Sometimes we want to cut deals with God, but this God makes no deals.
5th Sunday in Lent (Year B) – March 22, 2015 – Jeremiah 31:31-34
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Let’s (Not) Make a Deal” – Pastor Evan Davis
[end of the Escort story – listen for all] Some of you know more about cars than I will ever know in my life. How much was that car worth? Come on, give a guess. [they do] It was worth this guy towing it back to town being able to store it in his lot for two weeks while I went on a trip, until I could come back and hand him the title. That was the deal. Fair and square. I got something very valuable to me, and he got an easy junk car.
We get confused. We think God is trying to make a deal. We want to get right with the Lord. We talk about getting right with God. Like showing up to church once a week, or once a month, is going to make us right with God.
We think this because we never even understood what the covenant is about. We may have learned that word in Sunday School. We know God made a covenant with God’s people – an agreement, if you will. 2-sided. A deal. God sent Moses to Pharoah, let my people go, plagues, Passover, Red Sea, wilderness, manna, then they’re at Sinai. 10 Commandments. You follow them, you get God’s love and mercy. Deal? That’s the way we were taught it, and even the way many of the history-writers of Israel understood it. But it was never about that. Even when the people get bored and make a golden calf, Moses reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham and God doesn’t destroy them. Just like the beginning of the 10 Commandments isn’t a rule but a relationship – I AM the LORD your God. It’s all based in relationship, not rules.
But we’re used to quid pro quo. This for that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We know all about that. So sure, God. Your law says I should love you first – no golden calves. Respect my parents. Not steal anything, not steal love, not steal a life, not set my heart on what you’ve given to another. Love my neighbor. You want some good works? Ok, I’ll put some food in the food pantry box this month. I’ll pray a little extra. I’ll put a little more in the plate. I’ll show up more often. I’ll take care of my mother. I’ll visit my grandmother, as Brett and I did this weekend. I’ll even start introducing myself to my neighbors. I’ll even read the Bible, in my spare time. I’ll come to Lenten activities and Holy Week services. It sounds funny, but I think it really does work this way in our heads. We think…I’m feeling a little guilty, so I should give God a bigger piece of the pie. This Lent, man, I’m really doing the church thing big-time, I’m feeling pretty good about my spiritual life. God, what’s going to all the Holy Week services worth to you? But then when something bad happens….when an accident happens, or illness, or losing your job, or a death in the family, we wonder….but I did my part. But I go to church. But I’m a good Christian. What happened, God? Why aren’t you holding up your part of the deal? So what do we do then – go make a golden calf?
But this is no deal. God isn’t negotiating. God doesn’t play that game with us.
Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant.
It’s not like the old covenant…the one God made with our ancestors when God brought them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
This one ain’t like that. But this is the covenant God is making, now, with the house of Israel, and with us who have been welcomed into that house, 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.
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 remember their sin no more.
Would someone tell God, God’s in the middle of a negotiation? Because I don’t think God knows how to negotiate. God’s starting by offering $20K for the Escort! No better yet, I don’t think God’s interested in negotiating with us. God’s not in business with us. We’re not God’s equals. No, God is interested in declaring things to us. And God is declaring, deal or no deal, that God will be our God, and we shall be God’s people. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. No fine print. We – you – are God’s people.
You don’t have to get to know the LORD, because the LORD has gotten to know you. From the least of you to the greatest. He’s gotten to know you…inside and out. Because he’s been a human being. This God knows what it is to be hungry and thirsty, to sweat and swat flies away from his face on a hot summer day, to be burdened with the cares of hundreds, no thousands of people around him, to be grieved even to death. This God knows you…intimately. He’s in under your skin. And if you want to know God….
God looks like Jesus. You don’t even have to come to church in Holy Week to know God. God is the little child who crossed the border and there was no room for him in the inn. God is the one who got baptized by the crazy man. God is the one hangin’ with the extortionist Roman tax collectors, with the contagious, infected lepers. God is the one feeding the crowds. Arguing with the authorities. When your head is on a swivel looking for the man in charge, God is the one washing your feet, the one you almost tripped over. God is the one they took to court on trumped up charges. God is the one they nailed to a cross, and he never said a mum-ba-lin’ word.
The almighty LORD is the one holding up the sign at Walmart. God’s the one sitting down to dinner at Mercy House, and the one serving that dinner. God’s the one in AA, and the power that makes AA possible. The Greeks said, “sir, we wish to see Jesus.” There he is, and here he is [table]. God is the host of our meal, and the meal itself. There he is….drawing the whole world, to himself.
You know this God, and his law ain’t written on no stone tablets. It’s written on your heart. It’s within you. It’s a law of love. A law that isn’t a law anymore. It’s like when your spouse asks you to be faithful, to take care of her when she’s old, to listen to her….these aren’t commands anymore, it’s just what you do because you love and the law of love is written on your heart. A love that creates faith in you. A mighty, active faith….
Martin Luther said,
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God. […] What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has (already) done them. […] Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire.1
Like I said, Brett went with me to visit my grandmother in Wheeling, WV, this weekend. It’s a long way. It’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of listening to stories. When we got home, I gave Brett 25,000 wife points….but it’s like on “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” The points don’t matter. You don’t even need ’em. We don’t make deals in our marriage. Brett just goes to visit my grandmother. It’s not a deal. It’s not a law written on stone tablets…it’s written on our hearts.
This God makes no deals. This God declares, I forgive you your iniquity, and I remember your sin no more. This God says, here I am on the cross for you…this covenant is sealed in my blood, not yours…your life is now a gift, given back to you. What will you do with it? Where will the love of God that has ignited faith in your heart take you? To worship, to deeply exploring the Bible, to new community, to service? Sure. But beyond that, to your calling in the world, to the Body of Christ all around you in your life….to a life of being Christ for others in a way that can never be legislated, not even by God…a life that comes only from the heart. It is yours today. Amen.
1Martin Luther, Preface to Romans.