Sunday, March 21st, 2021 (5th Sunday Lent)
(Revd Jeanette Hamer)
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
I expect we sometimes utter these words when we feel let down by someone’s failure to live up to the promises, they have made us. It may be something they said they would do, a bargain they have made and they have failed to do their part. They say they will do better; they promise they will, but we know inside they won’t and there is a sense of distrust and sadness within us.
When looking at the readings set for this morning’s reflection,
somehow these two words seem to play around my mind, ‘promises, promises.’
The words made me think of the despair God must feel, looking down at his creation and the state the world is in. The despair as he looks down at us, with his head in his hands,
shoulders bent in sorrow, as he sees humanity turn away from him again and again.
Since creation and the perfect world gifted to us, darkness has crept in and the world has become further and further distanced from God.
We know that he hasn’t responded by turning his back on us, but like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son, he waits in love and patience for us to return.
Again, and again, his chosen people strayed, and they broke their side of the Abrahamic covenant made with God. Each time he reprimanded or punished them with a Father’s love and authority, their subsequent better behaviour and obedience soon descended back into to their old ways.
Yes, they knew God had chosen them, rescued them and through the Exodus,
was leading them to a promised future but we know that they had not travelled far before the rot set in. Their 40 years wandering in the Desert being the consequence of their actions.
Both of our Bible passages focus on God’s covenant with his people, and how they had broken their side of it. Instead of a message of a further separation from God however,
we see a message of hope for a new way of reconciliation,
a new way forward in our relationship with him.
Jeremiah’s words, his message from God, recognise the broken promises and almost imply that the people are incapable of faithfulness. He doesn’t beat about the bush though, his words remind them that the original covenant, that had made them special and his chosen people, had been broken from their side. They had been the ones to stray away,
even as God remained faithful to them.
Jeremiah’s words show a longing for God and his people to be reunited,
but they also are tinged with anger and despair.
God offers a new and final way ahead, a new covenant, built on a fresh start with God,
wiping away the past and moving forward in a new kind of relationship with him.
A reset button, if you like, that needs to be pressed for the things of the past to be taken from us.
Jeremiah could not see into the future as to how this would be fulfilled,
but his words are there and set the scene for our reading from John.
Our second reading begins just after the events of Palm Sunday, when the crowds had greeted Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem with adulation, much to the dismay of the Jewish leaders.
His fame had spread, so much so that even Greeks were coming to speak to him, to hear what he had to say. Like the woman at the well in Samaria, there is the indication that his message is for more than the Jews, it reaches out into the gentile world.
So, it is to this expanded audience that Jesus speaks,
setting out the fact that he has to die, and that his time has now come.
It is interesting to note that so far in this Gospel, John has emphasised that Jesus’ time has not yet come, but this is the turning point, and from now on the theme changes.
John is telling his readers that they need to shift their focus from what has gone before in Jesus’ ministry, to the fact he is to die to complete his mission and how they now will have to take their part with spreading the message when he has gone.
The picture of one seed falling to the ground to allow growth to a mighty harvest indicates that through his death, his global mission continues through them, and it continues through us.
As one commentator writes,
‘John wants his readers to wake up to the fact that Jesus died
so that we could live and take his message to the world’.
This is his call to us too, if we are his disciples.
Jesus' words here show a sign of urgency for his Disciples to understand why he needed to suffer and die. He speaks with the same urgency to us now, to renew this new covenant in our lives and have the same urgency to spread the word. Our covenant promise is to follow him in all we do,
to live our lives for him and to the glory of God
The passage shows that Jesus approaches his death with some apprehension
but he knows this is the reason he came to the earth, to suffer and die for us.
Despite his thoughts, he recognises and acknowledges that he does all this to the glory of God. God speaks from heaven, in acknowledgement, just as he had at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry at his Baptism in the River Jordan. Jesus’ life, ministry and death were all for the glory of God.
This message is for us too, we should live our lives in service to and to the glory of God.
Each New Year, the Methodist Church has a Covenant service and I would like to end by saying the Covenant prayer. As we say in our Open the Book assemblies,
if you want to make it your prayer, then say amen with me at the end.
A covenant with God
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.'
(The Methodist Covenant Prayer)