Law of the Heart

Did you know there is a new testament within the old testament? Marsha read about it. The word translated covenant in Jeremiah 31:33 is the same word translated testament. In fact, some translations of the bible separate the bible with old and new not testament but old and new covenants.

Jeremiah 31:33 offers us a new testament in miniature. Jeremiah 31:33 can be read this way. 

“This is the new testament: I will place my law within them, inside their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.”

If only the new New Testament were as simple and straightforward. Let’s look at this new testament in miniature.

A couple verses earlier in Jeremiah 31, the stage is set for this New Testament, this new covenant. The covenant of old is the one handed down in tablet form to Moses. Verse 32 says, this new covenant, this new testament will not be like the covenant I made with your ancestors.

You've seen it in the news in some form. A big, heavy monument usually in granite of the 10 commandments is placed in front of a courthouse in small-town USA. A battle ensues between the churchgoers and the church-state separatists. Churchgoers say our law is based on the ancient law given by God and we need to remember that and God. Those claiming a wall between church and state say our government is a secular government and should not preach religion.

Jeremiah says something valuable here in the context of this perennial debate. Jeremiah suggests God's way of human living, the way God wants us to live, at its most profound level, is not something etched into granite. God's way of human living, the way God wants us to live at its most profound level is something etched where? It's etched in us, on our hearts. The 10 commandments and the rest of God’s way is within.

God's law of love is not an external thing really. God's law of love is meant to be an internal reality living in us and through us and into the world. There doesn't need to be symbolic reminders of God's love. We don't need to look outside ourselves or in front of courthouses to know God's ways, God’s love and love-soaked justice. We just need to sit and reflect and remember in our quiet moments whose heart we belong to.

The figure of God says, I will be your God and you will be my people. We should note the context of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is written in the context of exile. The Jewish people have lost their temple. It has been destroyed by the Babylonians. The symbolism wrapped up in the temple is gone. The symbol of God's covenant is gone.

So, what does God do? God says the temple was just a symbol. God is God, seen and experienced everywhere and beyond. The world, the universe is God's oyster.

Second of all, the new covenant, the New Testament that God gives, is a matter of the heart. To be clear, so was the old covenant a matter of the heart. Its physical tablets with its written law and the temple are just fingers pointing to the moon, not the moon of God. But people got wrapped up in the external stuff, instead of the internal reality and the eternal reality from whence the law and the temple came. God's law of love lives in our hearts first and foremost.

And no matter where we are, even if we're in exile thousands of miles away from our homeland, God is with us. You are my people, God says. You always have been and always will be, no matter what, no matter the temple's destruction, no matter where you are scattered, and no matter the exile from your home place.

God is basically saying I am as close to you as your heart is. I am your home, your temple, your law, and I am with you. What a comfort to an exiled people!

“…Having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit them and their desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away and wander to myths.”

From a cursory reading of this verse, you'd say that Paul is saying you have the real truth, you believe the right things, you have the correct religion. The other truths and religions are incorrect, so stay away from them.

This cursory reading doesn't get to the essence though. Paul is less concerned about getting human knowledge and intellectual thinking right. It is a modern mistake to see faith for Paul as just a matter of what we intellectually think and believe about something.

Faith, true faith, means a true life, a life that is righteous, just, compassionate, humble. Good faith and good works are inextricably connected for Paul. If one wants to show good faith, one shows good works. Paul's critique of false doctrine focuses on the unhelpful way of living it creates. False for Paul means fake, inauthentic. False means unrighteous unjust, hardhearted, selfish. We see this in Second Timothy from our lectionary reading. Paul uses language focused on external practices of faith, on how a faith is lived out in a life on the ground.

Our outer actions should mirror our inner faith, Paul teaches. A false faith is an internal faith that remains internal and self-focused.
Yes, true, righteous faith means a true, righteous life. Our faith should be evident in how we live and love in the world, how we interact with people, how we treat the vulnerable and discarded among us. If our focus is mostly on ourselves, our comfort, our life, our well-being, if our faith’s focus stops with us, then that faith and focus is false and misguided. 

 “and will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out? I tell you he will. And yet, when the son of God comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Jesus’ words in Luke 18 overlap with what Paul says in Second Timothy in many ways. For Jesus, faith and justice are tied together. A faithful person is a just person for Jesus. This is true for God. God is faithful to his people and God is just based on an eternal love for us. Christ was faithful and perfected justice based on his love and compassion.

We are called to be faithful and just. Another word for just is righteous, which is the word Paul uses in 2 Timothy. Being just and being righteous are one and the same. For Jesus, being faithful means being just and compassionate. Faith without heart is merely a thesis statement.

That said, Lord knows we are imperfect. We are humans who in our struggle to get by and experience happiness sometimes fail to live up to the standards our faith teaches. Thank God for the gift of grace. God never gives up on us. We see this again and again in scripture. God’s chosen people, the Israel people of the Old Testament, again and again fail God. But God remains faithful. Christ embodying God forgives even those who execute. Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.

So, I close with a prayer:

O God, your child and your conduit, Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to love you and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus taught us that these two commandments summarize the whole of your way for us, the way we are to be and live in the world. Gracious God, though you’ve Simplified it for us, you also know how difficult it is to keep the faith, to practice what we preach, to walk the talk. We thank you for your grace that strengthens us along the way, that uplifts us when we fall, that continually brushes us off, washes our feet, and encourages us to keep on keeping, that provides us a guiding light. Help us to be active in our gratitude, thanking you by helping others in the ways we can.

Within our hearts moves God’s glorious light.
Go forth. Let its spark help you understand yourself and others;
Go forth. Let its wisdom guide in your discernment and decisions;
Go forth. Bring its ray of hope to those in need both body and spirit, that they may find healing;
Go forth. Fan the flames of passion to help heal our world;
Go forth. Spread the warm glow of love, pushing back the darkness of the world;
Go forth. Share God’s glorious light with the world.


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