Written On Our Hearts

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In our Scripture readings today, we hear the story from the Prophet Jeremiah sharing the words of the Lord to the people of Israel,  reminding them of God’s faithful covenant with them over generations since before the time of Moses.  “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant and… “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.” It is such a beautiful image here of the law being written upon our hearts, an image that tells of a God who whispers in the deepest parts of our very souls.    Our passage from Luke is a parable in which Jesus tells the listeners of “their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  Again, we hear the language of the heart, the gentle reminder that when God speaks to us it is to the deepest parts of our very souls.   Both of these passages remind us that we are now and always have been in a dynamic, faithful relationship of Love with the One who loves us and with one another.  Let us pray, O Holy One, help us to listen to your voice still speaking to each of us and to us as a community of faith.  Help us to hear in new ways what you call us to do.  Help us to have the courage to act in ways that reflect your Law of love and compassion for our world.  Amen.

          The prophet Jeremiah, author of one of our first reading this morning, lived about 600 years before the time of Jesus, and was one of the major prophets of the Hebrew Bible. According to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah authored the Book of Jeremiah, the Books of Kings and the Book of Lamentations.  In addition to proclaiming many prophecies of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the Book of Jeremiah goes into detail regarding the prophet’s private life, his experiences, and his imprisonment. In the first book of Jeremiah, he pleads to the Lord to not call him to this role, arguing that he was far too young to take on such a responsibility.  As Frederick Buechner once wrote, “No prophet is on record as having asked for the job. They were drunk on God and they roared out against phoniness and corruption wherever they found them.”  Sadly, we know what has happened to some of the prophets of our own time.  Far too many people do not want to be reminded about living in truth and justice, honor and compassion.  It’s not an easy path.

          Jeremiah’s reading today speaks of a new covenant with the people as it seems they have again lost their way;  they have forgotten what has been passed along to them by the generations before them since the time of Moses and the sharing of the 10 Commandments. Throughout  Scripture,  God’s determined efforts to remind the people of the ways in which they should live together is seen again and again. There are these major confrontations as well as the countless other moments when God’s voice breaks through, from the Prophets to the Psalms and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and continuing with the New Testament.  God reaches out to the people in both subtle and more forceful ways in an effort to communicate to the people what God desires from a faithful, covenantal relationship that is grounded in love.

So, we remember Moses leading his people out of bondage in Egypt and wandering in the desert for a long time, losing their way  both in terms of where they are going as well as in their relationship with the One who has always loved them.  We might imagine Moses lugging those heavy tablets down from the mountaintop and then smashing them on the ground in disgust as he sees the people worshiping the golden calf.  God instructs Moses to chisel new tablets as a concrete reminder of what is expected of the people. These are the essential Laws that God has prescribed for the people of Israel to live as One community united in faith and hope.  We know these laws are straightforward and speak directly to the ways in which people must uphold the laws of humanity…Thou Shalt Not Kill, Thou Shalt Not Steal, Thou Shalt Not Worship False idols…etc…These are in response to what has been unfolding in their community, in response to what has been tearing them apart.  And these laws have been passed from one generation to the next up to and including our present time.

          But here with the Prophet Jeremiah, we are told that God realizes that a new covenant is needed. People have once again lost their way.  They have lost their connection to one another and to their God and so the Lord calls out to them once again and this time, the Lord says, I will write this commandment upon your hearts, then you can carry it with you wherever you go. 

In the movie Pinocchio, there is a much-loved little character called Jiminy Cricket.  I’m sure most of you can still picture what he looks like and that little chirpy voice of his, and I imagine you may remember that he was the conscience of Pinocchio.  He was the little reminder of the difference between right and wrong and he followed Pinocchio around as a visual and constant reminder of the importance of always telling the truth and doing the right thing.  And you may recall that every time Pinocchio lied, his noise would grow a little longer.  So not only did he have that little voice speaking in his ear through his little friend, but his physical appearance changed to show the world when he was not speaking the truth.

Well, we don’t have a Jiminy Crickett do we?  We learn our values from our parents and our wider families; we may have learned them in a church or at school, and often, certainly when I was growing up, there were others who would step forward to remind us and reinforce those values, reminding us of the difference between right and wrong…so that when we were faced with a difficult situation, we might look deep into our hearts for an answer.  I would suggest that God was working through all of these people to help write God’s law onto our hearts so that, even when we were alone, we would have the guidance we needed to try to make the most ethical decisions. Of course, as we move through life, things are not always black and white and things get blurred a lot.  We are not always faced with clear situations where it is easy to tell right from wrong, but the hope is that somewhere written in our hearts is that whisper of God reminding us that what is essential is to love one another, to treat one another with kindness and the deepest respect, to tell the truth, and to act justly. 

I suppose that people have played loosely with the truth in all generations, but it has been very discouraging in recent years to see the ways in which our leaders, our public servants, and others in the public eye have made a mockery of truth telling far too often.  One would think the principle of telling the truth would have been one of the simplest lessons to learn as a child, but that is only one way in which we have seen the demise of decency, civility, and respect in our world. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Covenant is passed along by Moses to the people and then written on the people’s hearts; however, too often the people lost their way, they lost their way to one another and to the One who created them for love, and so we hear in the New Testament that our God finally comes in person to remind us of what we are meant to be and whose we are meant to be.  In the person of Jesus, the Creator shows up, to walk among us and to remind us in the strongest possible ways of what is most important if we are to live together in the way our Creator desires.  Jesus comes as to encourage, to teach and to heal.  Jesus comes to remind us of what has been written in our hearts so long ago. 

One of the ways Jesus often spoke to the people was in the form of parables.  We hear them often, these little stories of other people and the situations they find themselves in.  I think it was Jesus’s way of not being too preachy, if you will.  You know, I think he discovered that sometimes it is easier for people to hear important truths through the stories of others and so that’s what he would often share, and especially when he was being judged by the self-righteous religious leaders of his day. 

The one we hear today is of the widow and the unjust judge.  At that time, a widow was often seen as a person with little money or power.  She lived off what she could, because of course, her husband was no longer there to provide financially for her and the family.  It was a low social position in society to be a widow and so for the judge to be unjust to her in her request to find justice against her accuser was a terrible thing.  It would have meant a great deal to her to find justice and so, as Jesus tells us, she persists repeatedly, until of course, the judge who describes himself as uncaring and lacking compassion, finally responds to her appeal.  Jesus is not suggesting that God is lacking compassion, but he is saying that we must continue to persist in our prayers and to not lose heart.  That if an unjust judge can finally listen to the appeals of this desperate woman and finally be moved to do the right thing, then how much more quickly will our God who loves us beyond measure, hear our prayers.  And, we may not always get the response we want or as quickly as we are hoping, but our God is listening and I trust, listening closely, to the deepest yearnings of our hearts and minds.

The Scottish essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle, once wrote, “A Loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.”  May we cultivate hearts of love, of wisdom and of righteousness inspired by the teachings of our faith and by the One who loves us always.  And, in the days ahead, may we be guided by the best of what we have learned so that we may pray always not lose heart.