October 20, 2020
Jeremiah 31:27-34, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and Luke 18:1-8
Never Give Up Hope
“When Americans glance 30 years into the future, they see a country in decline economically, politically and on the world stage. While a narrow majority of the public (56%) say they are at least somewhat optimistic about America’s future, hope gives way to doubt when the focus turns to specific issues.
A new Pew Research Center survey focused on what Americans think the United States will be like in 2050. It finds that majorities of Americans foresee a country with a burgeoning national debt, a wider gap between the rich and the poor and a workforce threatened by automation.
Majorities predict that the economy will be weaker, health care will be less affordable, the condition of the environment will be worse and older Americans will have a harder time making ends meet than they do now. Majorities believe that a terrorist attack as bad as or worse than 9/11 will happen sometime over the next 30 years.”
And with this gloomy view on the future, let’s turn to the most morose prophet in the entire Bible, Jeremiah! There is a reason why a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes, is called a Jeremiad. Yes, Jeremiah was not a happy camper.
Now in all fairness, there were some internal and external factors that made it hard for this OT prophet to be upbeat: he was very emotional, perhaps he had a melancholy personality. At the same time, he suffered with his people as the geo-political situation during his time was turbulent. So even though he was a faithful person who responded to God’s calling, it seems as if his honest preaching left a mark. It was not easy for him to bring bad news to his people. He did not enjoy pointing out when his people failed to live as a covenant people.
He apparently was not someone who liked conflict and yet he had enough courage and integrity to tell his people that what they were doing were irresponsible and unfaithful and would have dire consequences.
And yet Jeremiah also had a message of hope. He criticized when needed – but he also energized his people by providing them with words of hope.
And the chapter we read this morning is in fact one of the most profound insights of the Old Testament faith. This is what Jeremiah said: “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.”
So important are his words that the author of the NT letter to the Hebrews refers to this passage twice. Actually, Jesus himself refers to these words at the Last Supper, when he says “the new covenant in my blood”.
Three times the prophet says: “Behold the days are coming” and the days that are coming refer to God’s future saving activity. He talks about a new covenant. This new covenant was going to be something completely different from the old: The Law will be written on the hearts of people and not in stone. It will be internalized, However, there will be continuation: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Furthermore, “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest”. And it will be a time when “God would forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more”.
In spite of Jeremiah’s context, in spite of geo-political dead-ends, in spite of social and military upheaval, in spite of all the odds being against his people, Jeremiah is convinced that with God new beginnings are always possible.
The future for the prophet Jeremiah is never a closed and determined system. With God, there is always hope! People of faith view the future in a different way. People of faith don’t see the future as a threat or an uncertain danger that is causing fear and anxiety. Instead they view the future as a time full of opportunities, the future is the time when God will make things new. The future is a time when God’s children will rejoice knowing that God will take care of God’s people!
So even as it is true that the future is uncertain for everyone- for people of faith the future is uncertain not in a disturbing or unquiet way. On the contrary, the future is an open opportunity for people of faith to be pleasantly surprised by God’s ability to change the old into something new. The future is filled with hope that will bring tremendous joy and fulfilment for walking with God is indeed an adventure. The days that are coming will be a time in which God will present amazing surprises and exciting opportunities. So, there is no need to fear the uncertainty of the future! We are challenged to feel excited and optimistic about it!
It is therefore sadly ironic that people of faith are often the people that resist change the most. People of faith are often more change averse, and more nostalgic about the past than non-religious people. They are often more fearful of the future and therefor they do everything possible to preserve the past.
Now, let’s be clear about the implications of words of Jeremiah: God’s people are on a journey, they have not arrived yet. But they trust in God that their journey into the future is with God and not alone! As Christians we share this with Jeremiah – we have not arrived. We should not hold onto the past as if the past was better and fear the future as if the future is a threat. People of faith should actually embrace change, they should be out in front to lead people to the days that are coming.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews, whose theology in many ways, corresponds to Jeremiah’s theology, actually reminds people that Abraham lived in a foreign land, in tents, as he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose builder is God. This simply means that Abraham, as a person of faith, never really settled in a permanent dwelling place- he was on a journey into the future, living in a tent and not in a permanent dwelling.
People of faith, because the days are coming, never settle in, they never become too comfortable with the here and now because their hope is that the future will be exciting and good for it is in God’s hands. The days are coming!
Why are they so optimistic about the future? What is it that makes the days that are coming so special? Well, these will be days that people of faith will better know the law of God. The Law of God will be written on their hearts. Those are the days when their sins will be forgiven and they will be God’s people. As Christians we believe, that these days were realized when Jesus was born, when he walked this earth and gave his life for many.
But Jesus also gave us a promise. He also promise that good days are coming. He will return. We have a sure and certain hope that the future will better and fuller! As people whose sins are forgiven, as God’s people, we are not afraid of the future.
God has more and better things in store for us.
Promises of good days that are coming. Promises fulfilled in Christ. But also new promises in the NT. We have not arrived yet! Days are coming and as people of faith we still hold onto this hope.
Which leads to a question: What should we do in the meanwhile?
We have to work to share this hope in the future. We have to do what Jeremiah did: point out what is wrong, work to improve the lives of others, show compassion to those who are hopeless and who are suffering. Convey to the world that God’s Kingdom is breaking through and hope springs eternal.
The parable of the widow and the unjust judge gives us more: we need to pray, hold onto this hope and persevere!
You see the danger is when one waits and waits one may become tired of waiting. One may lose hope. And one may only focuse on what is right here and now. Living for the present time and becoming content with what is. The danger is that we settle in, that we forget that we are on a journey and we feel we have arrived.
The strange parable about the widow and the unjust judge is calling Christ’s Disciples to persevere like the widow.
And like all parables the key is at the end in the form of a question: “And yet, when the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus is well aware of the danger of people giving up waiting and being distracted by everyday life chores. Jesus warns that it will not be easy to persevere for it is much easier to focus on what is going on here and now. And Jeremiah and Luke remind us that as people of faith we are waiting for the days to come. But we do not wait passively, but actively, praying, persevering, doing good deeds and pointing towards God’s Kingdom.
The Apostle Paul advises the young preacher, Timothy on how to stay busy while waiting for the days to come: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
I would summarize the Apostle’s advice to apply to all people and not only preachers as follows: Be focused on the promises of God, live your lives as responsible and committed people, be patient, be truthful, don’t complain, serve others.
Let me summarize: Don’t be afraid of the future. The future belongs to God. Don’t fear the uncertainty of tomorrow, God is the One who will fill tomorrow with opportunities to grow and serve. Don’t lose focus or be distracted by temptations of this world, there is more and better things to come. Don’t be pessimistic about the future for the future is in God’s loving hands and Jesus reminds us that we should not worry about tomorrow. While we wait, we should point out the wrongs in our society, we should work to improve the lives of others, show compassion to those who are hopeless and who are suffering. We should pray and persevere, live our lives with joy, be patient and truthful.
Let us serve God and God’s world here and now for we know the days are coming! Amen!