Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Promises of hope to come

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:27 – 30)

I wanted to follow up my Canadian Thanksgiving monologue (if you will) with some thing cheery, or at least as cheery as some of these scripture passages can get. And truly, as the week unfolds this is the passage that best fulfills cheeriness.

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. 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, says the Lord. 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. 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.” (Verses 31 – 34)

In light of the gloominess that the book of Jeremiah usually foretells, this is good news. Hope is coming. At least hope for those that the writer of Jeremiah is addressing. The people of Israel and Judah had many rough roads and tough miles. And in our modern day that has not changed much. The nation of United States has also gone down some rough roads in the past few years. I am not aware of any writer (biblical writer that is) has said that the Lord will make a covenant with the United States, or any other nation for that matter. In Jesus Christ each person receives his/her own personal covenant with the Lord and Jesus Christ. Or that is to say, there is the promise of a covenant if the person will but believe. And there is the rub.

I will not preach or teach to you, beloved reader, about this covenant. I will instead direct you to the Lord God Jesus Christ – to give the Divine the full name treatment. It is not within my power or knowledge to tell you what the covenant that the Divine has in mind for you. It is my task to urge with all my power and might of the written word to seek the Divine out. And to commit to eternity to the covenant. Selah!

The First Sunday of Lent – the First Step in Fulfilling God’s Covenant (The Old Testament and The Epistles Passage)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-17)

As I read through this passage, I remembered all the times I have used this passage in worship services, meditations, and other writings. God’s cleansing of the lands (whether you understand it as being literal or figurative) is powerful. And the promise of “never again” destroying the world as sealed by the rainbow in the sky is a continual reminder that God is with creation and humanity for all of its existence. And that God will provide for creation and humanity beyond its existence.

There will be times of trouble and trauma, distress and discord, but never again through destruction. No, humanity is now capable of destroying itself and all that surrounds it. God is embarking on a plan to renew.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

As we enter into Lent, we are reminded of what we have done to others, to our relationship with God, and to ourselves. In the times of the early church, the period of time leading up to Easter was a time of preparation for baptism of new converts. That is part of how the season of Lent came into existence, and part of the recurring three themes for each of the lectionary years. Year A is the calling of new Christians. Year B, where we are now, is renewal and recommitment. And Year C is penance, confession, and forgiveness. It is during the yearly season of Lent that these themes come out most strongly.

This past Wednesday we have been marked as those in need of our God and the covenant that was made between God and humanity. Let us give thanks that God set in motion a plan that is still being fulfilled. Selah!

SWEARING . . . Final Words

Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.” (Reference: James 5:12 )

A conversation between Jacob the Chandler and Friar Cornelius. The friar was becoming increasingly peevish with Jacob.

Fr. Corn. O you cursed Anabaptist that you are; I could swear by the saints, that St. Paul writes as I say [1 Cor. 4: “I will that every one so account of us, as of Christ’s priests over the sacraments of God”]: what do you say of this, accursed hellish, devilish heretic?
Jac. The Lord God forgive you this judging and cursing, and do not account it to your own condemnation. Christ also says (Matt. 5), do not swear an oath; but let your communication be, Yea, yea, Nay, nay.
Fr. Corn. Bah, this means that one is not to swear a false oath; but what I would swear is true. But you Anabaptists also have the fancy, that you are not to swear any manner of oaths. Bah, what a lousy fancy this is! I should like to hear why one may not swear a good oath.
Jac. Because Christ, in Matt. 5, says: “Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself . . ., but I say unto you, Swear not at all . . . But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” In like manner, also James says, in the fifth chapter (v. 12): “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: lest you fall into condemnation.”

The original conversation between the two, before it got sidetracked by the discussion of oaths, was the responsibility and position of priests. Or at least that is what I assume. What I find interesting is that Friar Cornelius quotes the verse (which is 1 Corinthians 4 verse 1) giving more emphasis and importance than Paul gives it. Interesting because Friar Cornelius is shading the truth as well as (according to historic Anabaptists) swearing an oath based on something that is highly esteemed – not quite the level of God but nonetheless impressive.

We have these past days learned and heard much about oaths, swearing, promises and the like. I wish I could sit down with you beloved and talk about these things face to face. May you beloved keep your promises, exchanging simple agreements with those around you. And may you honor the covenant that the God-self has made with you. Selah!


SWEARING . . . Appealing to the Highest Authority

“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” (Reference: Hebrews 6:13-16 )

One of the oaths that has the potential to cause problems for Anabaptists/Mennonites is the oath taken in legal court when offering evidence or testimony. Now, I have never heard of any Anabaptist/Mennonite who has been presented with this dilemma, but it makes good fodder for discussion. “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God” sworn on a black covered bible. According to the historic Anabaptists just saying yes or no should be enough. As a youth, I would what I would do if I ever had to give such an oath, being a good Mennonite girl and all. The situation never arose.

Menno Simons gave teaching on this point, saying “We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to [God’s] Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth. He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone. Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world. . . . I will by the grace of God show the sympathetic reader from the Word of God what the holy Scriptures at given times teach and imply concerning the swearing of oaths.”

It’s funny the way some teachings come down from adult to child. I can tell you positively and emphatically that I was taught as a child never to take an oath or make any promise beyond saying “Yes, I will.” But I cannot tell you why it had to be that way. I can also tell you that when I was a child and something was promised to me but for some reason or another it could not be fulfilled I had the rage and anger that only a young thwarted child could have. “You promised!” was my scream. And all the adults around seemed to think it was perfectly all right to break a promise to a child. After all, they had not said “so help me God.”

It is as important, beloved, who we promise things to as much as it is what we promise. And we should not take making or breaking those promises lightly. We only need look to the example of God to know how serious promises and oath taking is. The promises that God made to humanity goes beyond promises and oaths; God establishes a covenant with humanity. God made a covenant with Abraham and in the fullness of time fulfilled that covenant. Any promise that is any less than that should not be based on God, but on our own human ability to follow through.

May you, beloved, honor all the promises that you make. And may our Lord make a covenant with you to keep you in God’s holy will. Selah!

A COVENANT – And renewing of right relationship

“I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals…and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.”  (Hosea 2:18a & c from Hosea 2:1-23 )

Five years ago I noted that this passage is not about the cessation of war but the redeeming of Israel and giving back to the nation the things that the Lord took away in anger because of the nation’s unfaithfulness. And being the book of Hosea, it is placed in the metaphor of marriage. That Israel has been an unfaithful wife and God the deceived and aggrieved husband.

If this type of covenant is familiar that is because it was also used in Ezekiel 34:25, and there are other passages we have read that promise peace and an absence of weapons of war. Perhaps that is why it was chosen to be in Bread for the Enemy. But it is deceptive in making one think the focus is a cessation of war and not, as it actually is, a promise to the beloved that he/she will live in peace.

But that is what we want for our beloveds, to live in a world of peace. And if danger comes most often from the wild animals and weapons of war, this covenant will give all the assurance that is necessary. And both for biblical times and for now. The “wild animals” of our time are all over. “The bow” and “the sword” can be found in most households. And “war” is a constant in this world. As I said before, who would not want to “lie down in safety.”

These are the hallmarks of right relationship, justice and shalom. We desire to give them to one another and God desires to give it to the Lord’s beloved. May you gentle reader be both benefactor and recipient of this type of blessed life. Selah! And shalom for your day.

BLESSINGS . . . Starting now!

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore.” ( Ezekiel 37:26 from Ezekiel 37:15-28 )

If the readers of the writer/prophet Ezekiel suspected that this prophecy may not come true in their time, I am sure it would have devastated them. How can it be explained that what the writer of/prophet was saying would not be a reality for them?

We have at the beginning of this section of scripture (verse 15) God instructing Ezekiel to take a stick and bind it to another stick to show how they (the Israelites) will be united again. And while I have not checked closely the history, I am pretty sure this reunification did not happen they way anyone expected it to.

How do I know this? From a commentator of course! He said, “Events yet to come will further explain this prophecy. “ From this I surmise that the prophecy never reached the fulfillment anticipated. And I wonder why it is so hard to be positive in thinking and writing about these passages.

Hope and blessing anticipated but not fulfilled is hope and blessing that runs thin and dry. How do I reconcile this with God establishing a covenant with the Lord’s people and setting a “sanctuary among them”? It would be easy to fall back on the theology and explanation of the commentators.

It is easy to say things will get better when Christ comes, or things were easier when Christ walked the earth. And if we “excuse” ourselves and say peace and the fulfillment of the covenant will happen when Christ comes, then we have our reason why it is not a reality now. It is challenging to live out the blessing in its fullness based only on the hope and faith we have in our frail selves, and only projecting into the future the Divines side.

But as I said a few days ago, covenants are two part agreements. The Lord has always held up God’s end, but do we live as if God’s sanctuary is among us? It may very well be, but if we do not live like it is, how can we hope to see it? As I said, hope and blessing anticipated but not fulfilled is thin and dry. And it troubles me that people might live thin and dry lives because they think what they need now is still yet to come

I encourage you gentle reader to live out the blessing and covenant of the Lord not waiting for sticks that are matched together or the Christ that we know will come. Live it out now, because it is better than waiting a lifetime to live a renew life. Right relationships. Justice. Shalom. These are not faraway concepts, but things we can do now! Shalom and all other blessings for your day!

EVERLASTING WORD – How long does “ever” last?

“I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40 from Jeremiah 32:26-44)

God is big on covenants. Or at least many of the writers who write about what God said to them are big on covenants. And that is practically the same thing – mostly. God is also big on everlasting – same caveat about the writers of the Old and New Testament.

It is interesting to me that the nature of God seems to be so large and everlasting with humanity that is so transitory. If you think about it, we are 2000 years plus out from the birth of Christ, and even more unimaginable time away from the writing of the Old Testament. And even more time than that from the first reasonable facsimile of humanity. (Creationist, just go with me on this.) Amongst all the time there are generations after generations after generations of people who did or did not know God, acknowledged or did not acknowledge God – and God is going to make an “everlasting” covenant with just one(!) generation of these people?

Either the prophets are tremendously short-sighted, or . . . the words of the prophets were never meant to be confined by space and time. A covenant usually lasts only as long as both parties are alive and continuing to participate in the mutual agreement. We certainly can’t put a time limit on God’s participation; but does that mean that the covenant is still active even after a generation dies out? That would almost mean that we are inheritors of the covenant with God! Well . . . . what do you know?! Here is something that Paul (of the New Testament) got absolutely right! (Galatians 4:7).

The problems is, gentle reader (and here I go being negative) through the generations humanity has not kept up its end of the covenant. And humanity has, as individuals, turned away from God, which according the to writer of Jeremiah/the prophet Jeremiah was not supposed to happen. And this is where the analogy of “inheritance” starts to crumble. It is not a covenant with all of humanity as a total group, but each individual member of humanity as a single entity. Just as we read yesterday that God is in the heart-engraving business, so is the Divine in the individual covenant business, assuring each one of us that God will not draw back from doing good for each one of us and will place in our hearts checks and balances so that once devoted to God we will be reminded to not stray from God. As long as humanity lasts, God will keep this covenant with each person who will enter into it with the Lord. Forever. Which is an awfully long time!

May you gentle reader keep covenant with our Lord who will never withdraw from the agreement. Shalom for your day!

THE LORD’S COVENANT – Engraved on us all

“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.” ( Jeremiah 31:33 from Jeremiah 31:31-40 )

[The last time I commented on this passage, I focused on God writing the covenant/law on the hearts of the people. I am a little chagrined to say I did not do a good job of exploring that topic. So the question before me was whether to try again, or move on to another theme in this verse. Alas and alack, it was late at night when I was considering this, and decided to wait until I was more awake.]

[Awake now.]

“[A]fter those days” God says through the writer of Jeremiah. The obvious questions is “Which days?” The answer is the days that came after the time when the house of Judah and the house of Israel broke the covenant that was made between God and the people (their ancestors) who were brought out of Egypt. Now the period of time that the writer of Jeremiah/the prophet Jeremiah were addressing was a tough time for Israel and Judah. They had run through some good kings, some fair kings, and some bad kings, and were subject to various nations around then invading them and taking captives. So to hear that God was going to try again with a new covenant was welcome news. But this time instead of writing the laws on stone tablets, they would be written on the hearts of the people. Good plan, but the laws on the heart did not always remind the head or the will to obey them. But . . . I am trying to have a positive outlook.

Now if one wanted to extend what the writer of Jeremiah/the prophet Jeremiah was saying into the New Testament (which seems to be a favorite occupation with some commentators), you could say that God is still inscribing the Lord’s law on our hearts. And if God gave the Israelites and the Judahites a second chance, why won’t the Divine do that for us?

But (and I am trying not to be too negative) the problem is that just because it is engraved on our hearts, does not mean it rules our head and will – if we are anything like the Israelites and Judahites. There is hope though gentle reader. Just as it is true in reality, so is it in the metaphor – once something is engraved, it is there for life. Yes, the engraved item might get dusty and dirty, and the engraving might seem to vanish. But clean the item well, and the engraving will come through like new. So it is with us – washed clean God’s laws that are engraved on our hearts will shine through again. And that is what I should have said five years ago!

May you gentle reader be gently polished and cleaned by our Lord so that the engraving on your heart is a sign of God’s love and forgiveness and a blessing to you. Selah! And shalom for your day!

Peace, Justice and Nonresistance – A Covenant for a New Tomorrow?

“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.” (Hosea 2:18 )

It is appropriate I think that this is the last verse of the year. Tomorrow we start a new year with now hopes and possibilities. We carry with us what is in our past, but we look to the future for better things. Just think most gentlest of readers, if God would make a covenant and we would and could keep it, so that all of creation could lie down in safety and never fear. Is that dream too big for the coming year? What if we could leave behind forever the hatred, aggression, violence, and death that has too often punctured the past year?

I know I desire to make such a covenant with God.

As it is the last day for looking at the scriptures that are used as reference points and theological touchstone for “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” I would like to make some concluding remarks about the Confession and the faith tradition that produced it.In using these verse as support and explanation for the articles faith, we as Mennonites have also placed interpretative nuances to the verses – at least this is true for those who know how and where these verses have been used in the Confession. For many year the Confession was not often talked about or referred to. This was in part, I think, because Mennonite beliefs were pretty consistent throughout the denominations. But when differences in beliefs started to appear, the Confession was examined and discussed. What will come of this I do not know. For a while over the summer there seemed to be a “buzz” about the Confession, but as far as I can tell that has lulled again.

The Confession stands no longer, I think, as a frame work or guide to faith. It is more like a part of our history that for some is out of date and for others needs to be used more. It does tell the viewer/reader a lot of who we were and what beliefs were most relevant to our faith life and daily life.

Modern society has changed a great deal since the Confession was written, and as Mennonites moved into the new era with its expanding technologies and discoveries, the Confession was hard pressed to keep up. In some ways I do not think it did. But in other ways the underlying tenets of faith are still relevant – or should be. Peace and justice, discipleship, spirituality, the love of scripture, the Trinity of the Divine – these things endure. And I think should be a part of other faith traditions than just Mennonites. That was one of the purposes of the Confession, to share these faith articles. I hope gentle reader you have received something positive from this back stage “peek” at Mennonites through the lens of my own perspective.

Tomorrow we start looking at scriptures from “Bread for the Enemy: A Peace and Justice Lectionary” by Dorothy Jean Weaver. The year was 2008 when we last looked at these verses. In 2008 when “A Simple Desire” commented on these verses I do not think any of us writers had seen the lectionary book the verses came from. I decided this year it would be good to at least has some familiarity with the book, so I bought it. I would like to excerpt something Weaver said about this book. “These texts may or may not use the language of peace and and justice. They may paint differing portraits. But, each in its own way, these texts serve as pointers on the long and tortuous journey of God’s people toward that ultimate vision of God’s shalom, that vision which we find more clearly reflected and uniquely embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here, then, is evidence of that journey.”

While this may be a review of passages five years ago (and possibly passages of scripture used in other years) many things have changed in the past five years, and the way those verses were received then may not be how they are received now. It will be a year of pondering and mediation. It is my hope and prayer that you will join me in reflecting on this pieces of scripture. As ever, selah and shalom!