3.25.12 FUMC: Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12
What can you do “by heart”?
Drive the route home from church by heart?
Dial a familiar phone number by heart?
Recite a favorite poem by heart?
List the names on the family tree back three or four generations by heart?
We learn things, commit them to memory either cognitive memory or muscle memory, and then proudly say, “I know it by heart!”
This notion of knowing something by heart gives the sense of knowing something more than just memory, more than just something you have done a few times. When you know something by heart it is a part of your essence, something you do not need reminders or aids for.
Like a farmer knows the soil, like a mother knows her baby's cry, like a pianist's hands know how to move, like a child knows how to run free and wild...we all have people, places, elements of life that we just know by heart.
And how do we know God? Do we memorize God? Do we recite the ten commandments, some bible verses and the Lord's prayer and then claim we “know” God? Or is it a perfect attendance record at church, is that how we “know” God? Is it the right clothes? The best behavior? The most eloquent prayer? Is that how we “know” God?
No, in none of the things I've just listed does there exist a promise. No where in scripture is the promise, “I will be with you once you dress or act or learn the way I want you to.” Those words do not exist in God's holy book. So, how do we know God?
One of the most life-giving and exciting promises of God is that God is all about being made known. God is always revealing another side of God's-self and this revealing happens in so many ways. In the reading from Jeremiah we hear a promise that God will make God's-self known fully to us one day...
“33But 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. 34No 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 is the promise of full disclosure. There will be a day when we will not need to read the ten commandments on a slab of stone, a day when we will not attend bible studies or come to worship to hear the word read and the gospel proclaimed. There will be a day when we will know God by heart...fully, down to our core. The word of God will be written, not on stone, not on paper...but on our hearts. And notice in this promise, there was no prerequisite. There was no if the people do this then they will know me, or only the affluent, or only the nice people, or only the poor people...no, God was clear... “all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” All. And this is how God will make God's-self known to us...we believe in a God who reveals and moves closer to us all the time.
Today we also heard a strange scene from the gospel of John. Jesus is feeling the weight of what is to come and his soul is troubled. And then, in that moment of doubt and worry a voice resounds from the clouds, “I have glorified my name and I will glorify it again.” God is reassuring Jesus of what has already been done and what will be done, God is reassuring that promises made are promises kept by God. Understandably the crowd has no idea what has just happened, was that thunder, an angel, a voice in their own heads?
Jesus says, “The voice has come for your sake, not for mine...when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself” Jesus tells the people what kind of death he is to die. So, God is at it again, revealing what kind of God this is that knows and loves us so well. A God that sends Love to the earth and a God who turns what is certain death into certain life. What kind of death will Jesus die? A painful and sacrificial death to be sure, but also a death that leads to life, a death that loves us a death that makes a way for grace and mercy to be upon us. A death that draws us closer to God. That is the kind of death Jesus dies, for our sake.
I asked at first, how do we know God? And then we heard from Jeremiah, and then we heard from Jesus and still that question of how do we know God is not really answered. No, I have not revealed that 5 step program or the magic answer to shoring up your relationship with God. That is because what Scripture tells us is that our relationship with God is about being known by God...it is the experience of God revealing God's-self to us. The promise of God is being known by God's heart, fully, down to our very core, our very essence...being known that intimately and being loved anyways.
To be loved is to be known and to be known is to be loved...by God.
Jeremiah says the day is coming when we will know God fully and we will know God by heart, but that day is not yet here. So, while we wait, while we walk on this earth and are loved and known by God...what do we do as disciples, as children of God who wait for the promise to be fully realized?
We do as Jesus commands and we strive to walk as children of the light. God knows us and loves us already, otherwise we would not be here. It is not happenstance that we are in worship today or any day, no random moves that push us to help and serve others, it is not coincidence that prayer and reading the Bible are food and drink for our souls...it is the Spirit of God already at work within us. So, we do walk in the light and engage in the relationship God offers to us.
We have very brave adults and youth that are participating in our faith basics class and seriously considering what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And for every person, the discovery of relationship with God and the definition of “disciple” is very different. Each of these people could tell you a story, an experience or a conviction which defines what being a discipleship means to them. There are similar disciplines, similar traditions, similar beliefs that we share as children of God, but how we walk in the light of Christ looks so different. Sometimes we dance in the light, sometimes we stumble, sometimes we fall flat on our face...yet we get back up and follow Jesus' command to walk as children of the light.
We read God's word, we talk to God, we gather in worship to support one another and glorify God's name, we live and breath and exist for the sake of those who do not know God. The day will come when bible studies, mission trips, worship services and the church itself will no longer exists. But that day is not yet, the promise is not fully realized...so we walk as children of light.
Why does Jesus put that before us, as disciples? Here in the middle of such a heavy and world-altering moment as Jesus thinks about the cross and what is to come, Jesus turns to his disciples and says “walk as children of light”. Could it be because Jesus knows the darkest dark? Could it be that Jesus knows the darkness of our hearts and our world?
To be loved is to be known and to be known is to be loved...by God. And this God knows that there are many things we do and say “by heart”, but many of the things we do and say are not of God and they are not words or actions that are becoming of a person walking in the light of Christ. We have pasts, we have painful memories that are etched so deeply that we know the scene, the feeling, the despair by heart...whether we like it or not. God knows our hearts, God knows what defines and informs and scars and feeds us. God knows the darkness within us and the darkness around us. And God sent Jesus to shine a bright and brilliant light – which is good news, yet that can also be scary news. Because if that bright and brilliant light is shining on our darkness, then we are caught, exposed, fully known down to the smallest detail. Now, that is intimacy and that is scary. The light of Christ is not only to expose and to know, but it is to transform and it is to heal. To be loved is to be known and to be known is to be loved...by God.
“Walk as children of light” are Jesus words to his disciples then, in the days before the cross, and they are words for us now, as we linger here before the cross.
We do not walk perfectly. Even the farmer encounters weeds, even the most accomplished pianist hits a wrong note from time to time, even the most loving mother loses her cool, even the best church person really screws up from time to time. We strive to walk as children of light, and we do so knowing there will be major bumps in the dark. And we strive to walk as children of light trusting in the promise that God knows the way and God knows us by heart.
To be loved is to be known and to be known is to be loved...by God, by heart. That is good news.