You may listen to Mother Erika's sermon here.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, and the people flinch. They have heard enough from this insistent prophet Jeremiah to know that whatever is coming cannot be good. They have heard, day after day, that God’s great reckoning has come upon them because of their chronic unfaithfulness. They have heard God call them degenerate and false, wild, perverse; they have even heard the word whore. They have heard God tell them that He will smash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, that He will “bring such disaster” upon them that the “ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” They have cried, “Peace, Peace!” but there is no peace, and terror is all around. The days are surely coming, they think, when…what? When you will utterly forsake us? When you will finally wipe us from the earth? When you will leave us to fend for ourselves while you go find another nation to bless, another people to call chosen? The days are surely coming, says the Lord, but the people already know how that sentence will end. For they have heard the hardest words of disappointment and judgment, and they have taken them to heart. Nothing good can possibly be coming.
The days are surely coming, we hear, and we, too, flinch. For we have seen enough of the terrors of this world to worry that whatever is coming cannot be good. We have heard, day after day, that there is to be a reckoning upon us because of our waste and our arrogance. We have heard that Creation itself is spinning out of control because of our abuse, that this vibrant, vulnerable planet will burn and storm and rage more and more. We have heard that our best days as a nation are behind us, that the great American experiment will fall victim to terrorism, or greed, or an ever-widening and aggressive polarity. We have heard that we can no longer hope that future generations will live better than we do, that the rich will only grow richer and the poor poorer. We have even heard that the Church is dying, that one day the seduction of secularism and the drain of our busy, busy, busy-ness will simply prove too much, and that on some Sunday in the not-too-distant future this church will offer its last Mass, whisper its last prayers, and close its beautiful red doors forever. Peace, we cry, but there is no peace, and terror is all around. The days are surely coming, we hear, when…what? When the planet finally becomes uninhabitable? When the United States is shattered like a piece of pottery? When the Church stumbles, finally falls, never to rise again? The days are surely coming, we hear, but we can already imagine how that sentence might end. For we hear the threats of the world, and it is so easy to take them to heart and imagine that nothing good can possibly be coming.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, and at first the people flinch. But then the Lord continues to speak: “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. 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.” The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will do something new, when I will reach out to you again, my own people, heart of my heart, and rescue you. This time, there will be no tablets of stone that you can break into pieces; no, this time, I will engrave my promises upon your very souls. This time I will plant my own righteousness deep within you so that you cannot, finally, forget me, so that even when you turn away from me you will take me with you in your own hearts. This time, I will make my words so shine within you that you will only have to gaze upon each other to see my promise. Yes, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will do this new and wondrous thing for you.
How remarkable this is – that “The days are surely coming” turn out to be words of blessing, not of condemnation. After everything that His people have put Him through, God chooses them again. They have broken His covenant, but He will not destroy them. They have betrayed Him, but He will not forsake them. Instead He chooses to do something different, to offer himself to them in a new way so that they cannot be lost to Him forever. He will not walk away; He refuses to give them up, for he is God, and God’s righteousness is not like our righteousness, His mercy is not like our mercy.
And what you and I cannot forget, what we must never forget, is that God has not changed. The God who offered Himself to an old man named Abraham and made of him a people, the God who rescued that people by the hand of a man named Moses, the God who remained faithful to that people through forty years of whining and wavering in the wilderness, the God who showed loyalty to that people even when its kings rose to great power and fell in great disgrace – the God who touched the lips of the boy-prophet Jeremiah and sent him to speak words meant to shock this people to their senses and then chose them again even when those words did little good – this God does not change. This God remains true, righteous, and merciful, yesterday and today and forever. This God, our God, will not walk away, refuses to give us up.
The world wants us to forget this. The world wants us to think that things have changed, that God is dead, that our problems now are too modern and too grand for our ancient faith, that religion is so co-opted by politics or weakened by scandal that it has little hope to offer anymore. The world wants us to listen to the words of doom spoken by prophets and madmen alike and to take them to heart, to worry that the days that are surely coming will be filled only with destruction. Even in the Church, perhaps particularly in the Church, the world wants to trap us in a web of woe, discourage us from our mission with words of death and darkness. But these are not the words to take to our hearts. God has already written words of hope and forgiveness there, words of renewed covenant and never-failing love, of trust and mercy and constancy. These words are already etched deep within ourselves; all we need do is look to our hearts to find them.
The question is, when the world comes shrieking its curses and threats, can we act like we believe what we find there? Can we not only treasure the promise of God in our hearts but sing it out with our voices and dance it with our feet? When we hear the hardest words of judgment, the direst predictions of doom, can we shout our hope to the rooftops, can we shine that light which we know to be in us into the path of all those who walk in darkness? Can we paint a vision of what we know the days that are surely coming really look like, can we help to finish that sentence when others flinch in fear at what the future holds – tell them with faith that the days are surely coming when the Church will grow and thrive and do its work, when all of Creation will be made new, when all people will be reconciled one to another, when peace and justice will reign? Can we live like we believe the words written in our hearts?
Of course we can. Not because of our own strength or because of any rosy-eyed optimism, but God’s great gift has made it possible. In these latter days of Lent, the days are surely coming when we will hear the story of this great gift again, the gift of this new covenant, written in the spirit of his only and eternal Son, sketched into our world with bread and wine, with water and blood, with iron and the hard wood of the cross. We will hear hard and beautiful words of how our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died in order to bear much fruit, how God transformed the barren wood of the cross into a glorious spring of eternal life. We will take to heart the story of how God looked down upon His people, broken and sinful and lost, and chose us, called us to work for His kingdom, where there will always be good news for the poor, release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind. These words have already been fulfilled in your hearing; these words have already been written on the walls of your heart. This kingdom has come and is coming. These blessed, glorious days will surely, surely come.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
25 March 2012
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia