The chalkboard that cannot be erased…
October 16, 2022
Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:27-34, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
By now, even if you have only been here for a short time, you know how passionate I am about the words of Jesus telling his disciples that the ‘Kingdom of God was already amongst them’. A statement which surely reinforced for them, that they were indeed living in a very special period in history, following after this teacher from Galilee who so reflected the love of God in all that he said and did. This belief of the ‘present Kingdom’, which Jesus repeated a number of times, must have made it doubly hard for them when the events of the week leading up to, and including the crucifixion, began to unfold. Surely it must have seemed like they must have missed something in the translation of the idea that the Kingdom was already ‘present’…especially when the ‘Kingdom of Caesar’ participated fully in the death of Jesus.
And now, some two thousand years later, and countless missteps on the part of so much of humanity, this idea that we are ‘dwelling in a time of the present Kingdom of God’, seems even harder to process, and near impossible to accept rationally. And yet, I for one still believe that there is a way to reconcile what appears to be an outlandish claim of Jesus, with present day circumstances.
And that is because I believe that he was telling his disciples that the fullness of God’s plan for humanity was something he came to demonstrate, and which he expected them to carry on unto fulfillment. In other words, in his post-resurrection appearance to the disciples seen at the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells them to ‘Go therefore to all peoples and teach them all I have taught you’, he is in fact telling them that the sharing of his message, and living out the witnessed proof of God’s love for humankind, is now their responsibility. Of course he does not ask them to do it all alone, but follows up his ‘Go ye’ command with the assurance that, ‘Lo, I will be with you always’. An echo of which, we find in today’s reading from Jeremiah, written down more than 600 years earlier.
So, the responsibility for the ‘revealing’ of the Kingdom, or as I, quoting Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz, like to refer to it on occasion, the ‘kindom of God’, is thus transferred over to the disciples upon Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven. Those disciples and followers of Jesus who still believed after his crucifixion and resurrection, were given their working orders by Jesus. And, as the book of Acts and the letters of Paul attest, the disciples began to do just that. Of course, then as now there are those who simply do not believe, as well as those for whom the requirements of discipleship are too burdensome, who push back on this bold claim of Jesus, making it hard to see, and therefore to accept or believe that there is any sort of ‘Kingdom of a loving God’ either present, or soon to come.
So I agree, two thousand years seems like a long time to wait on the fulfillment of the promise of a day of peace and universal love as proclaimed by the prophets of old, but I do not think that the delay is the fault of any but ourselves, and of others before us who chose not to pursue it with faith-filled and passionate loving action.
The request of Jesus at the end of Matthew, which honestly is only the fulfillment of his commandment to ‘love one another’, was that his followers lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters just as he had done. Simply asking that those who wished to continue his work be willing to make ‘seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ truly first and foremost in the living out of their lives.
Which of course, after having had so many centuries since to find reasons not to do this, and with so much evidence that it is much easier to be a ‘part of’ the ways and wiles of the world, rather than standing in opposition to it, makes it seem as though Jesus’ claim of so long ago is not really attainable, as though it is not really a realistic way to approach or to live one’s life.
Like some of the disciples who turned away from Jesus both during his ministry and after the crucifixion, for some people today what seems like a wholesale change in approach to how to conduct one’s affairs and daily life, is just too high a risk to take on. It seems like unless you are willing to ‘give up a whole lot of what you enjoy or rely upon’ in order to subject yourself to something that many believe may or may not pan out, such as the pursuit of ‘World Peace’ for goodness sake, perhaps one might rather put this pesky scripture in the category of ‘other verses that are just too hard to understand’ in light of our present day circumstances.
And yet…I still stand up here and tell you time and again that it is possible, that the call of Jesus to his disciples did not ‘expire’ with the death of the last of his original followers, but that it has carried on, down through the centuries, and still calls out to us today. However, I also think that living this way may not be as hard as our ‘fears’ or long-held ‘habits of comfort and security’ would try to persuade us.
And, in reading through today’s scripture passages, I think that all three of them can lend support to this idea to some extent, both in terms of how they present the true nature of our God, and how ‘fresh and new’ this call to ‘seek first the Kingdom’ can actually be.
To start with our reading from Luke’s gospel, which in itself is a difficult scripture, if we focus in on what the woman was asking for, on what she was seeking relief from, I think we will hear an echo of our call to ‘seek first’. Remember, even though the judge in our parable was unkind and not too terribly compassionate, worrying more about his own comfort than the responsibilities of his position, still, when the woman repeatedly asked for ‘justice’, he eventually did respond and granted her request.
Now, I have shared with you before that the usual translation of the passage from Matthew 6:33 reads, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all that you need shall be added unto you.’ The word that is translated as ‘righteousness’ is from the Greek word ‘dikaiosune’, which often is translated as ‘righteousness’. But it can equally well be translated and understood as meaning God’s ‘justice’. And since the gospel message was so predominantly centered on Jesus’ liberating message calling for an end to all oppression and a restoration of justice, our ‘seek ye first’ verse therefore can also rightly be read as ‘seek ye first the Kingdom of God and God’s justice’. In other words a part, in fact a substantial part of the message Jesus sought to teach his followers, and by extension to us, was this call to fight against oppression and unjust practices in the living out of our faith. Though the corrupt judge took some time to relent, and to correct the injustice the woman in our passage was suffering from, Jesus goes on to say that God will not be slow to answer at all, when we shift our focus over to lifting up the broken, and tirelessly serving the disenfranchised.
And then, in the middle of our reading from the Book of 2nd Timothy we hear this call to practice our faith by living for others repeated when the Apostle Paul insists that the disciples of our Lord ‘proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching’.
In other words, at the time of this writing, Paul already assumes that we are living such that our faith is central to our way of life. His instructions therefore are based not on the fact that we should be doing it, but rather on how we are to engage our faith with passion and the pursuit of justice, by proclaiming the message with persistence, and by exhibiting the greatest measure of patience when doing so. Lives lived out according to the instructions we find in this passage, and within the belief that the Kingdom of God can and will become more present and more visible with each loving action we offer, will create the space that is needed for others to see, and perhaps be drawn in to where they too can begin to hear the wind-whispers of the Holy Spirit within their soul.
But I think the strongest affirmation of God’s love for us, as well as the clearest reason for which we must dwell in the very midst of this call to witness the incoming of the Day of our Lord, is found in our first reading from the Book of Jeremiah. And it is here that I found the title I wished to use for today…‘the chalkboard that cannot be erased…’. For in this reading we hear the Lord sharing his half of the promise, the ‘new covenant’ to which the Lord refers.
But the part here that has stayed with me for years, is where the Lord says, ‘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…’
‘I’, says the Lord, ‘I will write it myself upon their hearts…and all shall know me…’. This one sentence makes it clear that the work Jesus was asking his followers to undertake, was from the start to the finish, a work to be accomplished in partnership. The loving nature of our God, and by extension the humility and gratitude that arises out of that self-awareness, is therefore already present within the hearts of humankind. It is just not yet fully seen or understood. But, it is the Lord who wrote it there, and therefore it remains. So in some sense, in our calling to share the love of God we are not starting from zero. Rather, through our love, care, compassion, and service to others we are tasked with inviting people to look within themselves and to find there the truth of God that has already been placed deep within their own heart.
Bringing forth the time of God’s most blessed day therefore, and the presence of universal peace and compassion one for another, starts with our Lord ‘stacking the deck’. Begins with our Lord writing on the hearts of humankind words of love that simply cannot be erased…which then, and only then can find its true fulfillment as we live it out in the presence of others.
Now, one may say that there are a great number of individuals who do not appear to have any sense of God’s love, or any evidence that such a promise has been anywhere near them, much less written on their hearts. It has always been possible, but perhaps never easier than now to dismiss this passage in Jeremiah and to say that it was either time-bound and meant for a particular people in a particular time, or that, given the evidence we can all see everyday, it just never came to be. Surely the events of the past decade, combined not just with all of the global unrest and the scourge of disease, but coupled with even the latest news here in our own country makes it difficult to make the case that everyone is already ‘loving’, or that ‘no longer will we have to teach one another to know the Lord’. And yet, that is the promise. Somewhere between this promise found in Jeremiah, and the repeated assertion by Jesus that the ‘Kingdom is already among us’, we find our calling.
Is the work done? No. Is there more to do? Surely there is. But remember, the work before us is not ours alone. Rather, the hearts of all humanity have already been seeded by and with the love of our God. We are simply asked to cultivate that seed, and then to encourage the seedling as it sprouts by remaining open to the inflow of the Holy Spirit moving first into us, and then out through our willingness to lift up and to love and to challenge and to confront, participating in the revelation of new possibilities and promises through faith lived out in action.
So, look within…it is there…reflect on that deep-seated belief I swear is present in the hearts of us all, the belief that somewhere, deep down…people are good and loving. For the truth of God’s love is already written on the heart of each one of us…
…and it simply cannot be erased…