“Law & Order: Pasadena” First UMC Pasadena Rev. Allison Mark Sunday, October 17, 2010, Bread for the World Sunday Theme: What is the New Covenant Law? How have we been covenanting with God? (Are we following the Law and Order God has asked us to covenant to?) Theological Lesson: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Challenge: How are we to live out this New Covenant and be true Covenant People of God? Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 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.32 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. 33 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. 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. Psalm 119:97-104
97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Luke 18:1-8
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
I used to love watching criminal dramas with my parents. One of our favorites to watch together was the pioneering television drama, Law & Order1, an American police procedural and legal drama series, created by Dick Wolf. Back then, when the show premiered in 1990, there was only ONE Law & Order. Now in addition to the original that takes place in New York, there’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and this season, they created another L&O in the franchise: Law & Order: Los Angeles. I was always fascinated by the legal system in our country and how it is our civic duty to serve on juries and be law abiding citizens.
Speaking of being a law abiding citizen in the United States2… Did you know that in Alabama, it is illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. And that it is also illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church?
In Arizona, donkeys cannot sleep in bathtub. In Mohave County: A decree declares that anyone caught stealing soap must wash himself with it until it is all used up.
In Hawai’i, you can be fined as a result of not owning a boat (seriously?!)…or within the limits of any public park, it is unlawful to annoy any bird?
And here, in our own state of California, in Hollywood, it is illegal to drive more than two thousand sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at one time (I guess that’s why there aren’t too many shepherds in the city??) And in nearby Arcadia, peacocks have the right of way to cross any street, including driveways.
And I’m sure you all are very well aware that the Bible contains some very interesting laws to keep order for its time. If we are to understand the Bible in its context, some laws may not necessarily pertain to us any longer, but there are a few covenants that, as Christians, we are asked to uphold... This morning, as we explore a little Law & Order, right here in Pasadena, do we categorize God’s New Covenant law as too hard to follow? Are they “crazy laws” as some people would categorize? Or are they exciting laws to love, as Wesley suggested in the Psalm reading this morning? 1 2
Wikipedia.com, Law & Order, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_&_Order, Internet Accessed 15 October 2010 Bored.com, Crazy Laws, http://www.bored.com/crazylaws/index.htm, Internet Accessed 15 October 2010.
Let us think on these things. Let us pray.
A: Loving God, open our eyes to the beauty of your holiness; open our ears to the message of your Word; Open our mind to the challenge of your truth; A: Open our hearts to the power of your love. Open our lives to the coming of your Spirit, that we may truly worship you, now and forever. Amen.
We make promises and pledges, take oaths, and sign waivers all the time–ensuring the other parties that we will be following the law, rules, and regulations and upholding them as utmost sacred vows. Lawyers take oaths before they begin their practice of law; Public officials are “sworn in” by putting their hands or placing over their heads books of scripture or other sacred objects. Doctors take Hippocratic Oaths. Scouts have oaths. Secret societies do too. And yes, we United Methodists make covenants all the time. Vows are made before marriages, baptisms, and new membership initiation rites. And prior to becoming ordained clergy, my colleagues take United Methodist Ordination Examinations in front of the body of the United Methodist Church at conference each year. What is a covenant? I found that historian and theologian, Dr. Bruce Shelley3 best describes a covenant, “In modern times we define a host of relations by contracts. These are usually for goods or services and for hard cash. The contract, formal or informal, helps to specify failure in these relationships. The Lord did not establish a contract with Israel or with the church. He created a covenant. There is a difference. Contacts are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his promise. [If, let us say, a patient fails to keep an appointment with a doctor, the doctor is not obligated to call the house and inquire, "Where were you? Why didn't you show up for your appointment?" He simply goes on to his next patient and has his appointment secretary take note of the patient who failed to keep the appointment. The patient may find it harder the next time to see the doctor. He broke an informal contract.] According to the Bible, however, the Lord asks: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15) The Bible indicates the covenant is more like the ties of a parent to her child than it is a doctor's appointment. If a child fails to show up for dinner, the parent's obligation, unlike the doctor's, isn't canceled. The parent 3
Bruce Shelley (1928-2010), former Historian and senior professor of history at Denver Seminary.
finds out where the child is and makes sure he's cared for. One member's failure does not destroy the relationship. A covenant puts no conditions on faithfulness. It is the unconditional commitment to love and serve.” So what is this about a NEW COVENANT, that Jeremiah speaks of in this morning’s text? What IS the New Covenant “Law” in Jeremaiah 31:31-34? To Old Testament biblical scholars, the “New Covenant” spoken of in Jeremiah is regarded as the highest point of the Old Testament Scriptures, because it is here, that God established a promise of a deeper relationship with the people. It is here that God says, “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. 33 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.” I will put MY law within them, and I will write in on their hearts. It is this intimate relationship that God is promising the people of Israel that they will KNOW their God. Jeremiah is asking the people of God to become People of the New Covenant. People who will KNOW God, and in this promise, God will forgive their sins…all that had been separating them from God. But this is not a one-sided covenant. God is asking the people to make this covenant together. God is asking US, to make this a relational covenant together. As we read the text today (and everyday), how do you listen for the Words? How do we hear the New Covenant promise that God asks us to prescribe to? What challenged me in this morning’s scripture readings was through the passion and compassion that Jeremiah has shared with us about knowing God and being New Covenant People, and then the Psalmist’s excitement and gushing confession about loving the law, and then we stop at the final question that the Lukan author asks us at the end of the Luke 18:1-8 text: And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? I was convicted. I don’t question God’s call to bring us closer in fellowship. I don’t question that we do not want to have a relationship with God and to really KNOW God. I do worry when I wonder if “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” I worry that in the words that we speak and in the prayers that we say, and in the actions that we do, are truly creating a kin-dom of heaven on earth, or will when the Messiah comes, will he truly find us A New
Covenant People of faith? As my wise mentor4, questioned me this week, he said, “Allison, where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Is the Kingdom of Heaven, here? In Pasadena?” As I seek to understand whether we, as a people are living God’s New Covenant, I strive to find my own understanding of the Kin-dom of Heaven. And for those of you who do not see my sermon notes, I always write “kin-dom” of heaven because it is my belief that as we are in fellowship with one another, we are all kin, or children of God. But truly, is the kin-dom here in Pasadena? Reading from Russell Rathbun’s blog from The Hardest Question5 he asked whether the Psalmist in 119 was truly sincere. Well, from his enthusiasm, you would hope so! 97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. In this long Psalm, the writer professes his love for the law of God. In 176 verses, he exudes love for the Torah:
How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (119:9) My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. (119:20) Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, those who forsake your law. (119:53) At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous ordinances. (119:55) I have more understanding than all my teachers. I understand more than the aged.(119:99-100) But Rev. Rathbun, who preaches at The House of Mercy in Minnesota, challenged me to think whether or not WE praise God and upkeep our Covenant with God with true sincerity. Are we honoring God’s kin-dom, here just by saying and singing the words? This morning, as we sang Hymn 606, “Come Let Us Use the Grace Divine,” did you take heed and remember our covenant “we this moment make be ever kept in mind; we will no more our God forsake, or cast these Wise mentor: Rev. Rich Garner. ☺ The Hardest Question, It’s a Long Way to the Punch Line: Psalm 119, http://thehardestquestion.org/yearc/ordinary29psalm/#more-666, Internet Accessed 15 October 2010.
words behind.” I really do think that Charles Wesley’s intent was for us to keep those words of our Covenant in mind, but do we really? Have we upheld God’s covenant? Or have forsaken God…again? As we ponder if the Kin-dom of Heaven is already here and is also to come in the future, are we truly living out the reign of God in that Peace and Love are already the order of the day? In my understanding of the Kin-dom, I can already see the glimmer of the Kin-dom right here, in Pasadena, as we teach our children to follow the Covenant of God, as we talk about it in Bible Study, but are we truly opening the Kin-dom to share with others? Will the Son of Man see that his people have faith when he comes to earth? If we are to become servants, ministers of the New Covenant, as Paul calls us to be in 2 Corinithans 4, we are to be diakonos (servants), our relationship with the God is through the Good News of the Gospel.
In our own California-Pacific Conference, Bishop Mary Ann
Swenson’s e:360 blog last week, she asks us as a church to be called to act: to manifest our love towards Christ by our efforts to relieve the suffering of those who are without food and shelter, to pray for those who suffer under the burden of the current economic catastrophe and who continue to be frustrated in their search for jobs. Are we reaching out to these people? Are we loving our neighbors? Are we creating relationship with God? Here at FUMC Pasadena, we already have thriving programs and ministries. We support Outreach, Christian Education, and Missions and Service from the inside out, but from emails, visitations, lists, and feedback that we have received in the last few months for our Potter’s Hand New Ministries Program, we still have more work to do. We are called to do more to live out being God’s New Covenant People. We are called to: Spiritual Discipleship – to teach; we are called to do MORE; to go out into the community. To lead forums and discussion series like the one we just concluded: “Peace in the Holy Land: Possible or Not” series. Or tomorrow’s Bread for the World panel on hunger and poverty. Witness & Service – missions should be written on all of our hearts; parish nursing ministries, wellness committees, being part of missions teams. This is what we should be doing.
Inviting Community – to open our doors to the community; 12 Step programs, support groups. We should be open to the community every day of the week. Dynamic Worship – celebrate worship; to truly hear the Word that God is speaking to us in prayers, praise, and reflection. To pray as always and to not lose heart. THIS is how we uphold and keep our Covenant with God. We are to LIVE the New Covenant. We need to be willing to open our doors to the people of God’s community. We need to be supporting programs and outreach. We need to be fulfilling our promise to be God’s New Covenant People by making God’s Kin-dom, Heaven on Earth, so that we are prepared for Christ when he walks through our doors. If we are to be true Covenant people we are to remember our Covenants6 of our forebearers who lead us in our Christian journey: Let us remember our Eternal covenant, (Hebrews 13:20) :The redemptive covenant before time began, between the Father and the Son. By this covenant we have eternal redemption, an eternal peace from the 'God of peace', through the death and resurrection of the Son. Let us remember our Edenic covenant, (Genesis 1:26-28): The creative covenant between the Triune God, as the first party (Genesis 1:26), and newly created man, as the second party, governing man's creation and life in Edenic innocence. Our Adamic covenant, (Genesis 3:14-19): The covenant conditioning fallen man's life on the earth. Our Noahic covenant, (Genesis 8:20-9:6): The covenant of human government.
Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Handbook, Revised by Gary N. Larson, Moody Press, Chicago, 1984, p.
Our Abrahamic covenant, (Genesis 12:1-3); confirmed (13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-8): The covenant of promise. Abraham's posterity was to be made a great nation. In him (through Christ) all the families of the earth were to be blessed (Galations 3:16; John 8:56-58). Our Mosaic covenant, (Exodus 20:1-31:18): The legal covenant, given solely to Israel. It consisted of the commandments (Exodus 20:1-26); the judgments (social) - (Exodus 21:1; 24:11) and the ordinances (religious); (Exodus 24:12-31:18); also called the law. Our Palestinian covenant, (Deuteronomy 30:1-10): The covenant regulating Israel's tenure of the land of Canaan. Our Davidic covenant, (2 Samuel 7:4-17, 1 Chr 17:4-15): The kingdom covenant regulating the temporal and eternal rule of David's posterity. It secures in perpetuity a Davidic 'house' or line, a throne, and a kingdom. It was confirmed by divine oath in Psalm 89:30-37 and renewed to Mary in Luke 1:31-33. It is fulfilled in Christ as the World's Saviour and Israel's coming King (Acts 1:6; Rev 19:16; 20:4-6). And we remember our New covenant, written in Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Hebrew 8:8-12: The covenant of unconditional blessing based upon the finished redemption of Christ. It secures blessing for the church, flowing from the Abrahamic covenant (Galations 3:13-20), and secures all covenant blessings to converted Israel, including those of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, and Davidic covenants. This covenant is unconditional, final and irreversible. And for us, this is our story. And our story is not only about Law & Order, but to be God’s New Covenant People. And we are called to be God’s people, so that when the Son of Man comes, he WILL find faith on earth…here and now, right here, in Pasadena. BENEDICTION: This is a day of new beginnings. Go forth today, as God’s people of the New Covenant. Go forth today sharing the Good News of the Gospel – that WE are the Good News! YES! And when the Son of Man comes, he WILL find faith on earth! Amen and Amen.