Writing on Hearts Jer 31: 31-34 Jn 12: 20-33
The more I preach the more I come to believe that God provides the words … This week at Team Supervision we were thinking talking about what it might mean to be a head person or a heart person. I wonder if you would put yourself in one of those categories. I wonder if you would be inclined to think of other people you know in that way. Some people would say the men are head people and women are heart people – that’s a pretty bad generalization isn’t it – especially as a political move (which can work both ways).
But then I read today’s text again:
‘The time is coming, says the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (doesn’t sound very good for men if our cliché has substance)
That phrase stuck out for me… ‘write it on their hearts”
Does that mean that the people of God move from being head people to being heart people? Does that mean that they stop thinking… and start feeling? Does that mean that something drops 2 feet from here to here? Perhaps… but what does that drop mean?
Jeremiah gives us a clue. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me.
Tradition and education can work like that sometimes. You get told when you are a child or an adult. “Know the Lord!”. This is how it is. And for some reason you just accept that. Or rather, you accept it simply and solely because another person said it was so (on authority). They said to you (banging a pulpit perhaps). “Know the Lord.” Perhaps that person was a minister and you didn’t doubt the minister, or a Sunday School teacher. Here’s the deal… take it or leave it. And you just took it. But it didn’t sink in. Perhaps they said God loves you… and you just took it and put it in your head. Perhaps it was Christmas and they said, “God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ”… It didn’t become part of who you were. It was just one of those items of furniture that lives in your head. You may be quite fond of that furniture… but it’s not really part of you. Some would say it is faith, because you don’t question it, you just believe. But maybe it’s not faith at all. Maybe it’s law. It’s that external authority that isn’t really you, but just something you have to conform to – because, in the end of the day you’re afraid not to.
You might say that’s head knowledge that needs to move down to the heart… but notice that part of it being head knowledge is not so much too much thinking, and not enough feeling, as not enough thinking or at least not enough thinking of the right kind. Head knowledge is really something that doesn’t penetrate your whole being. Whether that happens by means of the organ called the brain or the heart, isn’t really the point. It’s whether it penetrates your whole life. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t really move you … to action – then it hasn’t got to your heart. I wonder if a lot of us are walking around with items of furniture in our head that haven’t gotten as far as our heart. We may have a sentimental attachment to them, but they are not really written on our heart.
Has God written a covenant on your heart?
One of the things that distinguished Jesus, perhaps the main thing that distinguished Jesus, according to the NT is his amazingly intimate sense of his relationship to his Father/to God. He taught the Scriptures with authority – that is, “as if he were their author”. Never in the life of Israel had any one called God – Abba – with the sense of intimacy. How do you get close with the one on whom all things in all creation depend for their existence?
Imagine being the only person in the whole world with that kind of relationship to God.
Imagine if God has written a covenant on your heart and every fibre of your being wants that covenant to be written on all God’s people. Every fibre of your being wants not to be alone in this relationship with God. (Of course it’s a relationship, so Jesus is not alone – God is relational, but in terms of the human world he is). Imagine if all around you see a world driven by fears which drive conflict and lead people to secure themselves against others and to find scapegoats to secure their world, or start wars to secure their world, or become addicted to covetousness (or just shopping) to secure their world. Imagine if that’s the world you live in and you are the only one who knows God’s absolute commitment as Abba. Imagine if you realize that everywhere death is in control, the world has been programmed by death, and it’s in the gene pool and the program is passed down from parents to children. Yet God has written a covenant on your heart that is completely different. In some ways we can’t really imagine that, because that’s not our situation and never has been Although many of us are tempted to think of ourselves as the one pure victim – it’s just not true. … But it is true for Jesus.
And in todays reading he says (of himself): “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone”…
The covenant will not be written on the heart of God’s people, on Israel’s heart, unless Jesus dies, unless Jesus is lifted up naked on a stick, with nails hammered into his flesh and all around leaving him alone, in complete solitude and isolation. Unless, he gives up all attempts to force anything on the world, unless he gives himself, he will remain alone. But if he does give that up, if he dies, and only if he dies, perhaps, by means of his dying, God will write a new script on the human heart, reprogramming it.
Today I’m not going to explore further, how come Jesus death does rescript the human heart. If you want to do that I suspect you should join up for our Easter Encounter series – next session is on ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ It’s not at all obvious… why a brutal death my be necessary for the spreading of the seed (writing of the new covenant)
What today’s scripture leaves us is this incredible insight, in Jesus, that not only would his death be inevitable in his context, but that if and when it happened it would draw all people… It would become God’s way of writing a covenant on the hearts of God’s people, which otherwise would not be written. Unless it happened, God would be just be a theory or a law – something your parents or your Sunday School teachers tell you about and it hangs around like excess furniture in the top of your head. Head knowledge – perhaps worse than knowledge, destructive legalistic baggage.
Bruce Hamill (Caversham combined service 29.3.09)