Based on: Jeremiah 31:31-34 & John 12:20-33
By Gordon Barbosa, Lay Leader
The prophet Jeremiah lived about 587 years before the birth of Christ during the Babylonian exile. As a prophet, he continually confronted the kings, political, and religious officials of Judah about the ways they had forsaken their covenant with God. It is during this exile that God comes up with the plan for a New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah. This part of the Book of Jeremiah is call the “Book of Consolation”.
The prophet Jeremiah gets a message about a new 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" (v. 31). A new covenant sounded good, because the word "new" always carries the promise of improvement.
An article I read in preparation for today’s sermon reminded me to always ask, “What’s God up to?” while reflecting upon scripture. In this Christian Century magazine article, Pastor F. Dean Lueking believes that what God is up to here is a complete makeover of religion, from a calcified external form to an inner vitality alive to God. The Latin roots of the word religion mean “tying together again.” That’s what the key word of Jeremiah’s text implies – that God is tying together again his relationship with his chosen people. The problem with the old covenant made by God with the people he delivered from Egypt was that the people couldn’t or wouldn’t obey it. Their disobedience began as soon as God was formalizing his covenant with Moses on the mountain.
It wasn’t that the old covenant was bad – it was designed to keep people happy and healthy. Within the old covenant, rest from work was guaranteed by the commandment to keep the Sabbath, and family harmony was preserved by honoring one’s mother and father. If you kept the law of God, you were safe from most threats to your happiness and health.
But it just wasn’t working. So, God made a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. And in this new covenant “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.”
Now remember – at this time – the new covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. However, as time goes on, we see that God has bigger plans.
Another article in Christian Century by Pastor Ayanna Johnson Watkins tells about some research by Brené Brown. Brown, a researcher and storyteller with a Ph.D. in social work, did an essay on “The Power of Vulnerability”. Her research found that those who were most in touch with the fact that they could be hurt—could lose, could get it wrong—but went ahead seeking connection anyway were more likely to be happier, to have more satisfying relationships and a higher sense of self-worth.
On the other hand, by engaging in methods of self-protection—guarding against pain, choosing safer paths, seeking certainty, choosing acceptance over authenticity—we actually distance ourselves from sources of comfort, happiness, and belonging. Brown concluded that if vulnerability leaves us open to pain, shame, and rejection, it also leaves us open to love, acceptance, and belonging.
This is where Pastor Watkins’ article got interesting because we don’t always associate God with vulnerability. Most of our worship and songs refer to God as all powerful, all seeing, and everywhere at once. But in the new covenant, the Creator is opening herself up to being vulnerable with the created – and vulnerability is where we are least protected and can most easily be hurt.
As we turn to John, the life of Jesus (who some see as the incarnation of God) is one of vulnerability. Christ is born a helpless baby, in a barn, laid in a trough, wrapped in rags, and then quickly made to flee and live as a refugee in Egypt. This is vulnerability. God in Jesus is on the run, at the mercy of clueless parents, and jealous monarchs.
If we look at our Holy Week, we find Jesus tormented, tempted, challenged, distrusted, and unjustly arrested. Those who love him cannot protect him from what lies ahead. The Jesus that John shows us in this week’s Gospel text is not a religious robot, unemotionally prepared to end it all for the cause. This Jesus is struggling, distressed, wishing he could change his circumstances. He knows what lies ahead and he doesn’t like it. He sees the risks, feels them—and yet goes ahead anyway, letting things unfold as they will. This is vulnerability.
It is much easier to believe in an all-powerful, invincible God. But Pastor Watkins asks, “What if only a vulnerable God can love us? What if what it takes to have a loving God is to have a God who can be hurt?”
She reminds us that Jesus is the one who says, “I love you.” first, who weeps over us, who trudges toward death knowing it’s the only way to get to the resurrection, who says “I forgive you” to the ones who hang him on the cross.
Presbyterian Pastor Alexander Wimberly had some interesting thoughts about the two disciples noted in John’s passage. He said, Philip and Andrew “were, for whatever reason, particularly approachable. Both appear earlier in the narrative, and both in stories about invitation, with calls to “come and see.” …. “Come and see” can be used to entice those who are still somewhat hesitant to trust that what is just out of reach has greater worth than what is already known.”
Philip and Andrew help us see that a small investment can bring a great return. Pastor Wimberly calls them “apostles of curiosity, of wondering, of rethinking and reimagining. By going through them to find meaning in this passage is to be led to Jesus who greatly rewards initiative, who demands a fundamental change in each one of us, and who invites us to become something far better than we were.
Wimberly concludes that in the end, the blessing and honor of God come not to those who follow guidelines, but to those who are open to becoming vulnerable by giving their lives in service.
Although he was deeply troubled, I believe Jesus knew his task was to be exactly who God made him to be—God’s embodied love—even though people were hoping he’d be different. And for us, as Christians, it’s about daring to be who you know yourself to be and not who others expect—and yet still sharing yourself with others, expecting that you will be loved. Not by everyone, but by those who can receive you as you are. It’s not a safe way to go through life, but it might be the only way to live.
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;