God’s Law of Love

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.
32 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[a] them,[b]
declares the Lord.
33 “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.
34 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.”

The Congregational Church of Easton – August 6, 2023

A fellow named Christopher Schafer gives away high end suits to men returning to society from prison.  One of his customers said on the PBS Newshour, “When I put on this suit, it made me feel like… a productive member of society….  I am a man!”

Schafer and his son own an exclusive made to order men’s suit business in Baltimore.    Schafer is also in recovery.  He said getting clean was “the hardest thing I ever did in my life.  I needed support.”  Now he’s able to give back and provide others support.  His eyes moistened up, and he said, “That’s where the magic happens for me.  I’m in a situation where I’m able to help other people.”

In the words of today’s reading from Jeremiah, Christopher Schafer is someone who has God’s law of love is on his heart.  There is so much love in that fitting room in an old, converted Woolworth department store.  God’s law of love is plain to see.

I rarely preach from the Old Testament.  Instead, I try to communicate what Jesus means by the experience of the Kingdom of God.  I often talk about being in the Kingdom as being in the flow of love. 

Today’s reading from Jeremiah gives you and I another metaphor besides “flow of love” for understanding how the Kingdom is a palpable reality in our daily lives.  The Prophet Jeremiah talks about God’s law being within us and written on our hearts.  Six centuries later Jesus showed that this law is God’s law of love.

What I’d like to do this morning is describe the historical context in which Jeremiah is writing and explain why this passage is so revolutionary. 

Jeremiah is saying that God’s law will be written on our hearts instead of on 10 commandments inscribed on stone tablets.  That’s revolutionary for a people who believed in a God out there who promised them good harvests and safety from their enemies in return for their faithfulness and ethical behavior.

Jeremiah says God’s law of Love is within us. The idea of God within us is new.  It’s revolutionary. God is in us and among us, just as God is clearly on the heart of a clothier like Christopher Schafer.

Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary in his day, too. Religion in Jesus’ time had become very legalistic – pleasing God with lots of should and ought’s and animal sacrifices in the temple.  When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30-31)

That was revolutionary.  Jeremiah never said exactly what God’s law is. Jesus supplies the answer.  God’s law on our hearts is the commandment to love!       In our society in which hatred, divisiveness, and prejudice are so prevalent both Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ words are revolutionary too.

Let me give you some historical background to today’s story:  The prophet has been warning that the Babylonians are about to conquer Judah.  Why?   Because the Israelites broke their covenant with God.  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the 10 commandments, it marked the establishment of an agreement with God.  God said in essence, “I will be your God, and you will be my people” as long as you follow these laws.

By the time Jeremiah began his ministry the Israelites had broken the agreement.  They started worshiping Baal.  This broke the first commandment of having no other Gods beside Yahweh.  Jeremiah denounced the people’s sin and predicted an invasion from the north.  For that he was ridiculed and called a traitor.  Then sure enough, in 587 BC the Babylonians level Jerusalem’s walls, tear down the temple, and banish many Judeans to exile in Babylon.

As we pick up the story in Jeremiah chapter 31, the situation among the Jewish exiles was bleak.  They had lost their homes, their capital city, and their temple.  They had lost their God!  Jeremiah now speaks these revolutionary words of comfort in verses 31-34. 

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. 32 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,[a] says the Lord. 

33 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. 34 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.

SUCH a powerful promise! God is no longer a deity “out there” someplace who looks down on people to see if they are following his commandments.  God is within us, on our hearts.  And Jeremiah goes even further.  As one commentator puts it:

…knowledge of God becomes universal.  Education [or class distinctions] no longer divides people; the knowledge of God applies to all people alike. 

So a fellow like the suit-designer, Christopher Schafer, knows God, too, even if he doesn’t believe in God.  Schafer’s actions and that little tear in his eye are proof that God’s law of love is on his heart.  He most likely doesn’t understand that his impulse to support the men he serves Is acting on God’s law.  But as Jeremiah has God say, “I will be [his] God, and [he] shall be [one of] my people.”

The same is true for you.  God will be your God and you shall be God’s people. God’s law is within you, written on your hearts.

In these last several months that I have served you, I have admired the way you love each other and the way your care and concern extends outwards beyond this church. 

You have given me scores of people to love.  How can God’s law of love be on our hearts if we don’t have an ever-widening circle of people to love?

My fond wish for you is a commitment to spend more time in silence and a growing capacity to let your thoughts settle, to be quiet, and to experience the presence of God in the here and now.

And, as I’ve said in my pastoral prayers, my fervent wish for you is you continue to find even more ways of extending the love of this congregation outwards into your surrounding communities and the larger world. 

I’m sure you all know that small, inward-focused churches can’t survive in this age of declining church attendance and membership.  It is only the churches that find innovative ways of serving their communities that grow and thrive.

Let us pray:   Holy Unity, your law of love is on the hearts of these members and friends of the Congregational Church of Easton.  May they find ever so many ways to extend that love beyond these walls.   Amen.