The Radical Hospitality of Jesus

This sermon was preached on February 19, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, MN by Rev. Greg Bolt. The sermon text was Luke 7: 36-50 and was entitled, "The Radical Hospitality of Jesus." 

Right after seminary, I was working as a temp at a law office. I was in one of those cubicle mazes and sat at a desk all day, filing things, and entering data into databases. It was riveting. The woman that worked in the cubicle next to me would often strike up conversations, eventually we got around to the fact that I had just graduated from seminary and that I was on the way to becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. We talked a little about church but the conversation died pretty quickly after she found out I was a pastor. This is not uncommon, but one thing she said has stuck with me for the last decade. She said, “I grew up going to church, but I have to get my life together and once that happens I can get back to going to church.”

What I wanted to say was, “NO! NO! NO! Church is the place where you can go when your life is falling or has fallen apart, church is a place to find healing, church is a place where you can say, the hard thing, where you can confess, where you can be real, where you can be forgiven, where you can be loved just as you are and loved enough not to stay that way.”

I think I said, “Oh well, I’m sure you could go back to church now.” Then we both turned back to our work and went on about our day.

Unfortunately, I think her perception is the perception of many. They perceive, rightly or not, that they will be judged, if they darken the doors of the church before they’ve “figured it all out.”. This woman was a single mother, she had a few tattoos, and from what I could tell of her office stories she didn’t live the holiest life. One might say, she was “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life.” But to be honest, which one of us hasn’t.

If the church isn’t a place that we can welcome anyone, then we have lost what I believe to be a core message of, not only our Holy Scriptures, but of all Abrahamic faiths, radical hospitality. The willingness to be open, to be accepting, to welcome in all comers, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the foreigner is a key tenant of our faith. That radical hospitality allows us to create a space for people to feel comfortable being themselves, being real, being authentic. Radical hospitality allows a space for people to let go of the shame of “should ofs”, the guilt of “what might of beens”, the disgust of “I knew betters”. Radical hospitality allows us to bring our history with us, it allows us to deal with our history, and it reminds us that we are loved beyond measure. God loves us, warts and all.

In our scripture reading today, Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader, has invited Jesus to dine in his home. Suddenly, an uninvited, unnamed woman appears who is described simply as a “sinner in the city.” Without speaking, she weeps, wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with perfumed oil.

There are many ways to look at this story, I first want to talk about, how this woman of ill repute gets into this dinner, like many commentators explain this as a custom of symposium, a public place in a large home where people are invited to come and talk about big issues, some talk, some listen, but the crowd is often a mix of various people from various classes, groups, and perspectives. That explains how she got in, now I want to talk about what she did, in contrast to what the Pharisee did.

She offered Jesus the ritual of hospitality, first the washing of his feet, with her tears, then she offered him a holy kiss, a kiss of welcome, and she anointed his feet with oil. This lavish hospitality is at the core of first century Palestinian culture, the oversight by the “religious leader” is egregious to say the least. Normally in his case, a servant would have done this ritual, he was/is above it, it is for others beneath him. Whereas she comes to Jesus, just as she is, she knows who she is, she knows her reputation, she knows her own sin, and yet she come to Jesus offering him hospitality as a form of repentance.

Simon, the Pharisee, appears not to believe he needs repentance, he acts as if Jesus allowing this woman to touch him was shameful. He thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Often when we sit in places of privilege we think that we don’t need repentance. We are where we are because God shined God’s light on us, or some other such idolatry. It’s far easier to point out how other people need repentance than our own issues. Jesus tells a parable about repentance and forgiveness. We all have debts, we are all in need of repentance the rich, the powerful, the poor, the powerless. As the Apostle Paul says, “We all fall short of the glory of God.”

The woman’s sins maybe different than the Pharisee’s but both of sinned. Most readily we see that the Pharisee has committed the sin of inhospitality, which is high on the list of terrible things you can do according to the Hebrew Bible. In Ezekiel, it is said that the sin of Sodom inhospitality. Radical hospitality is not a suggestion it is a mandate.

Radical hospitality is also terrifying. If anyone can walk through your doors, the anyone can walk through your doors. Registered sex offenders, felons, children, families, old people, young people, conservatives, liberals, sinners, holier than thous, loud mouths, the disabled, transgender people, haters, lovers, on an on. Radical hospitality is not safe.

In fact that radical hospitality is laid out pretty distinctly in, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA’s constitution, not only for our churches but for our nation. In the Book of Confessions, part 1 of our constitution, in the Confession of 1967 it says in Part 4 paragraph B.

“b. God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.”

Sometimes, when we read this we can say, “YEAH our nation should be more welcoming!” We should welcome refugees and immigrants, we should be hospitable to them because that would lead to less war, less conflict, and more harmony, more love.

The question is, what are we doing to display the radical hospitality of Jesus? What are you doing? What can we do in Red Wing, MN to create an environment of radical welcome? What will we do to create an atmosphere of love and trust where people can be themselves, their true selves, not their “Church Selves” not their best foot forward selves?

If we are able to find, to create, a space for people to be vulnerable, to be authentic, we can let go of the shame of our sins, we can talk about our shortcomings, our what might of beens, our should haves, and move more fully towards repentance. We can turn to God, with all that we are, with our whole heart, and finally love ourselves, so that we can love our neighbor

May it be so.



This sermon was delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota on February 12, 2017. The sermon text was from Luke 7: 18-35.

Expectations are a funny thing.

They can help us to be prepared for what’s before us, they can help us to know what we’re in for, they can help us see God. They also can blind us to what’s happening, they can keep us from seeing what is happening right in front of our eyes, they can keep us from seeing God.

The truth is we all have expectations, we have expectation of ourselves, of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our friends, our pastors, our politicians, our athletes, and on and on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but we do need to be open to seeing things in different ways than what we are expecting.

I also want to stop here a second, and say, for me, not all expectations are the same. I think it is totally appropriate to expect to be treated as a human being, it is totally appropriate to expect to be respected, and to be treated with dignity. Often however, those expectations mean different things to different people.

In our scripture, this morning, John the Baptist, hears about what Jesus has been doing. According to Luke they have not had any direct contact and frankly it doesn’t seem like John thinks Jesus is fitting the expectations of the one to come after him that will make the world better. So, he sends some of his disciples to ask the question, “Are you the one we are waiting for?”

Remember Jesus himself says, that God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor. God has sent him to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

For John, none of this has happened. Many scholars believe that at this point John is in prison, when this story comes up in the book of Matthew, that’s exactly where John is, captive. He hasn’t been released, he hasn’t been set free.

Rev Gord Waldie, of the UCC, tells a story about his first year in seminary over 20 years ago,

“one of the assignments in Introduction to New Testament was to look at a variety of texts and determine if Jesus is the Messiah that was expected. The texts laid out a “job description” of sorts — and Jesus fails. Not only does Jesus fail to free his people from the Roman yoke and setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon, he doesn’t even seem to have that task on his to-do list. John seems to have expected active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either."

Jesus wasn’t fitting into John’s expectations for the Messiah.

I can’t say that I blame John much here. I mean…when I think about Messiah I’m looking for a big hulking guy, with huge muscles, with a big scary weapon to crush people. Basically I’m thinking of Thor, not the Norse God, but the Marvel character in the Avengers’ played by Chris Hemsworth or the Marvel character Luke Cage played by Mike Colter. Basically I'm looking for a character from the Marvel Universe. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, we can watch the movies or series together. I love them both.

But I digress.

I have always believed that people will live up to your expectations of them. If you have low expectations, that’s what you’ll get, if you have high expectations the same holds true. The problem is when you hold those expectations too tightly or specifically. We must hold our expectations loosely, like sand. If you pick up a handful of sand you can hold it in your hand, only if you hold it loosely, if you hold on too tightly, the sand will slip through your fingers.

When John sends his disciples to ask Jesus a simple question, he expects a simple answer. The question, “Are you the one we have been looking for?” is a simple yes or no question. Jesus, as we’ve seen, doesn’t do what we expect. In the last few weeks, we’ve looked at stories where he has defied the Pharisees understanding of the Sabbath, he’s healed the poor and the rich, he’s even declared the year of the Lord’s favor for those outside the temple. All of this is showing us who Jesus is, Jesus is not the messiah that people were expecting. When Jesus is answered a simple yes or no question his answer to John’s disciples is “look around what do you see? What do you hear?” I take a little comfort in that even John the Baptist, the prophet who proclaimed Jesus’ arrival isn’t sure because Jesus defies expectations.

We’ve started to see and hear things about our church. One of the things I’ve heard the most here is that we are a small church. It normally, goes something like this. I hear a story about some amazing thing that this church has done even in the midst of turmoil and then the person says, but we’re a small church. It’s seems as if it has become part of our identity, one that we aren’t proud of. To be honest, I can’t see it. I know the history of the church; I recognize its effects on our congregation, but I think we are powerful beyond measure. We are blessed with particularly gifted people to do specific work in Red Wing.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Let’s remember that. As we continue to be faithful to our calling, let us remember that other people’s expectations of who God is or what Churches do should not limit us. When they ask about our work, we can say, “What do you see? What do you hear?”

What that work is, I’m not sure yet, we do so many great things already, but I’m hoping that you can help us figure it out. I hope that in a year or so, people will be saying, “Do you go to that Presbyterian church?” because they are not sure how we are able to do the things we do, we are doing things in the community that might not be typically considered, “Church stuff”. I hope we will continue to defy expectations, as we follow Christ along this journey together. Part of that will mean taking a hard look at our expectations of our church, our pastors, and ourselves. We will need to name them, we will need to evaluate them, we may need to throw them out the window. When people start to ask us about our church, we can say “what do you see? What do you hear?”

This world is changing, our expressions of faith are changing, but as Lutheran pastor, Erik Parker says,

"Imagine telling anyone who has regularly been in a pew for the past 15 years that it is possible that our currently declining and aging church may be full and bustling again in a few decades. They will laugh at you.

Well, maybe they would have [a few months ago].

But now all the things we thought were important are in reversing decline like flashy worship, entertaining sermons, lattes for sale in the lobby, Nickelodeon night for the youth, and all the other things we think will “attract” people mean nothing now. Churches, especially mainline ones, will need to focus again on the core things that we have always been:

We will need to be communities of refuge because people will have fewer and fewer safe spaces.

We will need to be communities of resistance in a world that is demanding division, conflict, and violence.

We will need to be communities of hope because we cannot just go back to sleep and pretend the government will have our backs while we spend our time mindlessly consuming stuff and entertainment.

We will need to be proclaimers of the gospel."

My prayer is that people see the Lord working through us as we provide voice to the voiceless, we provide safety for those in danger, we provide comfort to the afflicted and we afflict the comforted and may we always hold loosely, how and what we do, remaining nimble and available to respond when God calls.

May it be so.

Sabbath Mystics

This sermon was preached on January 29, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota by Rev. Heidi Bolt. The sermon text was Luke 6: 1-16.

It doesn't seem like Jesus was trying to make friends, does it?  As we read through Luke, Jesus is provoking all those he encounters and today's passage is no different. On two different Sabbath days he does something that he knows will anger those who care about religious tradition. He plucks grain one day and heals in the synagogue on another. He does both these things knowing it will anger some and he does it to try and suggest that the rules are changing. The understanding about how it is to faithfully follow God is changing. The rules about Sabbath observance were good rules made by faithful people. But Jesus is telling them that the Sabbath traditions might need to change. After all, the lord of the Sabbath is now among them. I read in a commentary this week that suggests that the real question in these texts is this: How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances?

And boy is that ever our question, too.

The world is changing at a breakneck speed. Headlines come every day or every hour that seem to signal big shifts in our world. The religious landscape in our denomination, our country and our world is changing more rapidly than we can even fathom. The church as an institution's identity and mission is in flux. Even on this Sunday when we look back at what the church has done and been in the last year through our congregational meeting, we continue to look toward our future as well, knowing that our circumstances are ever-changing. How do we do what church's do when the world seems to be so different, when what we do seems less relevant all the time to a lot of people? This is the question I've been wrestling with this week.

Then I saw that Dr. John Vest, whom I know and respect, who is the Visiting Professor of Evangelism at my seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, shared a blog post by Richard Rohr, the well known Franciscan author and speaker.  And Vest shared the blog saying, "This perfectly captures what I think Christianity ought to be encouraging today. This is what I think churches ought to be focused on. This is what I'm most interested in."

The idea that Richard Rohr was writing about as a way forward for the church was to recapture our role as mystics. That's an unfamiliar term to some of you, it's a scary one to others. To be a mystic is to be one who has moved from mere belief to actual inner experience of God. Now this is an idea that Presbyterians have often been wary of. Theologically we affirm that we are flawed, flawed creatures and so we can't fully trust our experience of God. We are more comfortable putting our trust in our interpretation ofScripture, the traditions found in our confessions, in the life of the mind. And Those are good.

But If our faith stays only in our heads, if it's only about the rules and traditions, what Calvin had to say about it or Barth or Brueggemann, then it is much less likely to transform our hearts.

Here is what Rohr had to say: Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus, as the pattern of transformation. We Can affirm that belief in lovely song and ritual, as many Christians do in the Eucharist. However, until we have personally lost our own foundation and then experienced God upholding us so that we come out even more alive on the other side, the theological affirmation of the paschal mystery is little understood and not essentially transformative. It is a mere liturgical acclamation.

This congregation has been through this process of losing your foundations and discovering that God was there for you in the midst of it all, transforming you so that you might come out the other side more alive. I know this has been true for me personally and I know that most if not all of you have stories of transformation because of God's presence in your life. This experience of knowing God is what helps us keep going when times get scary, it's what can give us courage when we need to stand up for what Christ stood up for - feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, healing the broken. 

That is the kind of transformation that experience of God, or mysticism, helps create. How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? I would like to suggest one way is to invite others to experience God. Not to recite a set of beliefs about God, not to teach them into love of God, but to invite them into an experience with God. This is what Jesus did. He asked people to look less at the rules of faith and get to know more the God that the rules were meant honor. After teaching and provoking and healing, he went away to talk to God. He sought out direct experience of God before he continued with his work. Diana Butler Bass, a historian who focuses on the history of Christianity suggests that “Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.”   

I would like to suggest that this is something that the world needs from us. Forming relationships based on love and service. With our many divisions, with our 24/7 nature, with our emphasis on doing and creating and achieving, the worlds needs us to offer another way.  An experience of God so that they know that they are loved not for what they do but because of who God is. A transformative experience of God that makes them more alive, move loving, more giving. These mystical experiences can come when we are marching or when we pray, when we are out in mission or even in church on Sunday.

And so, I'm not going to talk to you anymore about Sabbath. I am going to invite you to experience Sabbath, a brief Sabbath, just 2 minutes of silence. To be quiet before God, to know that your worth comes not from what you can achieve, a chance to breathe in and breathe out. My hope is that this experience will give you a little more peace, a little more strength as you head into another week in our fast-changing world. May you experience God.


Let's Go Deep

This is the manuscript as written of the sermon I delivered at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, on January 22, 2017. 

The sermon text was Luke 5: 1-11

I have a confession to make.

This week it was hard to writing this sermon. I have been distracted, distracted by the events leading up to this Sunday. The inauguration, the woman’s marches all around the globe. I have been distracted by the tenor of the conversations in our country. I have been distracted, but yesterday I was inspired. I was inspired by all things a presbytery meeting. I was inspired by seeing the pictures of men and women who are part of my life, speaking up and speaking out for justice, equality, and constitutional rights. I am hopeful, in what is happening in our country, in our town, and in our church.

In our reading from Luke today we here Jesus’s famous words, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

But how did we get there?

Jesus comes to the lake in Gennesaret, the crowds were pressing in on him and he stepped into Simon’s boat. There just happened to be room in the boat because there were no fish in it. After he finished speaking he began talking to Simon, who was called Peter, and said, “Why you don’t you put your nets out into the deep water. Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When he did this, he caught so man fish that he thought the nets would break, it felt like the boat was going to sink, he called his partners out, and before they could get the nets securely back in the boat, Simon falls onto his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

This is like saying, I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.

As Rev. Mary Austin says, “When Jesus presence allows them to catch way more fish than they think is possible, Simon Peter reacts with shame. He urges Jesus to get away from him, “for I am a sinful man.” Peter knows that he is experiencing more than fish – he’s getting a glimpse of the divine, breaking into the ordinary world of fishing. It evokes the later moment, after Peter has been with Jesus for a long time, when Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, because Peter’s understanding then is so limited. In this early moment, Peter sees clearly who stands before him.”

This is why in our worship services from the Reformed tradition, we open with a call to worship then we sing a song of praise, then we confess our unworthiness. When we come into the presence of the almighty, we can’t help but confess our sins, recognize that God is God and we are God’s children.

Jesus tells Simon Peter to put his nets out in the deep water. This is a big ask. The water, the deep water, is a scary place, it’s unpredictable, it’s dangerous, it’s chaotic. In fact, the Bible begins with the fear of the deep. Genesis 1:2 says, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,”

Peter and his crew had been fishing in the shallow water and catching nothing, Jesus calls them out of their comfort zone, out of the safety of the known. When they move into the deep they are shocked with what they find, and when they realize what they can do with God’s help. They begin a new and unknown adventure.

There are a lot of churches in the US that fish in the shallow water, it’s safe to say that this church has been in the in the deep for the last few years. You probably feel like you had no choice. But you did. You had the opportunity to say no to the Holy Spirit, but you didn’t. Given the recent history of this congregation could of sat on the shore, you could of folded up shop, but you didn’t you packed your nets back in the boat and went fishing. It hasn’t been easy, it’s been tiring, you felt like the boat was going to sink, you called in reinforcements, and the nets you have pulled in are filled with the knowledge that you are not alone, you are gifted, and you are capable of a lot more than you thought you were.

Christ is still calling; the Holy Spirit is still moving.

You know you can swim, you know you can fish. Now we are going to fish for people. We will fish for those who can’t fish for themselves. We will fish for those on the margins, we will fish for those outside the shallows of our own walls, we will go into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We will be with the lost, the lonely, the poor, the elderly, the young, the old, those in between, the parents, the kids, we will be there because we have before, we know how to swim, we know that God is with us, and we know that no matter what happens, no matter what storms come, we will be right here.

I know this from the deepest depths of my soul, we have seen the power of God to do miraculous things. Now it’s our turn to be co-creators with Christ as we step into this new, wild adventure.

May it be so.

Covenantal Promise 

This sermon was preached on November 20, 2016 at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE. The sermon text was Jeremiah 36: 1-8, 21-23, 27-28 then 31: 31-34. Audio for the sermon can be found here.

Last week we read the calling of the prophet Isaiah, this week we flash forward about 200 years to the reign of Jehoiakim, near the end of the career of the prophet Jeremiah.

Last week, Israel was facing destruction by the Assyrians, yet now it is the Babylonians who have conquered and begun to send the nations of Israel and Judah into exile. Jeremiah has been rather unpopular in his homeland. As the Babylonians begin to take over, Jeremiah calls upon the Judeans to submit, this is the consequence of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Their lives and history will be forever changed. Jeremiah acts out the destruction of the kingdom and for his trouble he is confined to the palace, a prison of sorts. He can no longer go to the temple; he can no longer be with the people.

So here we are in Chapter 36. Jeremiah is instructed to write down all the words that the Lord has revealed to him. Jeremiah dictated the Lord’s words to Baruch, Baruch then read them to the people, then placed them in a room, Jehoiakim sends Jehudi to retrieve the scrolls.

As Jehudi read the scroll, little by little the king rips it a part and throws it in the fire.

Rev. Mary Austin says, “Curiously, the king doesn’t have the whole scroll burned immediately. He listens to each section, and throws it into the fire, as if caught between wanting to hear that God and the prophet have to say, and wanting to stop up his ears and ignore the whole thing. We can’t tell if he just wants to hear what the people have already heard, or if he’s interested in what God has to say. We don’t know if he’s burning the sections as a sign of defiance, or in despair that he won’t be able to comply with what God is saying. He is caught between what is and what should be.

I sort of understand where Jehoiakim is coming from. Have you ever received a performance review that you didn’t agree with. I have you ever been scolded, especially in adulthood, by someone and taken it well.

We, I, get defensive. We lash out, we crumble up the paper and throw it out the window, we tear it up and burn it, we quit our job, we quit our church, we break our relationship, we refuse to listen, we lash out. This happens all the time, we see it on social media, we see it in regular media, we see it from friends, family, we see it from our politicians, our police, our military, our pastors, our members, our kids.

How many times in your life have you looked back and realized that the person who corrected you, who called you out, who spoke prophetically to you was right?

For me it’s innumerable. My camp director who told me I was a born leader but that I ran right up to the line of appropriate and stopped and the people I was leading didn’t know where the line was and regularly ran past it. My CPE supervisor, who told me that I was a fundamentalist. My Committee on Preparation for Ministry that told me I wasn’t ready to be ordained, that I would have to do a few more steps.

I was so angry, sometimes I’m still angry. I wanted to cuss all of them out, I wanted to walk away, I wanted to quit, I wanted to tear up their words and burn them.

The thing is, they were all right. They helped me see my own sins and shortcomings and make changes. Some days, those changes are visible, some days they are they aren’t. I try to do my best every day.

Jehoiakim, didn’t have to listen, he was the king after all. Well at least that’s what he thinks. Let’s read a little more of Chapter 36 starting with verse 30.

"30 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31 And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring on them, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah, all the disasters with which I have threatened them—but they would not listen."

This shows us that God’s word is more powerful and lasting than the actions of a narcissistic king. This is what happens when people in power, when we don’t heed the prophetic words of God. When we dismiss pain, when we dismiss fear, when we dismiss people because they don’t look, sound, or worship like us. This is what happens when we forget that it is Jesus Christ who is king and we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are aliens in a foreign land, and regardless of ruler, senator, representative, or president, it is Christ who is King of our land and our hearts.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday before the beginning the season of preparation of expectation we call Advent that we celebrate with the birth of our savior, the in breaking of the God with us, Emmanuel, the reminder that it even in the darkest night, the light of Christ shines in the darkness and nothing can overcome it.

We remember that Christ, our king, came in the form of a helpless baby, grew up and taught us to love God with everything we have, and love our neighbor as ourselves, He taught us to care for the least of these, he taught us to love each other as he loved us. The Apostle Paul, in the second chapter of the book of Ephesians, reminds of that Christ came to break down the dividing wall that is built between us.

Christ who reminds us that God is with us.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us in chapter 31.

"31 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. 32 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,[a] says the Lord. 33 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. 34 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."

The beauty of this new covenant, as Professor Roger Nam says, is that it is:

* Inclusive, not divisive (Jeremiah 31:31) -- It includes both the northern and southern kingdoms. This is a remarkable break from the tensions and outright animosity between the two kingdoms, which continued through the life of Christ (John 4:4-26); the participants explicitly include the “least to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34).

* Lawful, not lawless (Jeremiah 31:33) -- The new covenant will build on the Torah of God. Now, the people have a new strategy for staying faithful to God. Pursuant to the Jeremiah 36 episode, it will center on the written word. It is better to think of a Torah in the sense of God’s “teaching,” rather than New Testament constructs of Torah as legalism. Torah was an expression of how the community could maintain covenantal fidelity.

* Divine, not human (Jeremiah 31:33) -- Whereas the older covenant was broken by the people, God pre-empts this possibility by making Himself the primary agent of the new covenant. Note the first person emphasis, “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.”

* Relational, not distant (Jeremiah 31:34) -- The earlier covenant was intimate in that it involved a God who “takes by the hand” and the metaphor of marriage. The new covenant incorporates these features in that they will fully know the Lord in both intellectual acknowledgement, but also inclusive in the intimate ideals that they will know the Lord and be known by Him.

Most significantly, the new covenant is indeed new! The cloud of sin no longer hangs above the community. For God declares, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” With the freedom from sin, the people can now move forward in their relationship with God.

This new covenant is much more protective and lasting. In the midst of the Babylonian sufferings, it enables the faithful to be grateful to God. Although politically oppressed, with little economic hope and an unknown future, the covenant of God brings rise to thanksgiving to all.

As we gather on this Christ the King Sunday, as we remember that the covenant, the knowledge that God has placed on our hearts, let us continue to work so that all feel safe. At school, walking down the street, in the class room, even in the theater, but let us not be so safe that we can not hear when God is speaking truth to us, for often times the Good News is not Nice News.

Rev. Mary Austin says, “God promises a new covenant, when fragile, temporary scrolls won’t be needed anymore because God’s law will live in our hearts. We won’t need a book or a tablet or a scroll. We won’t need someone to read it to us, or teach it to us. We won’t need an intermediary. No ruler will be able to do away with God’s word simply by burning it up. It will live fully in our hearts.

We haven’t arrived there yet, but God’s promises still stand. In a time when our own country is buffeted by violence in words and actions, when we seem to be overtaken by a spirit of division, God’s word comes back to us through the prophet. The invaders at our gate are the inner armies of hatred and separation, but God’s promises endure for those who are willing to hear, and to live with God’s persistence.

Let us have ears to hear and hearts open to repentance as we are called back to be the people of God, the hands and feet of Christ in this foreign land.

May it be so.