March 4, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
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.
When we gather each week, and in the course of our days, we hear so many words….words with which we communicate with others in our daily lives, words from the radio and the television, words of Scripture and in hymns on Sundays here…words, words, words! The words may be helpful or hurtful and they may be rich and beautiful. The important thing is whether they enrich our lives and resonate with our hearts, whether they are Good News for us and for our world. In our passage today from Jeremiah, we hear this lovely phrase, “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.” And so let us pray this day, “O God of word and deed, you reveal yourself to us through all of your creation, open our hearts today, and help remind us that we are your people.” In Christ we pray, Amen.
I’d like to offer a reflection on this passage from Jeremiah. I was thinking of the development of babies recently. I know some of you have shared the joy of new babies in your lives…grand and great grandchildren, God children and other new arrivals which give us such hope for our future. One of the things I was thinking about is that in the early months and years of a child’s life, there is a great deal of learning. Parents and other family speak to the baby and hopefully share their love with this baby day after day and the baby takes all of that in. We know they aren’t able to communicate back to us all they are taking in and everyone is comfortable with that…but in those moments, in the early days of their lives, we help to reflect back to that young life that they are precious in our eyes, that they are loved totally and fully for who they are. We don’t ask them to do too much. We love it when they smile and coo to us, but they are loved for who they are entirely precious new life. That’s the hope, that’s the prayer, isn’t it?
And what are we doing? We are writing our love for them on their hearts. It’s beyond words; there is so much unspoken that reflects back to this new life that they are beloved, that they are special. A friend of mine did her dissertation in Pastoral Counseling where she spoke about how our childhood attachments in our early years have a lot to do with how and whether we feel attached to God; for our primary caregivers, if they are able to share their love in healthy ways, mirror to us and model to us, God’s immense and profound love for us. So later, if we have had the good fortune of healthy and loving early attachments with our parents and caregivers, we usually also have the capacity for healthy attachments with others in our lives and with God. Those early months and years are so vitally important.
So long before we are able to consciously articulate what we know, deep down in our hearts, we know we are loved. I think that’s what God is saying here in the passage from Jeremiah. God has written on our hearts God’s total and unconditional love for us long before we could begin to use any words to speak of faith. And even if we didn’t always feel perfectly loved by those who first cared for us, our work, our responsibility, our invitation is to respond to that love and to believe it…to believe that and to live in that love, to live in the knowledge that God is our God and we are God’s people. As Jesus so beautifully said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We are beloved children of God and we are called to respond in love to one another.
Years ago when I was doing my graduate work in education, I recall one of my professors using an interesting metaphor to try to explain how we take in information we hear, whether in school, the news, or even our lives. She talked about this image of inner Velcro. I think you all know what Velcro is and can perhaps even hear in your minds the sound of that connection that happens when the outer piece of Velcro connects in just the right way with its matched side and the pieces meet and stay together. So it is with what we take in from the outside. Over the years we have developed our own inner Velcro, from our parents and families, from our spiritual formation and faith experiences, from nature, from school and friends, from work and those with whom we cross paths with each day. When we hear something or learn something new, there are just some things that seem to make sense to us and other things don’t. Some ideas and beliefs resonate with our own core beliefs and we think, yes that makes sense….and others absolutely do not.
I think that the Velcro is formed over the years by the experiences we take in, hopefully experiences of love and support but also the times when we have been scarred or treated unjustly. We can see this with our political and religious differences. Why do some people absolutely believe some ideas and they just make sense to them, but others feel entirely the opposite?
It’s not a once and done kind of thing. We continue to nurture our own spiritual wisdom and experiences throughout our lives. The hope is that when we hear the words God loves you, that somewhere in the corner of our hearts, we can believe it, that the law written on our hearts and nurtured by our parents and caregivers allows us to say, yes, that sounds right. And, when we encounter experiences or information that contradicts what we have long believed, we are challenged to incorporate this new learning into our world view. We’ve all had moments like that, when we have pre-conceived beliefs about something and then we come to have important experiences that absolutely contradict that and we have to decide; will we make room for that or will we just shut it down, because we refuse to believe it. We know in our own culture that there are beliefs that permeate our lives, perhaps prejudices or blind spots, but sometimes, we encounter things which absolutely prove us wrong and we come to understand that we can’t generalize too much, that not all people of a certain group are this way. And certainly we ourselves yearn to be treated as the individuals we are, not as a confirmation of what someone believes about our ‘group’ or type.
The Law can be an amazing thing which helps societies organize themselves and live within certain parameters of acceptable behavior. It can help us aspire to be even better than we are. We have many wonderful individuals who have committed themselves to the upholding the law at its best and that is commendable. We know too that there have been unjust laws and that there perhaps always will be, and that there are those who seek to find the loopholes of laws or to enact laws that are profoundly harmful to others. Thankfully in a democracy, we can work to change those laws, but I know it can be long and hard and take a long time.
When God shared the Law with Moses through the Commandments and then later, Jesus interpreted the law, we know it was a beautiful and grand scheme of how we might live together in love, with respect for the dignity of every human person, including for ourselves. It’s interesting that they say young children understand injustice keenly. When they feel that they have been disciplined for something they did not do or because of what others in a have done, it makes them angry. It does not fit with what they have been taught or what they inherently understand about how they deserve to be treated. Our inner Velcro may be akin to our individual and social consciences but I believe it is even deeper than that; it is the most profound reminder that at our very core we are lovable and worthy and deserving of respect.
Our reading from Psalm 19 speaks about the glory of God as conveyed throughout all of nature. I know there are many within our community who have a great love for our earth and are working to protect our environment. We have enjoyed this past week the serenity of some mild February days when the sun was shining and giving us warmth and communicated deep peace. We also understand the power of nature to be destructive and disruptive to our lives. We live on the coast of Maine; of course we do, but I think most of us know truly how good we have it really, as so many other parts of our country often are hit even harder. The Psalmist says that there is a way in which God’s Law speaks to us through nature. It is another way in which we learn to appreciate the ways in which things are organized in so many miraculous and evolving ways.
At its best, the Psalmist says, God’s law embodies these beautiful qualities that continue to affirm the best of what God wants for all of creation. We hear that the law can revive the soul and make wise the simple, that the law can make the heart rejoice, the law can enlighten the eyes and that it is perfect and righteous.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
As people on the spiritual journey, trying to learn and nurture the best of what connects us to God and one another, what wisdom might we draw from these readings and from God’s law written throughout all creation? Like so much else in life, we receive these gifts, but we know we have to continually be open to new learning and new ways of strengthening and practicing what has been written on our hearts.
I recently read a wonderful article entitled “The Silent Art of Picking Your Heart up off the Floor” where the writer, Rachel Stafford was reflecting on the challenges that she and her daughters have faced over recent weeks in the wake of so much upset in our country and world. In it, she reflects on the value of meditation as she has been inviting her teen-aged daughters to try to find even brief moments in their day to sit quietly and breathe. Together they have found that practice to begin to give them some moments of peace.
She offers the following reflections on finding our center, our balance in our often too busy lives…
“When the world is off kilter, we must restore balance within ourselves.
Balance excessive information with thoughtful introspection
Balance mindless talking with attentive listening
Balance frenzied doing with prayerful being
Balance biased opinions with heart-held beliefs
Balance the superficial and fleeting with the deep and enduring
Vital to our personal and global healing is holding our hearts. But how? That sounds so elusive. It is as simple as closing our eyes and focusing on the sound of our own miraculous breath.
When we are willing to sit and be still in the gap of nothingness, the elusive unknowns aren’t so elusive anymore. That is when our heart becomes a map of the world, giving definitive direction to hard questions like:
What should I do?
Which way do I go?
How can I help?
What should I say?
What is my purpose here?
Using our heart as our guide is how we find our way out of the dark, going to places where pain resides, saying things we didn’t know we knew, and doing things we didn’t think we had the courage to do.
That is when we get the opportunity to pick someone’s heart up off the floor … and ours right along with it.”
Perhaps in the week ahead, you might spend some time and consider what in fact resonates in the deepest places of your heart. What has been written there about you, about us, about our world that seems profoundly true about who God wants us to be in our inter-connected relationships with all of God’s creation.
Lent is an opportunity to do that, to continue to make time to listen to our inner Velcro if you will, and to surround ourselves with opportunities to be in community, to be in silence, to reach out to others in confidence that we are walking this journey together, that God is still speaking to us, deep in that corner of our hearts and saying Listen to me, you are loved; Live in me; you know the ways; Be in me; be in peace.