Sermon – Sunday 18 March 2018

May the words of my mouth and the meditation

of my heart be acceptable in your sight:

O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. 

I would like you to close your eyes for a moment and think. Can you try to recall a moment or moments in your lives when the time for you to act in a difficult situation finally arrived? Perhaps you had been putting it off because it presented itself as an unpleasant prospect. Perhaps you had to take a friend to task over something he or she had done. Perhaps you had to confront someone above you in a work situation about a course of action they had initiated or tolerated.

Perhaps you had to do something to overcome a morbid fear you had. Whatever might be coming to your mind, the sort of emotion that you felt at that time might well be in the same vein as the emotion that Jesus was feeling in the incident in today’s gospel reading.

Although Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” by following up with the saying about a grain of wheat needing to fall into the earth and die in order to bear fruit, Jesus shows clearly that he knows that his glorification will involve his death. And he also shows that his “hour” is not something he can walk away from.

And in Jesus’ determination to face up to all that his glorification, his hour, will require of him, the voice from heaven confirms him in his resolution – “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”‘

And Jesus then explains why he knows that his hour has come. It was the arrival of the Greeks looking for him at the beginning of the episode. Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” These Greeks represented the beginning of Jesus drawing all people to himself. Up until now, Jesus’ ministry had been almost exclusively with Jews. These Greeks marked a new direction and, in Jesus’ mind, a new hour, the hour.

This is evident from the way that the first thing that Jesus says when Andrew and Phillip come to him and tell him that some Greeks want to see him: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

In a very graphic way, Jesus is living out the prophecy that we read in the text from Jeremiah.  God had become frustrated by the inability of the people of Israel to remain faithful to the covenant that he had made with them through Abraham and then Moses. For God, the only way that faithfulness would be found is if God himself wrote the covenant within the hearts of the people. 

Jesus is living proof of the man who has God’s covenant written upon his heart. Jesus is prepared to face his hour, despite the fear and trepidation that it might cause. Jesus is the one above all who knows God, who needs no teaching about God because of that knowledge of God in the depths of his heart.

Before we go any further with this image of God writing his law on our hearts, we need to consider what the Hebrews meant when they used the metaphor of the heart. The Hebrew understanding has many similarities with the sort of notions it raises with us today, but I would suggest that it has extra depth to it that our own usage lacks.

I want you to consider that the metaphor of heart in Hebrew usage carries all of the following connotations. It is essentially about the total personality of the individual. It certainly pertains to the emotions as it does for us, but it is also wrapped up in the intellect and rational thought. It involves memory, desire, will, determination and courage.

When we consider this extraordinary depth and breadth of meaning that the prophet would have in mind when he says God intends to write his law in our hearts, we get some idea of how rich the relationship is that God seeks with his people.

It can be a bit daunting for us to consider this notion of having our relationship with God written in our hearts. It is tempting for us to say that it is alright for Jesus, but he is God’s son. But to say that is to ignore the intent of the teaching of Jeremiah that this heart-centred relationship is imagined by God for each one of us.

Don’t forget that this relationship is being established at God’s initiative.

“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.”

” 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.”

So this text is not about what we must do, but it is a text of promise. It is a text about what God wants to do. We have already seen its fulfilment present in the person of Jesus who had God’s law written in his heart – with all the connotations that we have seen that that metaphor contains.

We have seen it in Jesus’ willingness to face the hour, his hour. We have seen it in the fact that Jesus’ hour becomes his glorification just as was promised by the one who writes his law within our hearts.

So what the Word of God to which we have listened this morning invites us to do is to be receptive; to let God, be God. Let God write God’s law in our hearts; in our total personalities; in our emotions; in our intellect and in our rational thoughts; in our memories; in our desires; in our wills; in our determinations; in our courage.

Ours is a God who loves us – a God who loves us so much that he desires the closest of relationships with each one of us, the end result of which for each one of us will be, as it was for Jesus, glorification.

 

Fr Allan Paulsen

Priest in Charge

St Matt’s Anglican, Holland Park