I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +
We often think of Lent as a time of giving things up. This year, I’ve heard a number of people giving up alcohol, or chocolate, or meat. The hope is that in giving something up we push things aside to strengthen our relationship with God. This is great and really works for some people, but this year, instead of giving up something, I want us to focus on giving in. What do you mean by giving in, you may ask?
What if I told you that God, the creator of Heaven and earth, the Almighty, the all Gracious, the all Loving God…what if I told that the thing that means the most to God is that you, yes you, give in to God. More than anything, God wants you to give in, and surrender all the things that keep you from completely trusting in God. Giving in to God means putting all you fears, uncertainties, and anxieties aside and being 100% dependent on God. In doing so, God promises to always provide for you, protect you, and use you as an agent of good to fulfill God’s will for this broken world. That sounds pretty great! All we have to do is give in to God. Simple enough, right?!…not quite.
If you are skeptical of God’s promise and you question whether God will keep up God’s end of the bargain, consider yourself in good company, because you are not alone. This Lent we’ve heard numerous covenant stories that speak of God making promises to God’s people. “Noah, I promise you I will never flood the entire earth again.” “Abraham, I promise you that from your descendants, which will outnumber the stars in the sky, I will make a great nation, and I will be their God.” “Moses, I have heard the cries of my people and I promise to free them.” “Moses, I hear how hungry and scared my people are, and I promise to provide food enough, and I will daily give them quail and Heavenly bread to sustain them during this difficult time.” “Moses, I realize my people are scared and confused about what to do and where to go from here, but I don’t want them worshipping other gods…I am all they need. To help them worship me, here are my commandments—have them obey what is written on stone, and I will continue to keep my covenant.”
When God gives us a covenant, God is hoping that we will give in to God, and therefore, live into who God created us to be—a people who know they are cared for and loved, and then extend that same love to others. But over these past weeks, we have heard again and again how God’s people continued to break the covenant with God. But instead of giving up on the Israelites, God consistently comes back and tries to restore the broken relationship.
Today, we hear yet another way God invites us to give in and put our whole trust in God. We hear this morning from the prophet Jeremiah. At this point in the narrative of God’s people, Israel has long been a nation. They have become prosperous, and certainly no longer rely on manna or quail for survival. They have progressed as a society and they have even built a great Temple to worship their one true God, the place they believed where God resided and lived. But, over time, the Israelites began to worship other gods, and Jeremiah was called by God to foretell of their nation’s destruction, even the Temple. The Israelites did not heed God’s warning and eventually the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians. The Temple, the place of God’s dwelling, was destroyed and many Israelites were taken from their land and forced to live in exile. At the point where the Israelites have lost all hope is when Jeremiah gives these words of comfort that we hear this morning, “I will make a new covenant with you…it will not be like the covenant that I made with your ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land Egypt—a covenant they broke…but this new covenant will be the law put within you, and I will write it on your hearts.”
Once again, God is desperate for God’s people to give in to God and God is willing to adapt the rules to make God’s love and care more accessible. God was really trying here, “no longer is the covenant that was written in stone working…maybe it never did, but maybe, just maybe if the covenant is put within them and written on their hearts, they will keep my covenant and then they will finally see that all they need is faith in me and nothing else.”
While some believe these stories are about denying God and therefore being punished, what I see is a God who is so driven and persistent that God continues to show up, over and over again, and continually meets us where we are. God, who is desperate to care for us, invites us to be in relationship and give in. Whether it be in a flood, or the wilderness, or at the frontlines of battle, these covenantal stories show us that God longs to be with us and God is calling each of us to be God’s agent of good.
So, what keeps us from giving in to God? We know that God has made the covenant accessible to us and that God is continually calling us, but what keeps us from placing our faith and trust in God? Because it is terrifying, that’s why.
What would our world look like if each of us recognized what God was calling us to do, knowing all excuses and the reasons we currently “can’t” do something, and then do it anyway…to take the leap and give in to God?
That’s how we got these covenants in the first place! The thing about God is that God calls us knowing everything about us. Moses, when called by God to lead the people out of Egypt, could see only his shortcomings and inability to complete such a task. “Who am I to do such a thing? What if they won’t listen to me? I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue…I think you have the wrong person.” The same is true for Jeremiah when God called him to be a prophet to the nations, saying, “You’ve got the wrong guy…there’s no way I am up for the task. I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But once they gave in to God, God gave them all they needed. God provided Moses with a staff and the assistance of Aaron to fulfill his call, and to Jeremiah, God literally gave him the words by touching his mouth.
God has made an everlasting covenant with us and God has called each of us for separate purposes. We hear these stories of call and covenant during Lent to be an invitation for us to remember our calls and remind ourselves that no matter our own lack of confidence or shortcomings, by giving in to God, we will receive what we need to fulfill God’s purpose.
What calls do you recognize in your lives? Who is God calling you to be? What good is God calling you to bring to the world? Do you think you are up for the task or are you filled with doubt? What is stopping you?
For me, I am a priest, and I believe that I have followed God’s calling for me to be a leader in God’s church. That is my calling. Being a priest during a pandemic has been extremely challenging. I have often questioned whether or not I have been up to the task, and at times I have doubted my call. I will think, “I’m not up to the task. I don’t have the skills that are needed. I haven’t been trained for this. This isn’t what I expected, and I’m scared of failing.” But then I remember my original call, and the doubt I carried with me for years before eventually giving in to God. I remember all the reasons why I felt God was making a mistake calling me to be a priest. “God, I’m gay…you can’t be gay AND be a priest!? God, I’m dyslexic…I jumble up my words and can’t read aloud without stuttering. How am I supposed to proclaim the Gospel or preach the Word?! There is no way I can be a priest,” I would tell myself. I remember how my fear dictated my life, until one day I decided to take a leap of faith and begin to envision a different life—to give in to God and see what would happen.
I have been transformed by God, and I am able to do things I thought were impossible, and yet, I still have moments of doubt. Lent is a time to prepare for the ultimate transformation—the transformation from death to life. It is a time to sift through all those things that once again need to die, the letting go of our fears and doubts, in order for us to give in to God and once again to be transformed and become more of whom God made us to be.
You are God’s creation. God is calling you. Trust in God. Believe transformation is possible, and then give in to God.