Jeremiah 31.31-34

ďHeís a right Jeremiah!Ē We occasionally still hear that, donít we? Somebody referred to as being ďa JeremiahĒ. Do you know what it means?

The dictionary definition is ďa person who habitually prophesies doom or denounces contemporary societyĒ. I think, based on that definition, that perhaps most of us here have a touch of the Jeremiahs in us!

Our first reading this morning was from the book of Jeremiah (31.31-34) but it wasnít really in that style, was it? In fact, it was a much more positive and uplifting message.

Some background: Jeremiah actually prophesied for 40 years. The book in the Bible which bears his name is the longest in the Old Testament and in Chapter 36 Jeremiah explains that it wasnít his idea to write it; it was Godís idea: God told him to do it. In fact, Jeremiah dictated it to Baruch. When his writings were finished, as Jeremiah by that time was already barred from the Temple because of some of the prophesies he had been making, it was Baruch who took the scroll to the Temple and read it there on a fast day. The King heard about this, got hold of the scroll and piece by piece he burnt the whole thing. So what did Jeremiah do? He dictated another one! That version was expanded, as time went on, to include some of the later events and prophesies and that has ended up in our Bibles as the book of Jeremiah.

What about the man himself? Chapter 1 of Jeremiah gives three facts about him and his family. He came from a place called Anathoth, from a family of Priests and at the time of his calling he was a young man. God touched his mouth and said ďGo to the people to whom I send you and say what I commandĒ - and that is what he did. However, Jeremiahís message was largely one of destruction and judgement, hence somebody being referred to as ďa JeremiahĒ. Actually at first he called his people to repent and to return to the Lord but as time passed and the people carried on completely without listening, that hope was lost. When Jerusalem was obviously going to fall, which it did in 587BC, Jeremiah started to prophesy hope and promises of a future.

Jeremiah was rather vivid and dramatic in his preaching: he used graphic images and he sometimes used to act out his messages in parables. If you look closely at the book of Jeremiah youíll see that the messages he was being given by God, coupled with his own personal situation, caused him great sorrow, pain and even anger sometimes.

In this passage, though, we come to Jeremiahís great message of hope. This follows in the Bible just after the joy of people coming back to their own land from exile in the land of their enemies. The hope, the future, which Jeremiah speaks of here isnít just about a restoration of the best days of Israel ís past under Godís original covenant; it is to be a whole new covenant.

Just think of how things used to be. Godís law was written on stone tablets. It depended on priests to approach God - on behalf of people - and prophets to make Godís word known. Everyone had to keep on offering those sacrifices we hear so much about in the Old Testament. Yet look again at what Jeremiah is actually saying in this passage. First, Godís law will no longer be on tablets but in peopleís hearts and minds. Secondly, it isnít only Priests who can approach God or prophets who can speak for God but, instead, everybody will know God personally. Thirdly, there is no longer a need for offering sacrifices because God will provide forgiveness and remove sins directly.

Donít underestimate this stuff: it is revolutionary! Itís a brand new relationship between God and his people: a personal, individual, spiritual relationship. Instead of children suffering because of the sins of their Fathers, every person will now be responsible for his or her own actions and have a personal opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to seek God. Everybody can come to God and is able to be loved and forgiven by him.

This was prophecy - Godís word - but it was also looking forward. The prophecy came to fulfilment by the death of Jesus on that first Good Friday. Jesusí death effectively takes away his peopleís sins. Jesus offers a personal relationship with him and, through him, to the Father and back again through the Holy Spirit; that same Spirit which can transform peopleís hearts and minds - yours and mine.

What about this business of ďI will be their God and they will be my peopleĒ? Jeremiah is actually reaffirming something which appears earlier in the Scriptures, in Exodus and Leviticus. However, it does sound rather grandiose doesnít it? Does God just want to lord it over us servile and fawning mortals? If so, how can he care for each one of us?

Itís one thing to appreciate that Jesus loved everybody he actually met but arenít we far too small and insignificant for God to know every single one of us? If God really does care for each one of us, that seems almost unimaginable when you consider the vastness of the universe and our minute place in it. What we need is some sort of insight to understand it all. 

Surely the key is this: weíre not accustomed to judge comparative value by size. A Motherís love for her baby isnít a matter of pounds and ounces (I suppose it is kilos these days!) and surely God must have at least that level of insight to perceive the difference between size and worth. Surely God knows where, in all his universe, real value lies. The real value lies within us, within our personalities, not outside of us. Let me try to explain. 

Righteousness, friendship, generosity, courage, wisdom - they are all things which are functions of us, of our personality. All of them, as far as value goes, are worth much more than infinite numbers of stars and galaxies. Remember the fruits of the spirit, which Paul sets out in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Yes they are all gifts of the spirit but they all come from within us. No star ever knew friendship. No comet ever felt love. No galaxy ever felt touched by Godís hand or was moved, as we are, by gratitude for its creation and preservation. Oh yes, surely God knows where to find worth in his universe.

Can God really care for us, individually? Just asking that question puts God in manís image and suggests that his powers may be inadequate. However, think of this. Imagine somebody who canít read going into a library. He or she would just see long rows of books, almost indistinguishable as units but the librarian knows each one by name. He knows the edition, the author, the contents, the purpose, the value of each one. Isnít that how it is with God?

He does know every one of us by name and he knows our value, our worth. From minute obscurity in his universe he lifts us up, he picks us out, he gives our lives his care and attention. He is not just the God of mankind but he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: the God of individuals. He is the God of me and he is the God of you. He is the God of love, he is the God of healing and, stated in the early books of the Old Testament, reaffirmed by Jeremiah and fulfilled by Jesus, he is the God of hope.  

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire June 2016

This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 25 March, 2012