Creating Covenant: Loving-Kindness Alive

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

1 Timothy 2:1-7

The people of Israel were used to the prophet Jeremiah whining. For 30 chapters precisely before this verse arrives in chapter 32 Jeremiah warns the people of Israel, of danger coming from the Babylonian armies, of God’s judgment in the form of attack against the vulnerable people of Israel. And that time has come. The young Jeremiah is put jail- confined by King Zedekiah, while the Babylonian armies are besieging Jerusalem. The times of strife that Jeremiah warned about had arrived.

During this election season, we might understand these times. Although armies are not knocking down our doors, violence prevails in different ways. Violence in rhetoric and hate speech. Gun violence. The heart break of another innocent Black or Brown person killed by state sanctioned incompetence. Violence in the form of mass incarceration—and that is where you will find the prophet Jeremiah, in prison, his voice still crying out, but this time he is not whining anymore. He is not complaining. He is not proclaiming that he is moving to Canada, and giving up hope on his people, if things don’t go his way.

In these next chapters, after 30 chapters of whining, chapter 32 of Jeremiah is commonly call them “The Book of Comfort.” Jeremiah changes his tone. He isn’t the one warning people to be afraid anymore. His prophetic voice shifts from warning- because the people already know they are in danger. It shifts to a tone of hope. A reminder of God’s promises of life abundant in a time of violence. A reminder of the Covenant God has with God’s people, to bless and protect—even and especially in times of strife.

Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that focuses on social justice, has named this year, “The Year of Enormous Rage. ” They have counted hate groups increasing- not just having a presidential platform, but almost tripling this year. “The year of Enormous Rage,” can infect our hearts, our minds, and our souls. This country is having an enormous spiritual crisis right now, and we as a church, we need to figure our how to be together this Fall and beyond. Because Lord knows, these times, election seasons, and particularly this one, tries to turn us against each other.

And one of the amazing things about church, is that here in this hour, we get to practice how to be human beings together. We get to pass each other peace. We get to lift up the voice of Love. We get to approach God together with one voice, when we sing together- coming from all our scattered places and differences joined together in unity. And we get to pray.

Our New Testament passage from 1 Timothy asks us to pray for our leaders. And Lord, if the election goes a certain way this year, for any one of us, that praying will be hard. It will challenge our hearts.

But luckily we have this community to remind us that we get to practice how to be human beings together, when it seems like basic morality is failing in a public way. Activist, lawyer and documentary film maker, Valerie Kaur, says, “The way we make change is just as important as the change we make. That if we start to embody the feelings of dysfunction of fear of anger of fatigue of stress then we start to put those very dysfunctions back in the world, when those are the very things we are trying to heal in the world.”

She goes on to say something like, “ People are tired of always acting in response to the latest crisis, the latest mass shooting, the latest moral outrage, we are longing for a different way to fight, a different way to make change. The ethic of love as in invisible force to make people brave, out into the world, to people who look different, who may disagree, that kind of love is revolutionary. That kind of love is the only thing that can create lasting change. What would it mean to make love a public ethic of life for the next 25 years? Civil rights era was the last time we had love as a public ethic. Hate is so incredibly strong, people are longing for languages that is just as potent to respond to the love.”

So let’s be real: How much do you want to hear about politics during this election season? I propose that we don’t speak the names of the candidates in this space. I propose that this is a place of reprieve from the election season. If you whole heartedly disagree or agree with me, I want to hear about it, and I want to hear why- bring your voice to Second Hour after church.

Jesus was political- I am not saying that Christians ought not to care about politics. But that in this time of enormous rage, the way we make change is just as important as the change we make. The public political voice of Christians has become so skewed, no narrow, that this country has come to believe all Christians care about publically is a woman’s right to choose, prayer in the school, and not selling wedding cakes to gay and lesbian people getting married. And that makes me angry and just want to just scream louder about those things!

But what if we embodied an ethic of love. What if we, like Jesus did, cared about poverty as Christians? Jesus was a healer- what about healthcare as Christians? What about basic equity- that all human beings should be treated equally? This is good news straight from the gospel- that the poor shall be lifted up. But in our current political scene, no one would know that Christians care about that!

I want to suggest that today, instead of being angry and afraid in this political season, (and trust me there is so much to be angry and afraid about)- what if instead our politics were our public expression of love- not of fear and anger? Because whichever politician is elected to be our next president, we will still need to do the healing work of love and justice here, from this place.

Our task as Christians, as summarized by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ And in this time, where we are tempted to turn against each other, to buy into fear rhetoric, we are asked no matter what our beliefs and religious background, to live out a public ethic of love.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber from a UCC church in North Carolina has been making waves all over the country with his proclamation that our country needs a moral movement. That we need to shock the heart of this nation- because we have got a heart problem. And we, people, need to become the defibrillators! Shocking the heart back into this nation and bringing love into the world. Barber calls for a moral movement. Not a democratic movement, or a republican movement, but a movement of love, and fairness- that takes the Christian ethic of caring for the least of these among us, and helping make sure the law and the culture reflect the same amount of love and care for everyone, a public ethic of love. For everyone- every person, no exceptions.

What would it mean, starting from this place, this sanctuary, here in Middletown today, to Covenant with each other, to let love reign? In this “year of enormous rage,” what would it mean to make loving-kindness not just a word and a religious concept, but to come alive? I don’t know what that means, but I know I need you to help me figure it out. This is the task of being a Jesus follower, of being Christian. What if we let Love be our public ethic? What if we were intentional about being love, starting from this place?

I urge you all, today after church, to go into parish hall, to find the orange bulletin board, and to sign up for a small group that will meet for 6 weeks.

You might have just thought we were just doing a visioning project this Fall. No. We are changing the world through relationships. By coming together in small groups this Fall, we are lifting up an ethic of love, of unity, of hope—in a world that so desperately needs it. During this time, this Fall, I urge you to try to commit to come to worship every Sunday and to being in a small group- to practice being together while the world tries to separate us. To amplify your service to community. To practice love, to remember the words Jesus says, “be not afraid,” to be made brave with love, not angry with fear.

These 6 weeks while we meet in small groups, we will meet during a very charged time. These 6 weeks will encompass the next presidential election. During these 6 weeks we will talk about truths that are everlasting- not things that change every 4 years. We will determine how we want to be church, to be community, to be loving people together in this age, and that my friends is an act of resistance to the fear, the violence, the hate.

The prophet Jeremiah, while in prison for calling for non-violence while Jerusalem is under siege, in an act of hope for the future, buys land, and takes great detail and care to describe the transaction. He carefully describes a deed for a piece of land bought for seventeen shekels of silver, and that this exchange was sealed, witnessed, the money was weighed in an intentional and public way- it was signed by others- a deed for this barren land, a place that had no hope in it, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. By doing this he reminds the people to have faith in God’s future.

For us, this public act of getting together, of committing, covenanting with community, while the political forces of our time do everything to keep us separate, lonely, keep us in competition, keep us apart, the work instead of coming together with intention, is radical work, is showing that we have faith in God’s future. I urge you to sign up for a small group here at this church- to keep your grounded in community, to keep you grounded in prayer, to keep you connected to your neighbor, in these trying times, as an act of resistance to the violence in this world.

Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan wrote, “There is something intensely pure and loving about a focus on staying in relationship when so many things divide and separate. There is something other-worldly about love that chooses to love when tolerance is good enough, or hatred is socially acceptable; when everyone in a relationship shares this intentionality; to be “all in” no matter what happens. It sounds like marriage. Indeed, that is the heart of covenant.”

During Second Hour we will hear part of our covenant that this church rests on, written in 1668- 348 years ago. Before any official US government documents were written, this church was trying to understand how to live together under the government of the Gospels, walking with God and strengthened by Christ. These people of this congregation, over 300 years ago had the wisdom that the rules of the Gospel ought to be the way we live in this world, establishing the Government of Christ, here, now.

Let us truly walk with this God and one with another according to the rules of the gospel- to let God’s holy will be made known in this world. Let us, like our covenant urges us, promise to carefully perform this through the grace and strength of Christ.

Jeremiah the prophet does not leave his people in fear and in violence. He proclaims from prison, to a land that seems barren and to a people without hope, that “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Let us know that for this place, for this country, for this church, for our own hearts and lives and for the places of hurt in the world, that “Houses and field and vineyards shall again be bough in this land.” There will be bounty, there will be life abundant, through Christ, by the grace of God, and if we make it so though love. The way we make change is just as important as the change we make. Let us embody love together, and covenant to let loving-kindness come alive in this world. Will you help me? Amen.

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