Sunday, October 17, 2010

more than meets the eye--a sermon for Ordinary 29C

DRAFT written at the corn maze...edits later. comments welcome!

Rev. Teri Peterson
more than meets the eye
Jeremiah 31.31-34
17 October 2010, Ordinary 29C

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.

Did you know that your spinal cord is only as big around as your index finger, but contains 10 billion nerves cells? Or that there is enough iron in your body to make one nail? Or that your nervous system transmits messages to your brain at the speed of 180mph? Our bodies are incredible things, with all kinds of hidden beauty and complexity. (all facts from here)

Some of you have probably seen the exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry—the ones with cross sections of the human body, or where you can see a humongous 3-D heart. Exhibits like these, along with pictures and doctors and TV shows, have taught us much about how the body works, and just what is inside this skin of ours. Our bodies are much more on the inside than they appear on the outside. And, of course, who we are is much more than just our physical body—we are more than meets the eye.

Who we are includes all kinds of things—from our bodies to our thoughts and beliefs to our education and experiences to our actions and words. While we are more than the sum of our parts, our lives do reflect all those parts. Often we can see someone’s heart in the way they relate to others, we can see their faith reflected in their choices and actions. And we can see the changes God makes in people in the ways they live their life every day.

Jeremiah tells us of a promise—a promise given during the darkest shadow of death, in the midst of deepest despair and loss. The Israelites have been pulled from their homes and taken to Babylon and the Temple has been destroyed. In a culture and religion that bases identity on living in the land God gave them and on worshipping in the Temple where God lives, being in exile meant that they were no longer a people—no longer a nation and also no longer the people of God. They were abandoned, alone, without hope...and they were living their lives as if that were true. Until…the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah, saying “I’m still here—have courage.” God promises to stick around even in the dark days, even in the midst of horror, even when we can’t see God’s work or feel God’s presence or hear God’s breath. And to prove it: a new covenant, one not based on physical stone tablets or a small inner room in the Temple or even on Thou Shalt Nots.

At Sinai, God gave the gift of freedom and the gift of land and the gift of community, and made this covenant to remind us of those gifts. This new covenant is a little different. It’s a covenant for captivity, a covenant that can be kept anywhere, a covenant impossible to break. No matter where we are, what darkness surrounds us, or what dis-ease lurks below our surface, this covenant is for us. We shall be God’s people, because God has written the covenant inside us. When we were being knit together in our mothers’ wombs, already God was replacing our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. When we are lost and fear we might never be found, even then God’s word of life is within us. When hope has deserted us, or we have deserted it, still the Word dwells within us and God’s breath is nearer to us than our hands or feet. We may not see it, but God is there, working in and through us.

This is a covenant that changes us, changes who we are and how we live. God promises to be at work in our hearts, in our spirits, in our physical bodies and our spiritual lives…and that inner change will also bring outer change. God is in the business of transforming us, literally from the inside out, from the center of our being out into our actions and lives. God writes the word on our hearts, and sends the Living Word into our midst to be the heart of the Body. This is a community covenant, not really an individual one (though we often understand it that way). It’s a covenant with the house of Israel, with the whole body. And it’s a covenant that levels the playing field in the community, too—from the least to the greatest, everyone is a beloved and forgiven child of God, which means everyone has something to offer. Since transformation is something God does in communities, not something we do to ourselves or by ourselves, that also means that just showing up doesn’t guarantee the inside out change God promises…but at the same time that not being in the community is a hindrance to God’s work. So we need to be here and also engage our minds and hearts, not just tune out when the music or the prayer isn’t our favorite. We need to show up and also truly share our lives with one another, not just put on a happy fa├žade. We need to come together and also pray for each other and for our community. We need to be here in this building and also out in the world working and playing together in God’s mission. We need to be a part of the community with our physical bodies and also with all that other stuff that makes up who we are—our intellects, our experiences, our resources. Then we too might experience this transformation, this change from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, from lost to found, from being confined by the smallness of our vision to being freed for God’s vision. God is always at work in us as individuals and as the body of Christ and as a part of the world community God created and called good.

Some of you may recognize my sermon title as being part of the Transformers cartoon theme song. Just like The Transformers, we are definitely more than meets the eye. But even the Transformers show their true nature out in the world! So it’s also true that this change is one that carries over into both our private and public lives, into our public discourse and our relationships and our choices, into our homes and our workplaces and playgrounds. For no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are the people of God, children of the covenant, loved and made to love others.

May it be so.


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