It is good to be back here at St Brigids.
When we were last together, at the end of January, I spoke about the relationship between sacrifice and culture and religion. As I noted, if we have been at war, and you have killed my kin, and I have killed your kin, to make peace we sacrifice someone whose death will cause us pain, but not community disaster. We might each then sacrifice a virgin girl.
This culture of sacrifice, this religion of sacrifice continues even today. Sacrificing of the few, so that others may live better lives. There is though an alternative, subversive religion and culture. A group of Semitic nomads, the people who will become The Jews, see a different way forward, a way of love, of unconditional forgiveness. Abraham stopped from sacrificing his son Isaac by the hand of God is the story that symbolizes, among many things, this revolutionary shift in human thinking.
This God did not need sacrifice for peace. This God had a different way. And so a different way of thinking was born. An alternative, subversive culture was born because a different religion was being born. A religion and culture of love, of forgiveness and peace. A religion and culture that included all people.
In the Bible this inclusive strand of love, forgiveness and peace becomes known as the Abrahamic Covenant. Also in the Bible is a covenant theologians call the Mosaic Covenant. It is usually understood to be more conditional; and includes the law and punishments for example found in Leviticus. The Abrahamic Covenant says you and I are loved unconditionally, the Mosaic Covenant says you and I are loved if we follow the rules.
As Christians we need to note that Jesus was a follower of the Abrahamic Covenant. Theologian Richard Rohr wrote in his blog just this week:
Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity… Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. God in Jesus moved people beyond the counting, weighing, and punishing model, that the ego prefers, to the utterly new world that Jesus offered, where God’s abundance has made any economy of merit, sacrifice, reparation, or atonement both unhelpful and unnecessary.
Jesus undid “once and for all” … all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new economy of grace, … Jesus was meant to be a game changer for the human psyche and for religion itself…
I want to stress that this is a tension within the texts. It is not ok to say that Christianity is better than Judaism because of this debate. In fact it is a debate that continues to this very day in both Judaism and Christianity.
Jeremiah’s words in our reading tonight are an interesting lens through which to look at the tension between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic 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.”
What I hear, and I’m curious about your thoughts here, is that yes the Abrahamic Covenant is wonderful. There will come a day when love, forgiveness and peace for all people will be our natural state; we will no longer have to have laws and rules and teachings, we will just ‘get it.’ But in the meantime we need laws and external authorities and teachings.
“For the people of Israel and the people of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; the people of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands, says the Lord.
This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built until this day, so that I will remove it from my sight because of all the evil of the people of Israel and the people of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger—they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the citizens of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
They have turned their backs to me, not their faces; though I have taught them persistently, they would not listen and accept correction. (Jeremiah 32:30-33)
There is then, within the Jeremiah text here I think a calling out of the Abrahamic Covenant; within the Mosaic Covenant. A sense that we cannot really be trusted with the beauty and power of the Abrahamic Covenant. That there is perhaps a two step process, first we need the scaffolding of law and punishment, and then one day, if we’ve been very good, perhaps we can have the love and peace of the Abrahamic Covenant.
To be transparent, I think that such a reading is dangerous because it holds the second step too far out from us. It assumes that we are horrid little creatures that cannot be trusted. It assumes that an idealized Abrahamic Covenant is just a dream, and that reality requires the Mosaic Covenant. This is dangerous because it keeps us under the power of the rules and more importantly the rule makers. If we assume that none of us can be trusted, that we need to have rule makers and rule keepers to keep us in line, then how do we grow? How do we become fully alive? How do we move out of slavery to the rule makers?
I believe the place to start is the Abrahamic Covenant that says God loves us. You and I don’t have to do anything, or be anyone different from what we do and whom we are right here an right now. God loves us, just the way we are.
Christianity is revolutionary religion.
This is a revolutionary religion that says you and I, and every single person on the planet is worthy. A revolutionary religion that says you and I and every single person on the planet is loved and is capable of love. A revolutionary religion that says the only hope for the world is love freely given. Period. A revolutionary religion that says that no matter what you’ve done, you are forgiven. No matter what pain you have caused, or what pain you are in, you are welcome. You are loved. And all that is asked, is, what will you do with the love being born inside of you now?
I wonder, what do you think? Do we need the rules, or can our loved and loving hearts be trusted with God’s work?