, the final component of our GLOW nights, I stopped in the fellowship hall to take a photo of that cross of paper hearts so that we could share it on our social media pages. In that moment, I heard the words of Jeremiah from earlier in the day during Bible Study: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
I will write it on their hearts. The things that we wrote on these paper heart cut-outs is the essence of this new covenant of which Jeremiah speaks. This new covenant comes in the same chapter of Jeremiah we heard last Sunday, only a few verses later. It’s the beginning of the return of the exiles, “among them [Jeremiah writes] the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor.” This is a vulnerable group of people who will require the care of the community as they journey back home and re-settle.
That is what the new covenant is all about … the care of the community. Really, that’s what the “old” (original) covenant was about, way back in Exodus, “the covenant that they broke” … the ten commandments and the laws and statutes that followed. God’s covenant with the people has always been concerned with the care of the community, all of those various laws meant for establishing a just and equitable society for the community to live peaceably together.
The “new” covenant is really more like a re-new-al … a different way of getting at the same thing. The heart of the matter is the same as it always has been, and that is what this renewed community returning from exile is going to be about … caring for and showing love to each other.
Jesus’s response to the scribes about the greatest commandment is really nothing new, but draws on the ancient wisdom of his Jewish faith, going all the way back to the prophets and the law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love is the essence of the commandments. Love God … and love your neighbor, too. Because the best way we know how to love God, whom we haven’t seen, is to love our neighbors, made in the image of God, whom we have seen and whom we see everyday.
Jesus’s words in John, perhaps in more subtle but equally profound ways, underscore this same kind of community: If you continue in my word… I feel like I appeal to the Greek a lot, but this single phrase is so loaded with meaning that it’s hard not to.
If you continue… menō, abide, dwell, remain… If you abide in my word… logos… In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God… The Word (logos) became flesh and lived among us.
Over and over again in John’s gospel, Jesus the Word invites those who would seek to follow him and to be his disciples, to abide with him, to be in relationship with him and with God and with each other, just as God abides with us. That is the “truth” of being a disciple. If we abide in that kind of interconnected community, truly we are a part of what Jesus is doing.
Looking ahead to next Sunday – at the risk of a sermon spoiler – we’ll hear John’s story of the raising of Lazarus, culminating with Jesus’s instructions to the crowd: Unbind him, and let him go.
The community gets to participate in the healing. There is a role for them to play in the healing and wholeness and well-being of their brother Lazarus who has been raised to life, and the role of the community cannot be understated.
We know community is important. We also know that the lack of community – the isolation and the disconnection of the past year – is hard. It’s hard to live apart because we’re not designed to be that way. We are designed to live in relationship with each other, to care for one another and be cared for. We are designed and created for community.
Community, at its best, thrives when we are connected to one another, caring and being cared for by one another. But like anything else, community is often marred by sin and brokenness. Try as we might to avoid it, there are times when community disappoints us, falls short, and lets us down, when relationships are fractured, or when trust is broken.
But, even in those moments of brokenness, there is space for renewal.
God has never given up on God’s people. On the way back from exile, God gives to a vulnerable people a new and timeless covenant, one written on their hearts, embedded in their very beings. A covenant of love and care for one another as they rebuild what has been broken.
Brokenness in community is inevitable, but beyond that brokenness, there is opportunity for healing. For mending what has been fractured. For making whole what has been severed.
I will put my law within them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And: Love your neighbor as yourself.
And I will write it on their hearts, in their very being.
Continue in this word. Abide in this teaching.
Dwell in community, and keep being the people of God together. The church of Christ, always reforming, always dreaming, always sharing the life-giving and life-changing news of the gospel.
Above all else, always loving.
Thanks be to God.