The Law of Love in Our Hearts – March 21
A sermon based on Jeremiah 31:31-34
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on March 21, 2021 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Today’s text reflects an understanding of God evolving. The catalyst for the evolution was the Babylonian Exile. Way, way back in 587 BC Babylon conquered Judah and Jerusalem and marched its leaders and elites into exile, leaving behind farmers and workers to keep the conquered state valuable. Some fifty later Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and let the captives go, allowing them to reestablish their separate kingdom state. Once home from the exile, the former captives rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple. 1
The passage we heard Mearle read so well from Jeremiah was written during the time of Exile. God’s people had their world turned upside down. The elite became nobody captives, the Promised Land became an enemy’s possession. “Where’s the God who sides with us?” was the deeply troubling theological question of the day. To help answer that question, God needed to be, and was, re-imagined. God as divinely dishing out rewards and punishments, as a supernatural intervening force didn’t work in light of the Exile. The understanding of who God was needed to evolve.
The lesson from Jeremiah reflects that re-imagining– an evolution in the understanding of God. God DID NOT evolve, human understanding of God evolved. The People of God needed to wrestle with and understand that the Exile was not the result of God hating and punishing them–which is what they had imagined before, that would no longer do. In light of the Exile, they needed to understand that God was not gone or distant or unfaithful or lashing out at them. The Exile had created a crisis of faith and Jeremiah helped by reforming and reestablishing faith in God, offering a new way to understand God and the relationship between God and God’s people.
The Feasting on the Word commentary puts it like this:
“When the Babylonians razed the temple in Jerusalem and dragged King Zedekiah off in chains, it destroyed the twin symbols of God’s covenantal fidelity. The people of Judah faced a crisis. Not only had they lost power and prestige, freedom and security; they had also lost God– or at least the assurance of God’s faithfulness, which may amount to the same thing. An unfaithful god is no better than no god, and probably a good bit worse.” 2
As a consequence of the crisis Jeremiah lifted up a promising a new covenant, offering hope through a new understanding of God being so close that our hearts carry the Word, the Law, the essence of what God wants and what God is.
With this new understanding God is so close, every single person, from the culturally highest to the culturally lowest, personally knows God. The high priests and the clergy in the Temple no longer have an elite “in.” The scribes and others who can read are not alone privileged with access to the Law. And God’s forgiveness is not doled out by specialized human mediators. All of human iniquity is forgiven, and sin is remembered no more.
Listen again to the text to hear God evolving in human perception to a very personal-present-accessible-to-all God: JEREMIAH 31:31-34
“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 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. 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 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.”
The Law that is written on human hearts is the essence of Torah, that essence is love – which is the care and the desire for well-being. Not just for self but for creation and others. We discussed a couple of weeks ago how Jesus claimed all of the Law, the Torah, hangs upon the commandment to love– Love God, Love others.
Religion ultimately is about how we relate to creation, and most especially other humans. And in this Judeo-Christian tradition of ours, relationship is supposed to be all about love, all the time. Which is why we talk about that all the time. Because it is ALL about love. And that love stuff is in our hearts. It’s written there. That’s the Law boiled down and it is embossed on our soul.
The essence of the Law, and the primary characteristic of God, is love. In our hearts, in our soul we have Love, the very spark of God within. And we know this. Love sits within us all calling us to belief in Love– and to the action of love.
“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 . . .”
Jeremiah’s letting us know we are not called to believe specific dogma, doctrines or creeds, we are called to love and to do loving deeds. That’s what Jesus let us know too. Right? Jesus did not run around pushing detailed certainties about God. Jesus’ thing that he did was love and teach love. The very early church followed suit. They responded to the Law writ on every person’s heart, to love . . . to love by becoming preachers and teachers and doers of love. That was good enough for the early church, good enough for Jesus, and good enough for Jeremiah and the Israelites. It should be good enough for us.
* based in part on a sermon I first wrote in 2012
1. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “Exile,” “Babylon” (1998).
2.Floyd, Richard, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2, p. 122
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