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Whether it is an automobile, cellular phone service or even laundry detergent we are constantly bombarded with advertising saying that things are new and improved. They may make only a minor change but it is always described as being new and improved. In our Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah this morning it appears as though the prophet offers a new and improved faith for the people of Judah. Interestingly Jeremiah was a prophet more familiar with his prophecies of doom and destruction yet in our passage this morning he offered words of hope. Throughout the Old Testament we learn that the old covenant God had formed with the people of Israel had been broken countless times. The description that Jeremiah provided was shocking for the people who heard this message. His message implied that God had plans to set aside the old covenant. Replacing this old covenant would be something new and improved. The foundation of this new covenant would not be based upon written laws and regulations. This new covenant would be based upon a growing and personal relationship with God.
As I think of this new and improved covenant, I am reminded of some wisdom in the words of the late Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Catholic priest and author. One of his most popular books he wrote was entitled, The Wounded Healer. Nouwen stressed in his writings the importance of living in our brokenness under God’s blessing. In an interview Nouwen once offered this insight. He believed that many people in our world do not feel that they are loved or safe. When suffering would come into their lives they often believed this only reaffirmed their sense of worthlessness. Nouwen encouraged people to learn to live within their brokenness. He encouraged us to view those valleys that we experience in life as a blessing from God rather than as a curse. Likewise, during the time that Jeremiah ministered, the people of Judah believed they were under a curse from God. Eventually the people of Judah discovered that God’s blessing was still upon them. Jeremiah presented to the people of Judah more than just a change in appearance or ingredients. Jeremiah offered the people a new covenant that offered them a faith that looked forward to a brighter future. Any faith that looks forward is a faith that places it focus upon a higher power and in our case that higher power is God.
As we speak of the subject of focus one of my favorite movies is Apollo 13. This movie was about the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the Service Module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of water, and the critical need to jury rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17th. On the sixth day of their mission the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. The astronauts needed to conduct a 39 second burn of the main engines. The actor Tom Hanks who played astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through a tiny window they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination, earth. Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the astronauts avoided disaster and were able to return home.
In Scripture we are reminded that in order for us to finish our mission in life successfully, we must fix our eyes upon Jesus. Remembering this passage from Hebrews 12:1-2 which says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
As we think of Jesus as the finisher of our faith, we turn our attention to this morning’s gospel lesson from John where we learn that Jesus refused to meet with some of his followers because in many respects a lot of what he came here to do was finished. It is not known whether these Greeks wished to see Jesus more as a curiosity or whether they had a specific concern or need they had hoped Jesus could fulfill. We see though that Jesus chose not to meet with them not because he no longer had compassion for others but it was the fact that Jesus had finished his earthly ministry and was set to focus and devote his full attention to His greater task ahead. Jesus prays to be glorified, not for his own benefit but rather he wanted God to be glorified in the coming events that were to take place. These events would see Jesus betrayed, arrested, put on trial and later crucified. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are reminded of the words in Hebrews that say:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)
In Scripture the sacrifice of blood underlined the seriousness of sin. During the time of Jeremiah, a sacrificed animal was a substitute for the sins of a guilty person or people. In our new and improved covenant, Jesus became that sacrifice, shedding his blood for future generations and us. Often as we think of Jesus’ great sacrifice we forget that our God is a God who grieves. Like us, God too has experienced the loss of a loved one, His only son.
Today our season of Lent comes to a conclusion. This season of preparation has been a time for us to evaluate our spiritual lives and reflect upon the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice as it relates to our lives. When Count Nicholas Zinzendorf, the Lutheran nobleman who became the benefactor and leader of our early Moravian Church was a young man, he had an experience in an art gallery that changed his life forever. Many of us are aware that he was born an aristocrat and had always known wealth and luxury, and he was an extremely gifted and talented individual. Zinzendorf had been reared and trained for a diplomatic career in the Court at Dresden. Beyond all of this, it has been said of him that he was a child of God. One day, on a trip to Paris, he stopped for a rest in Dusseldorf, Germany. During his stay in the city, he visited the art gallery. While in that art gallery he caught sight of a painting of the crucified Jesus called Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. The artist had written two short lines in Latin beneath the painting which translated in English said the following: “This is what I did for you: what have you done for me?” According to accounts, when Zinzendorf’s eyes met the eyes of the thorn-crowned Savior, he was filled with a sense of shame. He could not answer that question in a manner that would satisfy him. He stayed there for hours, looking at the painting of Christ upon the cross. When the time arrived for the gallery to be closed, he was still staring at the face of Christ, trying in vain to find an answer to the question of what he had done for Christ. Zinzendorf left the gallery at nightfall, but a new day was dawning for him. From that day on, he devoted his heart and soul, his life and his wealth all that he had to Christ, declaring, “I have but one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only.”
Reflecting upon our passage from John, did those Greeks move beyond their curiosity and observation of Jesus to be drawn closer to him by following his way of the cross? Did they, like Zinzendorf come to have but one passion, Jesus only? That same question this morning is asked to us gathered here for worship: What have we done for Christ? As we celebrate Palm Sunday in worship next week, as we recall the events of Jesus’ last days upon earth during our Holy Week services, may Christ who is lifted upon the cross draw us ever more closer to him so that like Zinzendorf and countless others; our passion is Jesus, and Jesus only.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
March 18, 2018