Is Christianity Stuck in the Past?

originally preached on 3/21/2021

Message Title: Is Christianity stuck in the Past?
Theme: Record Breakers & Redemption
Season: Lent
Main Text: Jeremiah 31:31-34;
Scripture Reading: John 12:20-33
RCL Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Focus: God establishes a new covenant with his people.
Function: To see the complexity of our faith and In the midst of our convictions, we can have space for differences of opinion.
Other Notes: Guinness Records in Indiana https://www.indystar.com/story/life/2014/10/09/guiness-book-world-records-hoosiers/16960841/

SCRIPTURE READING: John 12:20-33 20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One[e] to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. 27 “Now I am deeply troubled.[f] What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.” 30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up[g] from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)

WORLD RECORD: Batman Memorabilia-

  1. AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Do you collect anything? What do you collect? What started the collection?
  2. A few weeks ago we had heard about Indiana’s temporary world record for longest high five chain, Today’s world record is another one of the past.
  3. Largest collection of Batman memorabilia from 2013-2015
    1. Set: Oct. 25, 2013. (surpassed in 2015 by Brad Ladner of Roswell Georgia with 8226 items)
    2. About the record: Kevin Silva of Indianapolis has 2,501 pieces of Batman memorabilia. Silva’s collection includes a lunch box he carried to kindergarten and a child’s black, felt cowl paired to a purple satin cape. Sorry, no Batmobile.
  4. Sources:
    1. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2015/10/record-holder-profile-video-welcome-to-kevin-silva%e2%80%99s-bat-cave-of-memorabilia-399999
    2. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/99621-largest-collection-of-batman-memorabilia

TRANSITION: It’s easy to live off of our former glories or cling to memorabilia from the past rather than living in the present or planning for the future. But continually focusing on the past without considering the present or the future leads to painting the past with a biased lens.

In our text for today, we will hear about God doing something new. God establishes a new covenant in Jeremiah 31. As we dive into this *new* covenant from the *old* testament, I want us to consider the preconceived ideas we carry with us about scripture specifically and Christianity as a whole.

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 31:31-34 31The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “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 wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

EXPLAINATION:

  1. Background: I want to take a moment to zoom out from this passage and discover the context for these words.
    1. Audience: (northern or southern kingdom?)
      1. is speaking to the southern Kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed about a hundred years ago.Only the kingdom of Judah remains, yet they still struggle to be faithful to God. King Josiah (at the beginning of Jeremiah) tried to turn the people back to God but that was short lived.
    2. Chart of Prophets & Kings – 2
  2. Jeremiah told them exile was coming as a consequence of their actions (and he wasn’t the only prophet at that time saying the same thing: Zephaniah, Nahum, Joel, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, and Habakkuk All have timelines that overlap Jeremiah.). But that didn’t stop them.
    1. Even though they were experiencing consequences and exile, God was promising them that redemption & restoration were coming.
    2. The covenant God started with Moses & the Israelites on Mount Sinai wasn’t working. Israel had broken that covenant so many times, God acknowledged that covenant was broken. But God’s intention of keeping God’s promises wasn’t over.
    3. God says, I’m going to establish a new covenant to fulfill my promises.
  3. The New Thing: God is looking back and maintaining promises to be fulfilled in a new way.
    1. “I will put my instructions within them”
      1. Connection to Deut 6—the Shema was a prayer & instruction for Israel to write God’s word on their hearts, now God is the one doing it.
    2. “I will be their God”
      1. Repeating the words of the covenant in the 10 commandments.
      2. God is still maintaining God’s promises.
      3. God claims them first.
    3. “No longer need to teach…”
      1. No need for priests as mediators? (different than the conversation between Moses, God and the Israelites where they begged for a mediator for fear that God would smite them)
      2. God will be present with you God will be the priest.
    4. “I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.”
      1. No longer need to sacrifice or be made “pure” to meet God.
      2. God is changing the way the measure of righteousness will be fulfilled.

INTERPRETATION: To see the complexity of our faith and In the midst of our convictions, we can have space for differences of opinion.

  1. The prophecy of Jeremiah is a book with famous passages in the Christian faith. However, we frequently take these famous passages out of context or misconstrue their meaning with our bias.
    1. Example: Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you…” (big quote people use about hope or for graduates to say that there is a purpose you are on this earth and God will bless you with those plans.) We write this passage to say God has a great plan or purpose four our life.
      1. HOWEVER: God was sending them into exile but God wasn’t going to abandon them. Nor was God going to leave them in exile forever.
      2. God tells them to not put their life on hold waiting to return to the Promise Land. Live, work, marry, have babies. Get settled in, you’ll be here a while. (verse reference)
      3. This passage is about comfort in the midst of consequences.
  2. Nostalgia, Memories, & Memorabilia and twist our interpretation of scripture.
  3. Our interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31-34 follows that of Jeremiah 29:11. We take that passage out of context and point only to Jesus. We see the hope of the messiah in this passage, and it leads us to what we’ve been taught about salvation. This thought or reading impacts our answers to different questions:
    1. Questions about salvation:
      1. Who is saved?
      2. What is the path to salvation?
      3. What about the Jews? Does God give up on them?
    1. THOUGHT EXERCISE: I want to take a moment to reflect on the implications of reading this passage this way (and ignoring the rest of ch 31). Here are some questions that popped up:
      1. Can God change God’s mind about the plan for salvation & sin? (God doesn’t compromise God’s goals, God modifies the route to get to those goals for humans).
      2. Can we change God’s mind the plan for salvation & sin? (scripture suggests yes, Abraham & Moses talk to God and God changes the plan. However more frequently than not, prayer is about us aligning with God’s desires rather than God aligning with our desires.)
      3. Did God give up on the Israelites/Jews(God’s promise to Abraham) and look for a new people( to be Abraham’s offspring)? (If you read all of Jeremiah 31, you will quickly see that God repeatedly says, he will not give up or abandon Israel. Even though the northern Kingdom of Israel is already wiped off the earth).
        1. Would God be a merciful, just, loving God if God transferred his commitment from the Jews to Christians? What about the people that lived before Jesus or the people who live their entire lives never hearing the name of Jesus?—answers to these questions speak about God’s character not about the character of humanity.
      4. Do we have a choice in God’s love(salvation)? –theological answer different depending on the denomination
        1. Depending on your faith family tree, your answers to these questions will be different.
          1. Calvinists & Arminians/Free Evangelicals
          2. Perhaps you can be a rebel and say, maybe there is space for both of these schools of thought to happen?
      5. Christians don’t agree on the details of salvation apart from the connection to Jesus.
  4. Jeremiah knew nothing of Jesus when this passage was written. Jeremiah wasn’t speaking about a Christian hope, but a Jewish hope. God would fulfill God’s covenantal promises to Abraham, Moses, and Israel.
    1. This time, God says, “I’m gonna do a new thing.”—these promises are old but the path may be different.
    2. God doesn’t ditch the Jews nor is God saying to ditch the Old Testament when Jesus shows up on the scene. Jesus even says he doesn’t come to abolish the law(10 commandments/Torah) but to fulfill the law. God maintains God’s expectations and God brings about the fulfillment of those expectations through Jesus.
    3. God is fulfilling God’s promises through Jesus. Jesus is God keeping the promises of the OT.
  5. How we read scripture impacts the teachings of the Church.

APPLICATION: To see the complexity of our faith and In the midst of our convictions, we can have space for differences of opinion.

  1. As I look at this very familiar passage and my mind goes into default mode when interpreting. I have to recognize that the scope of Christian belief about salvation is wide and complex.
    1. Clinging to nostalgia teachings without analyzing them in the Spirit, can be detrimental.
      1. When I think I’ve got God all figured out, God teaches me a new lesson.
    2. Israel spent centuries ignoring the teachings and instructions of God and only listening to the voices of generations past. They experienced the consequences of their actions through exile.
  2. Salvation Gatekeeping: Christian Selective nostalgia is a real problem when looking back at Christian history and scripture.
    1. We pick and choose what we like
      1. OT Laws (some) & Judgement
      2. Ditch the jews (except to defend their right to the land of Israel)
      3. Jesus represents love, mercy, and salvation (but only for the repentant who have prayed a salvation prayer).
    2. We do salvation gate keeping.
  3. America has this problem with our selective memory about our history: “good ole days” for who?
    1. Asian Americans building railways or in internment camps during WWII. All Asians getting lumped into one category, disregarding their different cultures, languages, and ethnic roots. (this also led to them all being treated poorly during WWII)
    2. Native Americans lost their land to settlers and a government who continually breaks promises to them. “reservations” are the worst land.
      1. SD boarding schools- Shaved heads & beat their language out of them
    3. African Americans -slavery, segregation, “separate but equal,” civil rights movement, BLM
    4. Mexican Americans & Tejanos- you can be here only if you speak our language and work the jobs we don’t like. Yes, I know we moved the border of Mexico on you but get with the program.
  4. The Good Ole days is a biased interpretation of the past.
    1. Do I love the Andy Griffith Show? Of course! Mayberry is great. Bu tit also isn’t a full picture of America.
    2. Not saying we cancel our favorite things of the past but to look at them with a bigger understanding of the story.

CONCLUSION:

  1. Lent Season Wrap up: Today is the last Sunday in Lent proper. Next week is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy week. Though we are wrapping up this season of Lent, we aren’t our commitment to live intentionally.
    1. Perhaps you started a new practice for the season of lent. what is the next step of diving deeper into your walk with God?
      1. Traditional practices: Fasting , Charitable giving, Confession & Repentance, Incorporate a new spiritual practice
      2. Unconventional practices: Joy Jar
    2. Perhaps you are still considering your commitment card or lost it and need a new one. No worries, we’ve got some in the foyer. What are your next steps for fulfilling this commitment?
  2. Though this official season of reflection is ending, we are still called to grow deeper with God. As we look forward to Easter, we can also look forward to what God is doing new in our lives and in this world. God is keeping God’s promises.
  3. If we let ourselves only stick to the familiar nostalgic things, we may never grow deeper into who God built us to be. Nostalgia can prevent growth. However, nostalgia can also be a gift to help us remember God’s faithfulness and give us strength to step into something new.
    1. It’s time to ask God: Where to next?

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