“To the Cycle of Sin and Death, Jesus says, ‘No More'”

Rev. Katherine Todd
John 12:20-33
Jeremiah 31:29-34

John 12: 20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Jeremiah 31:29-34

In those days they shall no longer say:

“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

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. 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, says the Lord. 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. 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.

Jeremiah knew what it was like to feel pain.  From what we hear of his life, he endured much pain, for extended periods of time. Jeremiah was called by God at a young age.  Jeremiah famously protested that he did not know what to say to the people.  And God famously answered that God would be the one providing the words.

And so Jeremiah begins as a youth to open his mouth to speak the words that God puts on his lips.  He proclaims God’s righteous judgement over Israel.  They had the outward appearances of righteousness, but not that inner righteousness that the Lord requires.  The people’s social injustices done to one another was a travesty before God.

Jeremiah proclaimed that God would discipline the people by the hand of a foreign ruler from the north. But the people did not heed him. They did not heed God’s word to them through the prophet.

The political climate during Jeremiah’s lifetime was in full flux, starting with a decent but somewhat ineffective spiritual leader King, succeeded by his material-loving, self-serving, and heartless behaving son, who soon invited the attentions of foreign oppressors.  This second King has a short-lived stint in power, dying just before Babylonians besiege the capital, but the damage done is such that his own son has to surrender to the invaders, and be exiled.

In his place is a newly appointed King, a puppet of the Foreign government.  Though this King is receptive to Jeremiah, he is reported to have been weak and vacillating.  The courts become rent with conflict.  And after 10 years, the King stops paying tribute to Babylonia, making an alternative deal with Egypt.  And so Jerusalem is once again besieged by Babylonia.

All the while Jeremiah keeps insisting that they submit to Babylonia, that it is God’s doing.  But folks despise his words so greatly that they find a way to arrest him on maligned charged and throw him into a dried up cistern, left to die.

He is rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch, but still held in prison, and he continues to proclaim God’s words to the people from his confinement, until Jerusalem falls.

Many, many more Jews are led out into exile, and some left behind and fearing Babylonian reprisal take Jeremiah, against his will, to Egypt, where he continues to speak God’s words to the people, until he is allegedly stoned to death by his exacerbated countrymen in Egypt.

Jeremiah’s life was hard! He was called to speak God’s Word and move his fellow citizens to repentance at a time that was full of conflict, change, real external threat and oppression…  He was called to speak truth to a nation at a time of great flux and great loss.

And though his words are now remembered, they were hardly more than tolerated for most of his lifetime.

THIS Jeremiah, who perhaps had every outward reason to be angry and resentful toward his nation and neighbors, …still proclaims God’s love and mercy, God’s forgiveness and acceptance.

In the passage we have just read, Jeremiah details a coming change in the way things have been. Formerly, through-out their history and witnessed by scripture, the children of sinners are considered sinners too. Sin is believed to pass from parent to child.

This is common even in our experience, is it not?

How often does a child hate the behaviors of a parent, only to behave exactly the same way, when that child grows up and becomes a parent.

How often have we heard a child say something entirely and shockingly prejudiced and felt certain he or she learned that at home?

How often have the sins of our parents seemed to entangle us?  How many hours of therapy have been dedicated to identifying the patterns, reactions, and behaviors ingrained in us from our childhood and in trying to intentionally re-train our brains and behaviors to reflect less our childhood programing and more our adult self and beliefs?

We affect one another. Indeed the sins of a parent deeply shape their children.  And in time, those children’s sins deeply shape their own children…

And so, on and on we go, passing down sin upon sin…

But Jeremiah speaks to a continental sized shift.

You may have read God’s judgements in the Old Testament, in which an entire family is to be killed for one parent’s sin.  These verses are difficult to read.  It raises questions of what kind of God we serve.  But here in this passage, Jeremiah witnesses to a change that is coming: the change in which each person will be accountable only for their own sins, and not the sins of their parents. The entrapment is over.  This doomed cycle will be stopped.

And I believe Jeremiah is here witnessing to the coming age that Jesus himself ushers into our world.

Because in fact, as hard as we may try, we cannot fully extricate ourselves from our parent’s sins. We cannot fully realize our own personhood, without a lot, if not a little, of our history creeping in and calling the shots, determining our future, leading us right down the same paths of our parents…

Jeremiah acknowledges that the Israelite people have not keep their covenant with God, though God had been faithful to them (indeed, they could not!).

But God would be making a NEW Covenant with them:

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. 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.

This is a major shift.  Rather than everyone’s being reliant on a prophet or priest or soothsayer to speak God’s Words to them now and then…  Rather than being doomed from the time they are born, by virtue of their parent’s sins, which they too can never shake…  Rather than being caught in this cycle of sin and condemnation,…

God is making a way.
God is changing the script.
God is intervening by changing all the rules.

Instead of God’s spirit being given only to a few, God will POUR OUT God’s Spirit on all flesh.  From the least to the greatest, from the oldest to the youngest, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh, so that the law of God will not simply be written on a scroll, for only the elite, only the educated, only the anointed…to know and understand.

It will be written on hearts, so all can know and understand.

And in this time, no longer will children be held accountable and entrapped by the sins of their parents because Jesus is doing a new thing and forgiving all, their sins!!!

I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.

While before we cannot commune with God because our sins are always in the way, in Christ, we are a new creation, we are adopted into the family of God!, and the barriers between us and God are broken down.

The writer of John witnesses to Jesus saying,
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

JESUS stands before his own death, knowing that for this very purpose he was called.

Yes, he was called to teach and heal and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Yes, he was called to demonstrate a new way of being human to one another.

AND he was to wage warfare on the powers of sin and death.  Jesus would drive out the ruler of this world, the confines of sin and death, our entrapment to evil, and overcome our own complicity in evil with Christ’s own outpouring of love.

Jesus would call us friends.  Jesus extended the boundary lines, way beyond the borders of the nation of Israel, and opened us to see that God’s heart was for all people – that anywhere the Spirit of God was, God was indeed there also.  Jesus tore down the dividing walls of sin and evil and declared all fit before God, covered in his own righteousness, trusting in his sacrificial love…

You see, the cycle has been broken.
Each of us can now listen to God on our own.
Each of us is now empowered to make decisions to follow God or to turn away…
Each of us is held accountable for our own mess, our own sin, our own turning away…

But in this new freedom, we are not left on our own.  We are not individually accountable, just so we can fall and fail again, of our own devices…

We are shown such love and mercy, such forgiveness and grace, such abiding love that God is at work, changing us from the inside out, re-writing our own scripts.  And Christ’s work of reconciliation, between us and God, is done!

We have only to believe,…
to receive this knowing that seeps down deep into the cracks and crevices of our very being,…
and to let God’s irrational, unstopping, fierce love for us make us more and more, day by day, into the likeness of Christ. 

Thanks be to God, who in Christ has flipped the script
has intervened
has broken into the prisons of our own making and those we have inherited

And is breaking every chain!

That we may indeed LIVE as children of the Most High God,
Turning and returning,
Trusting and believing,
…And more and more reflecting the light and love,
justice and righteousness
hope and wholeness of our our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.

Thanks be to God for this new script, this new life God made visible and is making available to us in Jesus Christ our Lord!

May it be so in us.

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