First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
September 3, 2017
“Written on the Heart”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith

Jeremiah 31:31-34

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. 

Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.


Well, another season will soon be coming to a close…
The season of vacation
The season of camping
The season of gardening
The season of summer
The season of family reunions

Anybody get to any family reunions this year? We had kind of a little one built around the family matriarch’s hip replacement in July. Over the course of several weeks, family sort of came and went in a steady stream from all over to hang out with my mother while she recovered and rehabilitated from surgery to replace her worn out, arthritic hip. It was great to be part of the revolving door care team as we each took a turn preparing meals, doing a little house work and tending to my mother’s needs as they arose. And, with lots of time on our hands, there was opportunity to look through the stashes of old family photos and be reminded of how much we had forgotten about our childhood, our family, our heritage, our past.

David Lose, former President of Lutheran Theological Seminary and current pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis tells of a poignant event while at a family reunion. It was the first one he had been able to attend for a number of years so he valued making the connections that had been lost over time. He tells of the greetings that one of his cousins brought from a beloved uncle, now beyond the age of being able to comfortably travel and, with dementia setting in, knew that he would not be able to connect with family members in the way he or they would find pleasurable. But, he sent a powerful message. “Tell my family, although I do not remember them, I still love them.” [1]

Even though the photo album of his memory is fading, what remains is what is in the heart.

Such is the underlying power of the new covenant that God makes with Israel as they got reunited after a time of exile. There was much in their past they would not want to remember. It all goes under the category of not keeping up their end of the old covenant: unfaithfulness, greed, misuse of power, forgetting that they had once been slaves as they enslaved others, forgetting that they had once been aliens in a foreign land as they oppressed the foreigners in their midst. These were all things that had been part of the the laws of the original covenant made when God had claimed them as God’s people and they said yes.

They were laws written in stone, some of them literally written in stone.

But, apparently not that well kept. And, the more they were not kept, the worse things got. Until disaster. Their land was overcome. Their city sieged. The Temple destroyed. Lives lost. People deported from their home to be scattered among the Gentiles.

But the disaster was over. People were coming back home. There was to be a big reunion. Long-lost cousins would get acquainted and life would be good again.

But God remembered something. God remembered that the ways the laws were written before didn’t work. Something new would need to be done. A new law. A new covenant. One not written in stone but one written on people’s hearts. No need to carry them around in a box. No need to have a sacred place to put them when you weren’t on the move. They wouldn’t have to worry about loosing the laws in the cupboard behind the silver chest or the old tax records.

God remembered that the way the old covenant had been established didn’t work and something new would need to be done. Even though there was a lot to remember, God was already starting to forget the stuff that didn’t matter and remember that which did. God had created these people and loved them. God would not remember the ways of their past. What God would remember is that God loves them. And God would do—will do—whatever it takes to keep that love within them. And if that means stirring up the Holy Spirit to reside within their heart with that love, then that’s what God will do.

Not as a way to drive them to faithfulness out of fear or coercion—that’s how the old law had been set forth. Didn’t work too well. Something new was needed. Something that would instill the very nature of God within them. Something that would remind them of God’s role in their lives as their creator. They were a people because God loved them. Not because of anything they did or didn’t do. It’s all because God loves them. That’s what the covenant is about.

So God stirs up the Holy Spirit into action to carry the message. The message is “Tell them I don’t remember the past. Tell them ‘I love you. I want to be in relationship with you. I want you to be good and kind to yourselves and to one another as I have am good and kind to you. That’s how you live into what I have written on your hearts.’

There’s a lot in our lives, individually and collectively, that God will need to forget. And we might need to do some of the holy forgetting as well and not be so hard on ourselves and each other. Part of the new covenant is an understanding that, just as God has learned something, we are willing to do likewise and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Of all the things that the Holy Spirit does in and through our lives as a community of faith, it is to instill within us the message that God loves us, wants to be in relationship with us and simply expects that we be as good to one another as God has been with us. No need for stone tablets. No need for special buildings or long lists of does and don’ts. No need for score-keepers and gatekeepers. No need for insiders and outsiders. No need for hierarchy and power. No need for fear. Just simply the love of God and to be good to each other.

It’s a new season here in our churches. We’ve had some fun extending a season of the Spirit through the summer. But, after today, the red will come down and be put away until next Pentecost (or for some special events like and ordination in a couple of weeks). Then, for a while, we’ll be using green, the color for the season following Pentecost. It’s the color of growth, of new life, of hope. It will be a season of living into what we’ve explored about the Holy Spirit over the summer. How the Holy Spirit calls us, and shapes us, and empowers us to go forth into the world with courage and guidance. But before we jump into all of that, we pause for a while today to let the Holy Spirit stir within us the new covenant of God, to remind us of God’s Holy Amnesia about the sins of our past and tell us again that God loves us and wants us to be good to one another.

Let us begin our journey into this new season in prayer, remembering those who have been affected and will be for some time, by Hurricane Henry and it’s aftermath. Ray McClelland’s family lives in Beaumont, Texas and he has learned that they are okay for now.

Let us also pray for those who are affected by the fires and those who are working so hard to contain them. Word has it that this is one of the worst fire seasons ever and it will take snow to bring it to an end. So, we don’t often pray for early snow but I guess if we’re going to this is the year.

If you have other prayer requests that you would like to share with our prayer chain, use this time of silent prayer to write them on the prayer request cards and I’ll be coming around to collect them during this time. Let us pray.








[1] Lose, David “Love and Memory” on Dear Working Preacher, Sunday, March 18, 2012