When I read about Stephen Hawking’s death, tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I felt an acute sense of loss. It’s not that I had ever met him or had any deep understanding of his work. But there is something about a person who continues to speak and work and change the world even as their body is ravished by disease. He gave me hope. His way of being in the world reminded me that there are no limits to what I or anyone else can accomplish when we focus our gifts and use them well. Stephen Hawking made me believe that I could do whatever it is I’ve been created to do even when my body imposes limits on my energy and movement. When I listened to his words or read his books, I believed “more” was possible. When he died, I felt like the world had a little less hope in it now that this vibrant person is gone.
On the other hand, I know that folks with Stephen Hawking’s tenacity have been around as long as human beings have. The Prophet Jeremiah was likely one such person. I cannot imagine having to deliver his message to the people of God in his time and place. On the other hand, there is such power and promise in his message that I want people here and now to receive it. God is forever expanding and reshaping the covenant God has made and will make again with the people of God. Rainbows weren’t enough. A personal invitation didn’t hold the people to God. Stone tablets were broken even before the people even grasped them. All through the wilderness and through the years, the people of God wandered away from God’s covenant with them. Then along comes Jeremiah to say that God is going to make a new covenant that will be unbreakable because it will be within them, on their hearts in God’s own handwriting.
Jeremiah’s words weren’t heard very well. We still don’t quite get it. There’s only one word God would ever want to write on our hearts and we struggle with it so much. God would write LOVE on our hearts – love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of creation. It’s a word that is engraved within each of us as surely as we are created in God’s image. Yet, humanity on the whole is pretty awful at loving the way God calls us to love. Imagine what the world would be like if our children didn’t have to advocate for gun control… Or women didn’t have to take to the streets to bring attention to sexual harassment and abuse… Or People of Color didn’t have to plead for their lives… What would the world be like if we all went in search of this indestructible covenant that is our birthright?
Years after Jeremiah tried to describe this amazing gift God places within each human being, Jesus embodied this covenant of love. Simply to show us how it can be done. Even then, people didn’t understand what he was about. Even in moments of Show and Tell, or, more accurately, Tell and Show, people still didn’t get what Jesus was about. In John’s Gospel we have this curious interchange right after Jesus as entered Jerusalem, triumphantly I might add. Palm branches have just been strewn at his feet and the “Hosannas!” still echo through the air. Yet, the momentum stopped right there.
Jesus spoke about letting go of life in this world to be one of his followers, bear fruit, and honor God. I’m sure he received a lot of blank stares as he spoke. Maybe even a few shouted, “I don’t get it” before Jesus gave a very real example. He just finished telling people to let go of all the things they valued to make room for the love of God, when he demonstrated exactly how it’s done. He told God that he was anxious about the events unfolding round him. He didn’t want to do it, even though he knew that this demonstration of God’s love for the world was exactly why he had been born. God affirms this, and people continue to do what people do. The reminder buried in the example is that God’s love is for all people.
We have been told. We have been shown. God has written LOVE on our hearts. When will we live it? When will we embody Love without question or hesitation? When will humanity reach the point where hope and life will shine brilliantly through all people, not just a few of the extraordinary ones? Jesus changed the world to show us that it’s possible. As Lent draws to its end, what will you do to follow Jesus with more than words?
RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2017
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16