Jeremiah 36:1-8,21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34
(sermon note: 11-22 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/1KYwlUqJpwE)
In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, ‘I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.’ And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.
Now, after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned.
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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a six-year-old boy. For weeks, that little boy kept telling his first-grade teacher about the baby brother or sister that was expected at his house. One day his mother allowed the boy to feel the movements of the unborn child in her belly. The six-year old was obviously impressed, but made no comment. And from that day on, he stopped telling his teacher about the impending event. Well, the teacher noticed his silence after awhile and finally sat him on her lap and asked, “Tommy, whatever has become of that baby brother or sister you were so eagerly expecting at home?” Tommy burst into tears and confessed, “I think Mummy ate it!”
Now bear with me a little bit…I realize that nowhere in our reading do we have anyone eating anything that closely resembles a baby! But we do have scrolls and we do have the prophet Jeremiah and recall from earlier in the book of Jeremiah how he famously ate God’s words: “your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” (15:16) And we can’t forget the similar deed done by a contemporary of Jeremiah, the prophet Ezekiel, who also ate of the words of God: “he [the Spirit] said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was sweet as honey.” (3:1-3) Two prophets, both asked to eat the words of God on scrolls as a way of truly becoming one with God’s words, as if to validate their authenticity and purity. No one could manipulate God’s words from the inside of the prophets’ bellies! At the same time, only God and the prophets knew what was written on the scrolls.
Well, eating God’s words on scrolls was something King Jehoiakim should have considered doing instead of burning them. He, too, could have committed the words to his very being. They could have forever changed how he led God’s people. He could have led them with justice and righteousness, compassion and wisdom. But instead he chose to take Jeremiah’s scroll and throw it in the fire. Quite a bold feat for even a king to do! Such arrogance, such pride, such self-assurance in his own ability to lead without the help of God’s wisdom! Such foolishness! I suppose we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the words had been relayed by a prophet that was at odds with the temple. The leaders of the temple were suspicious of Jeremiah and considered his teachings to be false teachings. Hence, why Jeremiah had to use the help of Baruch to dictate his words and bring to the leaders. Jeremiah had developed a bad reputation among the temple leaders so it’s only fair that the king would share a similar opinion of him and what he had to share. And I imagine many leaders over the years have been presented with “scrolls” containing false information or information they don’t want to hear so they have to decide which information to heed. Poor King Jehoiakim is no different than most leaders.
But our lectionary has highlighted this leader’s wrong decision for an important reason. Besides revealing this leader’s poor leadership, this reading more importantly revealed a fundamental flaw in God’s relationship with his people at the time. You see, God’s relationship relied entirely on prophets and scrolls and people to carry those scrolls to important people in leadership. Too many people involved in that relationship! Too many opportunities for God’s words to be mishandled or misinterpreted! No, God needed to streamline his relationship with his beloved people, find a way to get his message of unconditional love and forgiveness to all his people without the use of prophets and scrolls. Of course, we know God found quite the way through Jesus Christ. Through the witness of Jesus Christ, God’s message is most accurately and powerfully revealed: God LOVES us! God FORGIVES us! God doesn’t want us enslaved to sin and death! God wants to free us through love…love of him and each other. These are the messages revealed in Jesus! And as if that weren’t enough, God enters into covenant with us through Jesus. He promises to always love us and forgive us. He promises salvation for our souls through faith in Jesus. Friends, these are powerful promises God makes through Jesus! No more prophecies, no more scrolls, God loves us and forgives us and saves us through in and through Jesus Christ! We no longer need prophets or scrolls. They’re all fulfilled in the witness of and belief in Jesus Christ. This is a major shift in the biblical narrative that needs to be highlighted.
God used King Jehoaikim’s witness to establish a new covenant with his people, one that no longer needs prophets and scrolls. Friends, that new covenant has been written on our hearts. We know the love of God, we see that love in the world around us, we participate in that love. If we but welcome Jesus into our hearts and into our lives, then we know the love of God! And that love is always there, will always be there! Nothing we do can ever take that love away from us. God promises it to us through Jesus Christ, an everlasting source of it.
That said, we can take that love away from ourselves and those around us in the words we speak and the things we do. Do we live in that love, rejoice in that love, share in that love, or do we take it for granted? “God loves me, so what? I don’t love myself or anyone else.” It’s easy to deny God’s love to ourselves and those around us But that doesn’t negate God’s love for you and me. God still loves us regardless of what we do with that love. Why not choose to live in that love, rejoice in that love, share in that love? We’re only hurting ourselves when we don’t. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16) The love of Christ saves us, nothing more, nothing less. Have faith in that love, protect that love! Hebrews says, “take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) There is nothing more hopeless than an unbelieving heart. Treasure that love within you…
I love Jeremiah’s explanation of the new covenant for several reasons, perhaps most importantly because of its bold simplicity. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach each other, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me.” Listen to your heart. Listen to Jesus within your heart. The covenant is there: God will always love and forgive you. God will always set you free. Let us rejoice in this new covenant. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.