New and Improved
Dr. Keith Wagner
We are having quite a controversy here in Sidney over the new superstore that Walmart wants to build. Since it would include a grocery store there are those who feel it would conflict with the local grocery stores. Others feel it is ridiculous to tear down a perfectly find building and construct a new one near by. Still others feel it would enhance the local economy.
Walmart has made a commitment to the community that their new superstore will add jobs and give the local economy an additional boost. They are offering a new and improved facility that will benefit the people.
Whenever something new and improved is introduced we are always skeptical. We wonder first of all what its going to cost us. We wonder if the new will really be any different than the old. We are also reluctant to change since we are quite comfortable with the way things are.
Jeremiah proclaimed to the people of his time that the Lord would make a new covenant with them. The new covenant would not be like the old one when God gave them a set of rules to live by. Instead, the new covenant had to do with an internal motivation to be faithful along with a standing promise of forgiveness. Historically they were given the law, now they are given the freedom to live in the grace of God.
A new covenant was given because the Israelites did not keep the first one. As a consequence of their unfaithfulness they once again became captives to a foreign nation. What Jeremiah gives them is a new and improved way to live. This new and improved covenant of grace is about forgiveness. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
These words of Jeremiah predate the covenant that Jesus made with his disciples, i.e.; “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matt. 26:27-28)
|A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS:
“I came across your site yesterday as I googled commentary on the appointed gospel for this Sunday. The exegesis came up. I read it and was impressed–both with the exegesis and with the homiletical ideas it gave me–very fresh and insightful.
“I work hard on crafting sermon messages that stick with people. I am not easily impressed. Keep up the good, Spirit-led work!”
What Jeremiah and Jesus gave were very comforting words to a dispirited and unfaithful group. In Jeremiah’s time the nation of Israel was in shambles. The temple did not exist. They were pondering over their identity. The disciples were also worried about their future, how they would survive without Jesus as their leader. They were feeling insecure and afraid of the overwhelming odds against them. Both groups were without hope.
What rules should they follow? How could they survive? What incentive was there to continue? It is my experience that the main line church is asking some of the same questions. We seem to be a diminishing presence and the future looks grim, especially when you consider the increasing shortage of pastors and the necessary resources it requires to maintain an existing church. We are searching for some formula, policy or system that will help us. Jeremiah is saying that we need is to listen to our hearts and be people who know how to forgive.
The new covenant provides a different framework in which to live as persons of the faith. It isn’t about rules, liturgy, procedures and policies. Its about forgiveness. Forgiveness enables us to move forward, to bury the past, to say “Amen” to what was and live in the present. And the way we are to live in the present is to be people who can receive forgiveness on the one hand, and give forgiveness on the other. This is a new covenant unlike any other. It can’t be purchased. It can’t be borrowed. It can’t be obtained by following some set of rules and principles. It can only be received.
Then how do we receive it? How do you receive anything that is new and improved? First, you have to accept it as a possibility. Second, you have to try it. And, third, you have to keep using it.
When Walmart opened in Sidney about 15 years ago there was also a K-Mart. Many people continued to shop at K-Mart because they were used to it. K-Mart couldn’t stay competitive, however and eventually closed. For many, that was a struggle and hard for them to let go. Once they accepted the reality that Walmart was the only option, it became their place to shop. Now, some are struggling again and they are resisting change which is inevitable.
Now that that K-Mart is gone people who were faithful to K-Mart are now faithful to Walmart. They like it because they have tried it. It works for them, so they continue to go there.
Why is it so difficult for us to accept forgiveness? Because it means change. It means we must let go of the past and embrace the present. It means we must truly trust in a God who forgives. Until we fully accept that forgiveness we will never be able to live a new and improved existence.
My computer has a function called “delete.” It allows you to eliminate a word, sentence or phrase. You can even delete an entire page, file or picture. When you press delete a message appears on the screen. It says, “Are you sure you want to delete this item?” You press “yes” and the item is deleted, but not really. It is simply sent to your recycle bin where it remains until permanently deleted.
When God forgives us it is final. As it says in Jeremiah, God no longer remembers our sins. They are forgotten, totally deleted. Unlike God, we struggle with absolute forgiveness. We forgive conditionally or “remember” because we don’t appreciate the value of unconditional forgiveness. We leave it in our recycle bins for future reference.
To live in the new covenant, to live a new and improved life, we must fully accept the forgiveness God gives and let go of the past. Forgiveness is not a temporary condition but a permanent change. God forgives, God forgets and God wants us to forgive with a big heart.
I must confess that I still shopped at K-Mart for awhile even after Walmart opened. I appreciated the fact that there were no long check-out lines and parking was plentiful. Like many others it took me a while to make the transition. Last fall I was having problems with my camera and bought a battery from Walmart which cost $10. I installed it in my camera but it still wouldn’t work. It apparently had a short. I took the battery back to Walmart along with the torn package and receipt. The clerk asked no questions and refunded my money. On that day, they had a big heart. All was forgiven.
Copyright 2000, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.