Sunday, October 20, 2013

A New Covenant

I am preaching at Christ Church in Calgary, Canada this morning, and thought I would share with you the message I will share with them.

Let me offer you a deeper reading of this morning’s passage from Jeremiah, one true to the Hebrew, though one you will not find in your English translations.

Be certain, declares the Only One of Being, a time of new covenanting is coming for the House of Israel and Judah, and this new covenant will be unlike the old made with your ancestors when I liberated them from the Narrows only to see them brake with freedom and abandon Me, their true Beloved.

This new covenant cannot be broken for I will place My Torah within you, and write it on your hearts, that I will be your Being and your Becoming, and you shall be My people. No longer will you teach one another, or admonish one another saying, “Know the One!” for you shall all know Me—from the least of you to the mightiest—for I will forgive your sins and forget your errors for ever. (Jeremiah 31: 31-34)

As Christians you may imagine Jeremiah is speaking of the covenant of Christ who died as ransom for your sins. I will not disabuse you of this reading, but I invite you to go more deeply into the text, to read it as rabbis do, and perhaps as Rabbi Jesus did.

In the beginning of this passage God admits failure: the old covenant written on stone was broken, but more importantly was breakable. This was a surprise to God: why would people newly liberated from Egypt—the Hebrew mitzrayim literally means the Narrow Places, the constricting places in which you and I are enslaved—opt over and over again to enslave ourselves? But we do. We are offered the endless love of the infinite Beloved and turn instead to the shallow passions stirred by our addictions: emotional, financial, cultural, ethnic, spiritual, religious, etc.

In Genesis 12:1–3 we are called to lech lecha, to journey inwardly as well as outwardly, and free ourselves from the enslavements and conditioning of nationality, ethnicity, religion, parental bias and the rest, and travel to a new place that the conditioned mind cannot see but that God will show us when we drop our conditioning, and there as free women and men to become strong and use our strength to be a blessing for all the families of the earth, human and otherwise, from the least to the mightiest.

And yet we abandon the journey, and seek to escape not from slavery but from freedom, and to “choose a new leader who will take us back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4) The absolute love of God, a love that burns away the addictions to which we so desperately cling, is so frightening that many of us beg to return to slavery, and in so doing break the covenant of liberation made with our ancestors.

To correct this failure God plans to make a new covenant, an unbreakable convenant, unbreakable because it isn’t written on stone but on hearts. Yet the ancient rabbis wondered why God writes this new Torah “on our hearts” rather than “in our hearts.” Their answer is crucial for all of us.

The new Torah is on our hearts so that we may open our hearts to receive it. There is still work to be done: the heart—your heart—has to be opened to the covenant. But how? We Jews have our way. We call it Teshuvah and Tikkun, the Way of Returning and Repair: returning to our true nature as the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and Repairing the world with godliness. In this way we continue the process of lech lecha, the journey toward freedom and unconditionality, toward that place of liberation where we can be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

But you are not Jews, but Christians, and you have your own way, the way of the Cross. Not the Cross of Christ, the Cross of the institutional Church that teaches us that Christ died as ransom for our sins so that all we need do to open our hearts and receive the new covenant is to have faith in that act of absolute and infinite sacrifice, and worship the one who made it, but the cross of Jesus, the cross of resistance, the cross on which Rome crucified those who threatened its power and challenged its hegemony. Listen to the words of St. Paul on the nature of your way:

For our struggle is not against the people (flesh and blood), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 6:12).

When you confront these powers do they roll over and surrender? No they crucify you. 

Jesus never said “worship me,” but only “follow me”: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me,” (Matthew 16:24). Turning from your selfish ways is the process of teshuvah—the Hebrew literally means turning; it is the lech lecha journey to freedom that frees you to be a blessing to the world, but at what cost? You and I, Christians and Jews, call this cost the Suffering Servant of God. You are taught that this refers to Christ alone, we Jews—and never forget that Jesus was a Jew—know that it is a cost each of us must pay on our own.

Jesus says “take up your cross” and follow him. Follow him where? To heaven that is the new covenant assuredly, but first to Golgotha, first to the crucifixion—not his alone, but yours. That is why you have to take up your cross, and not make a fetish of his cross.

Jesus is telling you that if you want to follow him you must do as he did and struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces—the nonmaterial influences of our culture that sustain the rulers in their enslavement of the people. And in so doing you will die. And in dying your heart will break: Eli, Eli, lamah sabachtani; My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Mark 15:34). And with the breaking of your heart the Torah written on it slips within it, and the resurrection happens.

The resurrection is the day that is coming, the day of the new covenanting when you will do the work of Jesus and even surpass him (John 14:12), and the promise of God will be fulfilled because the godliness of free humans will transform the earth with love, compassion, justice, and peace. This is the promise. The only question you must answer is this: Do you have the courage to fulfill it?


Ty said...

I usually check your blog every day, and have been waiting for a month for your next post. The wait has been well worth it!

"A New Covenant" describes the gospel of Jesus far better than any interpretation of which I am aware (and I was ordained as a Baptist "minister of the gospel" in 1971!)

Unfortunately, I would still prefer for Jesus to take up my cross for me--i.e, hang on the cross in my place! Thanks for reminding me to grow up.

Thanks also for "Happy Sukkot" and the reminder "that the best way to survive life's uncertainties is with the love of family and friends."

Tricia Datené said...

Wow! I just went to an Anglican (Episcopal) women's retreat last weekend called "Outside the Lines: Seeing with the Eye of your Heart".

We were encouraged to live outside the lines of our childhood religious teaching and accept the spiritual power that is available to all and make a new covenant with the Divine One. There are no coincidences, truly. The church is beginning to wake up from hundreds of years of dogma and politics. We need to write our own Creeds.

irreverance said...

I love your translation. Great message.

>>...that I will be your Being and your Becoming,...<<

I'm stuck on that part right now.

andrea perez said...

What a lovely message!
Do you have a blog where you share more of your teachings and understanding of text?
This is the kind of message that helps with interfaith dialog
Thank you