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Lent 5B Sermon
Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12: 20-33
March
18, 2018

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

Today marks the beginning of the last week of Lent, and it is a really good time to hear the scripture texts we shared today before we enter the great and Holy Week on Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday next week. Our second lesson, from Hebrews – a document considered to have been a sermon that circulated among Christian congregations with Jewish roots – paints a picture of Jesus the high priest. The title, “priest” in latin is, “pontifex” which literally means bridge builder. The author of this sermon reminds us of what will happen in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus cries out that God’s will be done. And in our Gospel reading from John, Jesus refuses to see some outsiders not because they are outsiders, but because the time has come for him to be glorified on the cross and in the empty tomb.

As we prepare for Holy Week, I would like to focus a little more on our first lesson. The prophet Jeremiah writes to people who are in exile in Babylon, and most of his book is filled with much gloom and doom. But there is this little nugget in chapter 31 that we glean from Jeremiah’s writings, and we hear it every Reformation Sunday in October and on various other Sundays of the year. To all who feel separated from God, here is a wonderful promise about where God is alive and active in our lives. He promises to do so many things: to MAKE a new covenant; to PUT his law within us; to WRITE it on our hearts: to BE our God; to FORGIVE our iniquity; and finally to REMEMBER NO MORE our sin. It has been my experience that people feel pretty good about all of those promises that God makes to us, up until the last one. God promises to remember our sin no more – basically to forget our sin. How can that be?

This new covenant that Jeremiah proclaims differs from the one made on Mt. Sinai in several ways, but perhaps most significantly is that it is brought into existence and ratified not by any sacrifice or ritual practice on the part of the people, but by God's decision to forget Israel's sinfulness, betrayal, and infidelity. God does not just pass over, absolve, or forgive this time around; God also forgets, erasing even the memory of the breach in their relationship. How do you feel about our all-knowing, all powerful God forgetting anything?? I don’t know about you, but I often find it difficult to forget when I have been the victim of anything, no matter how small.
About six weeks ago I had made my usual appointment to donate blood. I have O negative blood which is in very high demand as a universal donor type. Emergency rooms keep my blood on hand to give to anyone who comes in suffering a trauma, knowing that no matter their type, they can receive my blood. I have given many, many gallons of blood over the years. I now give a double red donation when I go – it takes a little longer since the blood goes through a machine that spins out the red cells and gives me back the white ones. They get twice as many red cells at each donation, and I get twice as long between donations appointments, so I don’t mind.

Well on this particular day my appointment was at 1:00. I had gone online that morning, answered the history questions and printed out the fast pass to expedite the process. I arrived 15 minutes early and took my seat. It didn’t take too long to get called back for the rest of the pre-donation process; and that didn’t take long either. I was thinking that it was going to go smoothly. Then I was asked to return to the waiting area for a little longer while they prepared the machine for me, explaining that they were training a new person to run the machine, and it was taking a little longer. After about 20 minutes in the waiting area I was called to sit down. She got things all set for me, but just before she was going to clean off my arm, the person on the machine next to me was done. She said she would be right back after she took care of him. About 10 minutes later she finally got back, cleaned off the arm and put the needle in the marked area. She took off the clamp and the blood travelled about 4 inches into the tube before stopping. Upon checking the injection spot she concluded that it wasn’t going to work. She asked if we could try the other arm. I said, “I guess so …” After cleaning off and bandaging that arm, she said that she just needed to get the machine all set again for me. Picturing another 20 minute delay in the waiting room, I said, “You know, I really can’t be here that long. I’ll make another appointment.” She sounded surprised. I had been there an hour and a half and hadn’t even had a successful needle stick! I couldn’t stay around any longer …
That experience had stayed with me these last 2 months since it happened, prompting me to ignore the calls that I am getting multiple times a day from the American Red Cross. I know that the blood I donate saves lives, but the terrible memory of that day has kept me from rescheduling.

I couldn’t help but think about that as I heard again the words from Jeremiah read this morning. God knows, gets angry about, and even mourns over the fact that his people have been unfaithful, like a husband who has an unfaithful spouse. But the love that God has for his people is so strong that he knows that the only way to keep these people is to force himself to forget the sinfulness of the past and write this new covenant on our hearts.

It often takes one bad experience for a person to never want to give someone another chance. I usually have good experiences giving blood, but this one has impacted my memory. Maybe you have a memory of someone doing something to you that makes you never want to be with them again, or that makes you want them to pay in some way for what they’ve done. But God does what we humans cannot always do: God forgets. In response to their failure, God refuses to recognize it. In response to their infidelity, God calls them faithful. In response to their sin and brokenness and very real wretchedness, God's memory has to be pushed and prodded to find any recollection. God forgets. And if God forgets, might we also?

As I prayerfully read and prepared to preach on these texts today, I was led to go online and make an appointment to donate blood. I am doing it tomorrow. I hope it will be better than the last time. Quite honestly, I hope that the woman being trained when I was last there isn’t there this time! But I recognize my need to forget those times when someone did something – intentionally or not – to cause me harm, pain, or even just an inconvenience. Saving lives is more important than me remembering that experience.

When we share the passion reading next Sunday I want you to think about this – God could easily remember our sinfulness. God could easily turn his back on us as being an evil, rotten creation. But, being faithful to God’s promise, God is acting out what it means to forget, to remember our sins no more. It is that promise that leads Jesus to love us, to suffer for us, to die for us; It is that promise that leads God to raise Jesus again so that all of the sinful creation – the same one who puts his own son to death on the cross – may have eternal life, peace and joy in his kingdom. Remember that next week … and celebrate because God has promised to forget! May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.