Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent B
When did you meet your parents? This is not some kind of existential question.
When did you meet your parents? I don’t mean when did you begin to know your parents, or when did you see your parents as real people with all the faults and virtues of normal people. No, when did you actually meet your parents? Having just welcomed another child into my family I can say that we introduce her a lot to other people. I introduced my daughter to the church, to her grandparents, even her big brother and big sister. But introducing her to my wife and me simply wasn’t necessary: she came from us, literally, so to be introduced is just silly really: we know who she is, and she knows who we are.
I suppose for those who are adopted, it’s a little different. In those cases introductions are in order, and there is considerable work to be done in making that relationship real and concrete. A lot of families celebrate the “Gotcha Day,” the day that the adopting family got the adopted child, the day they were introduced for the first time as family.
Throughout the early history of God’s people, God always has to adopt the People of Israel. Time and again he has to bring the people into his family, into his Covenant that he initially made with Abraham. This is why God is always introducing himself to folks as, “the Lord God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, the God of your ancestors.” God is establishing his resume; he has to introduce himself because as time has gone on, and successive generations have passed, they have lost touch with Him. So for the early people of Israel, God is constantly adopting them into his promises, into his covenant.
But today, here in the Jeremiah passage, God, in the mouth of the prophet, has taken a different tack. God begins by saying, “I’m going to do something new. I’m not going to do business as I did in the past. Back in the day, I used to take my people by the hand. But now, I’m not going to be an external force acting on them, instead I will be within their hearts and in their minds. No longer will my ways be written down in books, but within them.” It’s rather startling stuff really. The next part is most surprising of all. God says, “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.” God is setting up a different model of relationship here. God is saying that people won’t have to teach about God anymore, they won’t have to say, “Know God,” why? Because God’s law, God’s way of behaving and doing business will be written on the hearts of all people. God is saying that he won’t need to adopt people anymore because no introduction will be necessary; people will know that they are in real relationship with God, to such a degree that introducing God would look something like being introduced to your own mother.
But that hasn’t happened has it? We still are evangelical, we still need to introduce God to our kids, to the world, heck even to ourselves. This business of having God’s ways written on our hearts isn’t quite a reality.
People who study the decline of faith and the erosion of church attendance point out all kinds of reasons for such a decline. They cite events from the French Revolution and the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, to the advent of video games and the internet as the culprits for the erosion of the life of faith. There might be something to all that, but I think they miss the point; it’s not science and technology that cause the erosion of faith in our children and in ourselves: it’s a lack of authenticity. What causes any of us to leave the church, or worse yet, stay and go dry: just going to church because that’s what we were taught to do; has to do with authenticity. This is what God is saying to you today, quit following the rules that you think I have laid upon you. Be with me. Be with me, don’t simply talk piously about me; talk with me. Don’t teach your children about me; be with me and the teaching will come through in your life. As Saint Francis said, “Go out into the world and preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” God is telling us to be authentic today, authentic about our relationship with him. If we can be authentic, then the erosion of faith, whether in ourselves or in those we love, will stop, it will simply stop. That is why adolescents and young adults leave the church, it’s not because we aren’t cool enough, I am cool, I am so so cool, just look at me, no they leave the church because they can smell a fake a mile away. This is the natural ministry of the young: the have finely tuned bologna meters. We must be authentic and stop trying to communicate about our relationship with God in a way that isn’t true to our experience.
This isn’t all to say that anyone here has not been authentic in their relationship with God. What God is saying today in Jeremiah is that we must be who we are in the Lord. It serves no one to simply ape another’s spirituality. We are not brought closer to God by being spiritual copy-cats. We must be the people, the individuals that God has created us to be. This is how the Christian life works: God takes us as we are and sets us on fire, he purifies those things in us that need purifying and he brightens those things that serve Him best. All of it is within us, we are the material which God breathes his Holy Spirit into: in short we become a sacrament. Yet we remain who we are, except for one thing, we now belong to a body, the Body of Christ. I had a talk this week with a parishioner who was unapologetic about his, shall we say personality shortcomings, he said, “Well in the body of Christ somebody has to be the butt!”
There is a trick to being authentic and it’s not all that complicated but it can be hard. It’s called honesty. Life with God can not be a fake-it-till-you-make-it enterprise. God wants us desperately to be honest with him. Of course he knows when we are being honest and when we are not, but God wants us to be honest with ourselves when we encounter Him. If we are feeling doubtful, go to God and say that you are feeling doubtful. If you are overjoyed, then go to God and tell him you are overjoyed. If you are angry, then go to God and tell him that. God works best in the clear light of total honesty and truthfulness.
The funny thing about being honest with God is that it enables us to more and more courageous acts of love towards ourselves and others. Having God within us, written on our hearts introduces us to the One who was always there, just waiting for us to peel away the veils and see Him there, all along.
Have you met your Father? His ways are written on your heart and mind. He’s the one who came again and again looking for you. Have you met Him? He is rather extreme and extravagant in His approach. He has done strange things: becoming a person, suffering and dying. He defeated death, and then He came again in the strangest way of all, He came in Spirit and power to form a people, and he said we would meet Him in each other, and in baptismal waters, and in bread and wine.
Have you met your Father?