Cross Hearts

Biblical Text: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

The law is a covenant that con work on the head. It can work on the gut. The law doesn’t really work on the heart. Our natural hearts are turned elsewhere. What this passage of Jeremiah promises is a covenant with God that works on the heart. That is a covenant that places us at the foot of the cross. This sermon reflects on attempts to read God’s word with the head, and then reading it with the heart. It is much less “heady” than most of mine.

Covenants Require Blood (Maundy Thursday)

Biblical Texts: Exodus 24:3-11, Hebrews 9:11-22, Matthew 26:17-30

Maundy Thursday is the night where Christ gave his disciples the meal we celebrate as the Lord’s Supper. It is also the night that he washed his disciples feet and gave them a new command. That new command was to love one another and is where the Maundy comes from, the latin Mandatum (think mandate.) There are other Christian traditions that focus on those latter two, but I’ve always titled to the sacrament. In the full service I pull out the full versions of some elements that get compressed or skipped in a regular service. We do a confessional address and a long form of confession and absolution. It is a full examination of ourselves before we receive. We “pass the peace” which is not just some hippy leftover (although it is usually that), it stands at the place where Jesus would say if you have something against your brother leave your sacrifice and go make peace with him. Then come back. We make peace with our brothers and sisters before receiving. And at the end of the liturgy we strip the altar and it is left there cold and bare in an empty upper room. So what you have recorded here is the readings and the sermon, but it is one of those nights where the liturgy carries more of the story. That isn’t to say the work is not put in or that the preaching is unimportant. It is. It is just to say that Holy Week services are something different. Something you can’t even begin to capture digitally.

What About My Dead Cat?

Our mid-week bible study was on the flood this week, so the combination of two by two and recently putting down a pet cat had me thinking about the animals.  It is a cliché question, “will I ever see my beloved pet again?”  And that question is usually treated in one of two ways.  The elder being questioned might simply answer “yes” from a caring but ultimately patronizing place.  It is what the questioner wants to hear, so you say it.  The flip side of this elder is the one who has read Aquinas and thinks it the height of spirituality to tell the questioner, “no, animals have a lessor spirit” thereby initiating them into higher spiritual knowledge.  But let me suggest that the biblical picture is more nuanced.  I’m still going to say yes, but this is more about the reasons why.

The first reason is that God created them and declared it good. “And God said, ‘let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beast of the earth according to their kinds…and God saw that it was good.” To do away with something that is good would itself be an evil act. That is ultimately what Satan wishes to do, negate every good thing.  The good has its own existence from God.  All evil can do is attempt to negate it. But one day, that last evil, death, shall be put away and the Good shall be crowned.

The second reason follows that act of creation.  As Luther would add to his explanation to the first article of the creed, God not only made me and all creatures, but “he still preserves them.” The bible is full of passages about God’s care for the creatures of the earth.  My two favorites are from Jesus and Jonah.  Jesus takes the sparrow as his example.  I think he takes it because of its complete humbleness.  Nobody goes, “oooh, a sparrow.” Yet Jesus says, “are not 5 sparrows sold for 2 pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.”   A little bit later he will talk of the Ravens who have always had an air of woe about them long before Poe took up his pen.  “Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.”  God remembers even the sparrow and feeds the haunting raven.  But the one that sticks in my mind is from Jonah.  Jonah is sitting outside Nineveh, the work of preaching done, wanting and hoping for its destruction. The last line of the book is “should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle.”  One gets the sense that Nineveh’s deliverance might be more because of those cattle than anything.  The animals are part of God’s continued providence.

But all of that simply points at stuff within this world.  What gives me a sense of the animals’ spiritual worth?  The funny story of Balaam gives me one point.  We talked a bit about that story in last week’s sermon.  Balaam’s donkey eventually prophesies to Balaam.  But before that there is this humorous scene of Balaam riding the donkey and an angel appears holding a sword.  The donkey can see the angel and it stops. Meanwhile Balaam is blind to the spiritual reality. The poor animal tries to save Balaam by turning aside.  Balaam responds by beating the poor beast.  But the donkey persists in trying to warn Balaam in multiple ways.  The animals can at times be more spiritually aware than we are.

When you layer on top of that potential spiritual awareness two other things.  First being that God’s covenant after the flood is not just with Noah, but is “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  The animals are worthy of the covenant. The Apostle Paul talks in similar ways in Romans 8.  “All creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.”  All creation waits with eager longing for the revealing.  Those animals that are part of the Noahide covenant wait with longing for the final revelation and the freeing of our bondage. All creation has this hope.  If you aren’t going to be there, why hope for it?

I’ll finish this mediation by returning to Jesus’ word’s about the sparrows.  “They are remembered.  Not one of them is forgotten before God.” In this sense all those animals are very much like us.  Our hope is in God remembering his covenant. He has engraved us on his hand and will recall us from the pit.  The same type of statement is given about the sparrows sold for pennies for sacrifice.  God remembers them.

So I think that simple “yes” is correct.  But there are some mighty good reasons behind it.  Reasons that go to the heart of the Gospel.  The entire world is Gods, and he’s going to remake it all good.

A Faintly Burning Wick He will Not Quench

There are these series of “songs” in the book of Isaiah often called the servant songs.  The most famous is the one most associated with the passion in Isaiah 52 and 53.  “Behold, my servant…shall be high and lifted up…he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows…”  Our Old Testament Lesson for this week (Isaiah 42) is another one of the servant songs.  And it contains one of the most fascinating descriptions in the Bible of the way that God will operate with men.

The first thing it does is make sure that we understand who and what we are dealing with.  “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.”  There are three unique things here that we should absorb.  The first is that the mystery of our election is tied up in the mystery of the Trinity.  The son is the only-begotten of the Father.  This is the one in whom the soul of the Lord delights – soul here meaning being or essence.  The delight of the Lord being with his people has always been tied up with his people being connected to the only-begotten son.  And from where does this delight come?  The choosing. This one is my chosen.  And this chosen has chosen his own.  As John says at the start of his gospel, “given the right to become Children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn. 1:13 ESV),” And for what have they been chosen?  They are servants of the most high.  Now it is the paradoxical nature of this God that he raises up his servants.  And the one who is the servant of all now sits at the right hand of God.  The church is the servant of Christ, his chosen, and the delight of his eye in an analogous way to the son and the Father.

How is this made known?  “I will put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The Spirit was placed upon Jesus in his baptism.  There is a long-standing fight between the Western and the Eastern churches over the Nicene Creed.  The Eastern one confess that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.  The Wester adds: and the Son.  The Spirit placed upon Jesus in His baptism then proceeds from the Son to us in our baptism.  He took our baptism, so that we might receive his.  Just as Jesus was anointed by the Spirit for his service, we have been anointed by the Spirit for our service. And what is this service? To make known to the nations what the justice of the Lord is.

And all of that brings us to the toughest verses.  How is this done?  Can we bring this justice to the nations by brute force? What about by the wisdom of the world?  “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”  All of the straightforward ways of power and authority of the world are to be shunned.  The gospel proceeds by “left-handed” ways. It is not that the gospel denies truth and justice.  No, “he will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged.”  This is the same God who “created the heavens and stretched them out.” His law stands.  But that rule is to be accepted and longed for.  “The coastlands wait for his law.” Because Christ will not have the might of the law crush the weak. Christ has chosen us and his election is sure.  That “left-handed” way is by faith.  The Servant has chosen us and the will of God will not be confounded.  Our faith is not in vain.   The One who made all things, will make them all new in due time.  “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”

God operates with us by telling us exactly what he has done.  By giving us His servant “as a covenant for the people.”  And all those who have faith in this covenant are the chosen, those in whom the soul of God delights.


Biblical Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16

It’s the first Sunday in Advent. The Gospel text is traditionally Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry, which is Jesus the King coming to Jerusalem. This sermon is based off of the Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah. Jeremiah is traditionally the prophet of doom and lamentation. But here he tells of fulfillment. God fulfills his promises. He fulfilled them to the heirs of Jacob. There was a greater fulfillment for Israel, a fulfillment we receive by faith. But behold, the days are coming when they will be fulfilled again. This sermon retells the covenants God has promised to his people.

Covenants Kept

Biblical Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34

The text is Jeremiah’s invoking of a new covenant. The sermon attempts to think about what we are talking about when we say the word covenant. What a covenant is is the Hebrew answer to the question: “How does God interact with man?” There are a bunch of other answer to that question. The sermon starts out cataloging some of them and how they came about. But the Hebrew answer is unique. And the Christian answer is the Hebrew answer.

The trouble that Jeremiah is experiencing is similar I think to what we might be experiencing today. Just how good does the answer of the covenant fit with how we experience God? A big part of the word covenant is simply a way that God binds himself. If the covenants appear to be failing, as they could appear to Jeremiah, in what way is the God who bound himself actually God? Jeremiah’s prophecy is “the new covenant”, not a breaking of the old ones, but their fulfillment. And that fulfillment is in Jesus Christ. Christ has always been the fulfillment, but in the new covenant we have the greater revelation written on our hearts. It is no longer blood on the external posts and lintels, but blood taken in. The fulfillment is no longer an external obedience, but the obedience of the heart through faith.

Prophet Check

Biblical Text: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The text is Moses’ promise of “a prophet like me”. Prophet is one of those words that feels slightly archaic, but it just isn’t. It is used all the time. What this sermon does is hopefully three things:

  1. Define what a prophet is
  2. Understand what “a prophet like me” means, how that is different from many standard uses, and how Jesus is the only one who really qualifies
  3. And finally equip everyone how to not get suckered by people claiming Moses like prophetic authority.