Jeremiah 31:31-34:“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I practice my acceptance speech. In a dress. With a bottle of shampoo doubling as Oscar.
I’d known what I wanted to be since I was a little girl. I’d been working toward it for years. My parents had started me in piano lessons at age 6, and I’d loved it so much, I’d continued my piano studies into my senior year.
Somewhere during that time, I’d decided that I would go to college, major in piano performance, and work my way up the concert performance ladder until I’d achieved the ultimate goal:
an evening with Mozart in Carnegie Hall, featuring me, on the piano.
In addition, while on breaks from performing, I would compose on the side, finally be discovered, write award- winning film scores and be happy as a clam.
I did go to college, and major in piano performance… for about 3 months. Halfway through the semester, I decided that I’d made a huge mistake. Music wasn’t working out for me. It was way too hard, too many people were better than me, and there were too many recitals and chances to mess up to make any part of this a good idea.
My college piano teacher tried to talk me out of it, but in the end, I decided to go ahead and change majors, to something a little less competitive, something safer, that would give me a better chance of succeeding.
That day, in the interest of protecting myself against failure, I trampled my dreams of Carnegie Hall and the Academy Awards, without even entertaining the thought of giving them a second chance.
And speaking of, the reason my dreams fizzled at the first hint of difficulty, is because failing is my biggest fear.
Throughout elementary, jr. high and high school, and even college, an intense fear of failure and a pervasive need to be good enough, even though I didn’t believe it to be true myself, characterized much of my life and even drove most of the decisions that I made.
Even though I had cut out required recitals, successfully eliminating chances to fail, I didn’t really feel better about the situation. I felt like I had failed anyway –
like I’d failed myself, my parents, my God.
I’d shut the door on my talent and countless opportunities to use my gifts to glorify God, because of a crippling fear of not measuring up, rooted in a lack of trust and a misguided view of self-worth.
The result was a kind of shift in thinking for a while – the fears that had guided my life before, were replaced with guilt, shame and regret.
And for a while, I got stuck thinking about where I’d gone wrong and what I could have done differently.
It’s easy to get stuck on our failures – there’s probably a tendency, at least to some extent, in each of us to re-visit past mistakes and look at where we went wrong and why, and what could have been done differently, for a better outcome.
Dwelling on the past, though, can’t change it and sometimes, if we think too much about our past mistakes, we can become burdened by guilt, shame, and regret.
When that happens, looking for things that could have been done to change a past outcome turns into a kind of survival mode functioning that asks “how I can I live in a way that ensures that this will never happen to me again?”
In some cases, that can be a good thing. In others, that kind of thinking will inhibit us from reaching our full potential, locking us into a cycle of failure and guilt.
When guilt becomes unbearable, and failure inevitable,
when not measuring up becomes an everyday reality instead of just a fear or a possibility,
when enough mistakes have been made that it’s just easier to keep doing what’s familiar, even if it’s a mistake, than to try another way,
visions and hopes for the future become clouded, and maybe even cast aside, truths that were once held dear are forgotten and something breaks in people’s hearts.
Just ask the people of Israel.
Banished from their homes for disobedience#, they are now so entrenched in their failures, that it’s almost like they want to do wrong#. Failure and disobedience have become so second nature to them, that they are now a part of Israel’s identity;
driving their actions and decisions, and leaving them “defeated, dispirited, and wondering whether God may have actually rejected them.”
Older men wish they had been more intentional about teaching their younger sons. Mothers look at their families around the dinner table, longing for the conversations they used to have in their homes, about what it means to love the Lord.
Workplace conversation is shallow and dull instead of uplifting, and no one posts their favorite scriptures anymore. Door frames, mirrors, gates, they’re all empty now: the words of YHWH that used to adorn their doors, gates, hands, foreheads are shadows of a past life (Deut.6:4-8).
Everybody’s wondering the same thing: “did we actually mess up enough to turn even God away?”
In this, their lowest moment, before they’ve lost their last shred of hope, God answers.
“Clearly”, God says, “ rescuing your families from Egypt and giving you explicit directions on how to live wasn’t enough for you.
I was on your side, but you insisted on turning away from me. If this had been a marriage, it would be so broken right now, with little hope for reconciliation.
So, this is what I’m going to do”, God says.
“I’m going to make a new deal with you. We’re going to try this again. This time, I’ll help you succeed. I will mend your broken hearts, and over the scars of doubts about whether or not I’m still with you, I will inscribe my will.
Yes. I will give you new visions for your futures and restore hope to your lives. You’ll know the right thing to do, because it will become a part of you
I’m giving you a chance to start over, to break the bonds of failure and guilt, and to be reconciled to me.
I will be your God, and you will be my people.
This is your chance to show me that you’re willing to receive my love, receive my forgiveness, and obey my commands. Embrace this promise, and start living your new restored life.
As part of this new promise, I will make myself and my commands so much a part of you, that they will become your new identity. Your old ways of failure and guilt will be replaced with a delight for my commands, and a desire to do my will.
I will restore you to your homes, and I will ‘build you and plant you and give you hearts to know that I am the Lord’.
You will know me, and your children will know me.
Priest and peasant, king and commoner, child and adult will know me,
because I will forgive your wickedness and will remember your sins no more.”
Well, that’s a lot to take in.
This might not happen to you as much as it does to me, but you know those times when you say something so off the wall that the person’s response that you’re talking to is “uh, I don’t know how to respond to that”?
This may be one of those times.
I mean, how insane. God goes off on a tangent about a coming restoration for a group of people who are on their last reserves of hope,
which is completely their fault, by the way,
and this promise includes God restoring them to their home, God making God’s self known to everyone, and God forgiving their disobedience and defiance, pledging never to remember that again.
Does that not blow your mind?
Israel’s day is about to get made, thanks to a God who desires relationship over revenge, a God who has the power to turn their lives around, a God who pledges to do just that,
in the form of a mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, hope-giving promise.
This promise is an invitation for Israel to accept God’s forgiveness, and enter into a restored relationship with God.
Oh, and guess what? We’re invited too.
I know, right? It just keeps getting better.
For Israel, this new covenant served as a preview of things to come: the re-population and rebuilding of Jerusalem.
For us, this new covenant serves as a reminder of God’s love, a reminder of God’s grace and a reminder of the fact that even in our failures, God is with us and brings restoration.
Restoration is a beautiful gift. In this case, it is especially beautiful because it is initiated by a merciful God and extended to a broken people.
When God restores the lives of broken people,
fear is replaced with courage and joy,
past mistakes become monuments of mercy, as they are forgiven and wiped away, never to be remembered again,
hearts that once bore the scars of guilt, shame and regret are healed, as new life and purpose flow through, like a river rushing over a dessert wasteland,
and broken people become a community of restored people, formed by God, and “transformed into a community of glad obedience.”
Restoration looks different for each of us, but the purpose of God’s restoration is the same:
God’s restoration is a mark of “the work of God in our lives to make us obedient and responsive to God’s love.”
God’s restoration says “you don’t have to stay locked in your past, because you’ve been forgiven,
you don’t have to be afraid to fail, because when you do and when you don’t, I’m right there with you, and we’ll make it together,”
God’s restoration says “you don’t ever have to wonder if you measure up, because you do. I say you do, I’ve inscribed it inside of you,
embrace this, let this transform you, and become the person I want you to be – a merciful, just and humble person who seeks my will and lives it out.”
Oh, it gets better.
Maybe one of the best parts of this new covenant for us, is that we get to imagine what it could be like, to live as members of this restored community. Imagine a community that believes they’ve been forgiven and allows that, instead of fear or regret guide their lives,
imagine a community that delights in faithful living,
imagine a community where Jew, Christian, slave, free, black, white, native, foreigner, citizen, immigrant stand on equal footing under the grace of a God who has forgiven their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
How do you respond to that?
Gratitude is a good place to start.
When you receive a gift like this, there’s not much else you can do with it. You can’t repay it, you (hopefully) would never return it,
So, use your gratitude to guide your actions and make it part of your acceptance of this beautiful gift.
Our gratitude should be reflected in the things we do and say, and our lives should show evidence of the new heart and renewed spirit that God has promised to us.
We express our gratitude when we forgive as we have been forgiven.
We express our gratitude when we recognize the inherent value in others, and in ourselves.
We express our gratitude when we allow God to continue to reshape our dreams and our lives to make us obedient and responsive to God’s love.
We express our gratitude when we share the promise.
Each of us, at one time or another has been rescued from something. We’ve been forgiven, our lives have been restored and our relationships with God have been reconciled.
Let’s not forget that.
When our pasts show up in the present, and we’re face to face with our failures,
when our insecurities threaten to undo us,
when it seems like maybe we’ve done enough to turn God away,
let’s remember that our identity has already been decided for us. It’s written on our hearts, by a merciful God who won’t turn away.
We are God’s people, we are forgiven, we are restored.