This Lent we have been talking about covenant, about God’s promises to us, God’s contract with us, God’s amazing decision to be in relationship with us, no matter what. We started at the beginning, before recorded history, with God’s covenant with Noah, a “bow” in the clouds, a promise to all living things on the earth that God had beat God’s sword into a plowshare, that God would not string that bow and cause a flood to blot out the earth.
We traveled to the time of Abram and Sarai, when God’s covenant is seen as picking a family, of blessing them so they can be a blessing to all, of sending them out of their comfort zone, their home, and into the new world God would show them. For this covenant, Abram and Sarai were gifted with new names—Abraham and Sarah.
The covenant widened as we remembered the law that God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the “contract” God drew up for the people of Israel who God had brought up out of the land of Egypt (which had been their home for generations), and led them through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This contract told of God’s deeds and asked for something in return—that we live in a certain way—loving God, and acting rightly with our neighbor.
Last week, we moved on to the time of David, the time many of the Psalms (the songs of worship) were written. And there the people are reminded about God’s love—a steadfast promise in joy and sorrow, in pain and pleasure, in life and death. God’s steadfast love endures forever. It is as if God needed to make sure we understood, truly, God’s part of the bargain.
And this week, we come to the covenant, or “new covenant” as the prophet Jeremiah calls it. This is the time of exile, when prominent Jews had been transported to Babylon, when Nebuchadnezzar tried to have everyone bow down to him. In this difficult time, a time of slavery, Jeremiah looks into the future of the people of God. “The days are surely coming” when our part of the covenant will be written not on tablets of stone, but on the panels of the human heart. The covenant hasn’t changed, but no longer would we need to school ourselves in it, no longer would we have to worry about whether know or understand, no longer would we be separated into least and greatest, for all would be tattooed with God’s love on our hearts.
As Christians, we have one more step in this expanding understanding of God’s relationship to God’s people—we know that God got tired of waiting for us to figure it out, got tired of waiting for us to stop bowing down to idols and getting ourselves in trouble, got tired of waiting for the lion and the lamb to be able to lie down together. And God got God’s hands dirty. God decided to not only write the covenant on our hearts, but to become one of us, to incarnate, to become human, to be born, and live, and die, like us. God, in Jesus Christ, stepped close to us, became like us, so that God’s love might be even more understandable to us.
But like every covenant before it, we are expected to play our part. Whether it be to populate the earth, or to take on new names, or to learn how to live, or to hold fast to God’s promise of steadfast love, or to feel God’s imprint on our hearts. This Jesus asks us to follow. And this following is like a grain of wheat planted in the ground, ceasing to be a single seed and becoming something much more, an ear of wheat.
Now this is all well and good, these images of God writing on our hearts, of becoming like a grain of wheat. But what do they actually mean? What does the Lord require of us? It is a question that humans have been trying to answer for millennia. And it is a question to leads us to our vital element for the week: Spirit-inspired worship.
Here is the answer to the question: Why do I have to come to worship—can’t I find God on the golf course? (or whatever else I want to do on Sunday morning). And the answer is—of course you can find God on the golf course, but are you going to be able to worship God on the golf course?
Worship is not just having a passing thought about God. Worship isn’t just putting your butt in a pew (showing up). Worship isn’t just what we do to be active members of a church. Worship is something we do, but worship is also something we live.
When I started drafting this sermon, I put down some things I think about worship. For what they are worth, I share them:
--place to be in the presence of God with others,
--a place to be fed with the body of Christ
-- a place to be challenged and instructed in faith
--a place from which to be sent out into the world to tell the “good news”
--a place to be comforted and held in hard times
-- a place to be strengthened with the courage of many
--a place to be connected (through songs and words and prayers) to those who throughout the ages who have worshipped the God of Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Miriam and David and Jeremiah.
Worship is the ultimate expression of God’s covenant, the enfleshment of the relationship between God and God’s people. I went back and looked at the words the Presbyterian Church USA used to describe Worship in the last Directory of Worship (1993).
“…the Church’s ministry emerges from the font, arises from the table, and takes its shape from the Word of the Lord. Therefore the worship of the triune God is the center of our common life and our primary way of witness to the faith, hope, and love we have in Jesus Christ.”
When the Greeks who knew Phillip wanted to worship, wanted to find out more about God, what did they say? It wasn’t, can we go to the golf course? Or can we take a walk in the woods? Or can we sleep in to take better care of ourselves? No, they said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
And Jesus not only said they and we had to become that grain of wheat willing to die, to change, to become something new. Jesus also said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
Jesus asks us that we follow him. Jesus wants us to be with him and with each other. And that is the reason we gather in worship. We gather to be community. We gather to be in the presence of God. We gather to be prepared for all the times we are not together. We gather to remind ourselves of the covenant—of God’s promises to us, and of our promises to God.
Going back to the Directory of Worship, it says…
W-1.0102: Grace and Gratitude
God acts with grace; we respond with gratitude. God claims us as beloved children; we proclaim God’s saving love. God redeems us from sin and death; we rejoice in the gift of new life. This rhythm of divine action and human response—found throughout Scripture, human history, and everyday events—shapes all of Christian faith, life, and worship.
In a world intent on reminding us of our flaws, we go to worship to remember who it is we truly are.
In a world that despises so much and so many, we go to worship to remember God’s love extends most especially to the least of these.
In a world where time and treasure and talent are so in demand, we go to worship to remember our priorities.
In a world that seems willing to get used to death and destruction, we go to worship to remember that with God nothing is impossible—and that God is a God of life, new life, with new names, and new ways of writing the law, the love, of God on our hearts.
May our worship: our words and our singing, our tithes and our prayers, our fresh understanding and our surges of passion, and ever the peace in our hearts, be acceptable to our Lord and our God.
Amen and Amen.