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Lent 5B 1st Reading

For better or worse, In sickness and health…for richer or poorer…till death do us part. 17 years ago I stood in front of a faith community professing these words to my beautiful bride. I was not intending to predict any one event in particular that day but instead promising faithfulness. Filled with the hope of our mutual ability to keep these promises I calmly responded “I do”. Grasping Traci’s hands and looking into her eyes, the possibility of our future together was possible through our commitment to a covenant of marriage. We were filled with hope and possibility as the sun was rising on our marriage despite the knowledge that not all covenants are faithfully kept.

Our passage begins with the phrase, “The days are surely coming…” this phrase drips with hope and anticipation. It sits, however, in direct contrast to Israel’s current plight. The sun had long set on Israel’s hopes of a future. Stumbling in the disoriented darkness of Exile, any semblance of a future, not to mention a future with YHWH, is beyond the capabilities of their collective imagination. I would speculate for us, and many in our congregations, it is probably beyond our imaginations too. Israel’s exile seems appropriate and just in light of their numerous transgressions and continued infidelities. It would seem many might believe, “Israel simply received what they deserved.” Yet, God speaks and promises a future and another covenant with Israel. God’s new promises enters into Israel’s cycle of reward and punishment, and God offers another way. Grasping onto these promises, Israel finds hope because of their confidence in God as the guarantor of these promises.

Walter Brueggeman suggests Jeremiah in this passage is not reporting on current events nor predicting what is to come; rather, it is God speaking and declaring God’s intention and resolve toward Israel.

Thus God's resolve is voiced speech. It is the voiced speech heard in Israel that forms the text of chs. 30-33. This voiced speech is not to be understood as human description and observation of events as they unfold, as though the prophet is a historical commentator mentator or chronicler. Nor is the voiced speech of promise simply human hope or wishful thinking, the anticipation that somehow "things will get better." Rather, this speech on the lips of the prophet is God's self-announcement, announcement, God's self-resolve to which God's own self is committed in the face of resistant circumstance. That is, God has pledged to work a newness precisely where there is no evidence of such newness on the horizon. [1]

Even when Israel breaks the covenant…Even when the temple is destroyed…Even in Exile… God speaks to Israel and reassures them of God’s commitment to Israel. God continues to work on their behalf as God’s fidelity towards them is unwavering.

This theme of God’s fidelity toward Israel seems a timely message for us during this season of Lent. During this season, in which we invite our congregation to reflect, make space, and allow God to illuminate areas in their lives in which they have chosen selfishness and pride instead of maintaining faithfulness to God through love of God and neighbor, we need to hear once again God’s faithful promises despite our infidelities. Can we trust in a life-giving future despite the current darkness, not because of our faithfulness but because of God’s faithfulness towards us?

It is easy to see why so many Christian preachers and authors want to appropriate this passage as a prediction for the new covenant in Christ. With the author of Hebrews even quoting this passage to speak of Jesus establishing a new covenant, one would understand a preacher following a similar path. Another option would be for a preacher to imagine how God would be establishing a new Jewish people in Babylon, in the midst of exile, in the midst of oppression, in the midst of cultural irrelevance. This is not the space, nor do I care to enter into the debate, for whether or not Exile is an accurate metaphor/description for the current North American church. I would suggest, however, that a preacher, if they would stay in the tension of the Old Testament for a bit longer, could name some parallel feelings for their congregation and Israel during Jeremiah’s reading. Does your congregation feel disorientated? Are they fearful for a future? Do some congregants lament a perceived lack of cultural relevance? One might find it rich to linger a little longer