Sermons

A Prayer for the New Year (Jeremiah 31:31-37)

Pastor Jon TruaxPastor Jon Truax, December 31, 2017
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

A Prayer for the New Year
Jeremiah 31:31-37

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.
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.
Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
because of all they have done,
says the Lord.

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales and how she had heard in Sunday School about how a whale had swallowed Jonah.
The teacher shook her head. She said it is physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it is a very large mammal its throat is very small.
The little girl, however, remained steadfast in her position and reiterated that indeed, a whale had swallowed Jonah.
Irritated, the teacher again stated that a whale could not swallow a human; it is physically impossible. “How could something like that have ever happened?” she asked.
The little girl answered, "I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but when I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."
The teacher replied smugly, "And what if Jonah isn't in heaven?"
The little girl answered back, "Then you can ask him."
One of the things I love about the Bible is how true, and timeless, and eternal its words are! Let’s take a look at some of the things that God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah about, oh, 2600 years ago and see if they are still in effect today. We just heard:
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me forever.

God is saying here that He established a fixed order in the universe – we read about its creation in Genesis 1 – and that if that fixed order ever comes to an end, then that’s the day His people would stop existing, too. It almost sounds like a love song! I will love you forever!
These are the elements God identifies as His fixed order: the sun giving light by day, the moon and stars giving light by night, and waves on the face of the sea. The world had those elements 2600 years ago, in Jeremiah’s day, and guess what – nations have risen and fallen, earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and volcanoes have hit, wars have raged, leaders have come and gone, we’ve been to the moon, we’ve split the atom, we’ve harnessed electricity and built gigantic flying machines - and yet these foundational things are still true today.
Yet God wasn’t done. He went on, speaking through Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
because of all they have done,
says the Lord.

This one’s a little trickier. God is saying that if certain conditions are met, then He will reject His people. If they are not, then He will not. These achievements were certainly impossible in Jeremiah’s day, but how about with all the advancement of knowledge and the progress of science we’ve witnessed over the last two and a half millennia? Surely we’ve reached the point to meet the conditions of this scripture!
But, again, no. Can the heavens above be measured? In all the vastness of space, with galaxies upon galaxies stretching out in the sky, even with our most powerful telescopes, we still haven’t been able to measure the heights of heaven. We have yet to reach the end of what’s observable. For all that we know and have discovered, science still isn’t sure where the boundary of the universe is, or if there even is one! We are left with unanswered questions when it comes to the depths of the sky, and it doesn’t look like the answers will be coming in anytime soon.
And as far as “exploring the foundations of the earth below”, if we take that to mean on a quantum level, the tiniest of the tiny, we still haven’t fathomed all the mysteries of the subatomic level upon which this whole vast universe is built. We are still sorting out the smallest particles of matter, even using incomprehensible technology like atom smashers to try to get to the literal bottom of creation. It evades us still. Whether we go up to the stars or down to the quarks, we still haven’t hit the end, the wall, the edge, the boundary. Jeremiah’s words remain true. And, thus, God has still not rejected His people. Thank God for that!
Whether we take His words to apply to the old Israel of Abraham’s physical descendants, established as what we know today as Jews and, geographically, the nation of Israel, or whether we apply these promises to the new Israel, the spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith, the Church – Jew and Gentile – they both remain true. Israel is not forsaken. It has persevered thru crisis, exile, dispersion, holocaust, and intifada. It exists still, just as Jeremiah foresaw. And the same is true for the Church. Two thousand years have come and gone since the birth of Christ, and yet here we are. God’s word is sure and timeless and eternal.
What, then, of the future? We stand on the brink of another new year. Add one more to the tally of the thousands of years that have gone by since Jeremiah first uttered these words. What is our part to play in the history of the world as God’s purposes work their way to fruition? I believe our blessing is that we live in the era of the New Covenant that Jeremiah speaks of. Having just celebrated the birth of the Messiah into the world, now we can enjoy the relationship that the Son of God opened to us through the cross. Consider the details of this New Covenant:
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.
Through the redemption worked by the blood of Christ, we stand today as heirs of the promise of the new covenant, perhaps not yet reached in all its fullness in heaven, but we have the deposit, the down payment, through the gift of the Spirit who lives in us and testifies with our spirits that we are children of God. As John wrote in his first letter: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
Did you know that means we are in a covenant relationship with God? A covenant is a sacred promise, like marriage vows or an indivisible friendship. Jesus spoke of this covenant when He was celebrating the Passover with His disciples at the Last Supper: “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In the Bible, covenants are formed, and covenants are also renewed. My faith heritage is United Methodist, and one of the traditions of some United Methodists is to observe, around the time of the New Year, what we call a covenant service. It recognizes the covenant relationship in which we stand with God, celebrates His faithfulness for the past year, and renews our commitment to Him for the year ahead. It involves the receiving of communion and a prayer believed to have been composed by John Wesley. I would like to pray that prayer with you as we stand on the brink of a new year. Let us prepare for Holy Communion as we pray together a prayer for the new year…
Heavenly Father… {Prayer}
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Tags: Change, Commitment, dedication, new, New Year, prayer, year

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Jeremiah 31:31-37

31Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. 35Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: 36If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD. (KJV)

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