March 17, 2024


Jeremiah 31:31-34

Rev. Shannon Jordan


We are continuing our focus during Lent of exploring more deeply the Old Testament lesson for the morning. We have been exploring God’s covenants with God’s people—from Noah to Abraham to Moses. Now we are in Jeremiah.

How many people have bought a self-help book? Listened to a podcast or watched a video to become a “better” person? How many of you have tried to break a bad habit, or create a good habit, and it seemed almost impossible? We are called to something better, but we aren’t always sure what that is. I think we all know in some part of ourselves that we aren’t all we can be. We aren’t the best version of ourselves.

Today’s passage in many ways addresses THAT. That knowing in our soul. That elusive part of ourselves that we just can’t quite get a handle on—it comes from outside of us. This is the part of ourselves that we sometimes just don’t understand. This is the part of ourselves that God has written on our hearts, in our souls, through the power of the Spirit.

The book of Jeremiah was written at the beginning of the Babylonian exile. Dark days for the people. They had Babylon on one side and Egypt on the other. They decided to align themselves with Egypt, against the prophet Jeremiah’s warnings, because they thought it would be safer. If you can picture a map in your head, Israel is on the crossroads of the Egyptian empire, the Babylonian Empires which covered pieces and parts of modern day Iraq. And thinking forward into New Testament times, also the Roman Empire. Israel was not important for its natural resources, like gold or fertile plains but for its location. They were often the buffer zone between warring factions. With this crushing defeat they had to leave their land, their temple, their way of being God’s chosen people.[i]

Much of the book of Jeremiah is gloom and doom, but as our passage today indicates, he also had hope from his trust in the steadfast love and provision of God. Jeremiah chapters 30-34 are called the Book of Consolation and are full of words of hope and promise.

In spite of Israel’s betrayal, in spite of their lack of obedience to the law, in spite of their breaking previous covenants, God still loves them and still promises to be with them. Our passage today promises them that in spite of all of this that God will forgive them. Jeremiah promises them that even though their place of worship has been destroyed, that God would write his law on their hearts so that it could go where they went—even if to Egypt or Babylon.

As we wonder what this passage may say to us today, the easy jump is for us to think of Jesus. We think of the new covenant – sealed in his blood, shed for the forgiveness of our sins – and think the covenant of Jesus is better than, and replaces, the covenants we have been discussing during Lent. The big church word for this is supersessionism and we need to be very careful to NOT do that. As a matter of fact, our passage this morning highlights the emphasis on God’s forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible, not just the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, has God forgiving people over and over again. The whole Bible tells the story of a God who loves us and forgives us and pursues us, regardless of what we do. God sees our hearts—our motives—our whys—not just what we do. Like a parent with a wayward child, God continues to try to shape us and help us become what God knows we can be.

I have always been intrigued by the theme of the “heart” in scripture. Some of my favorite verses on the subject are:

Out of the heart the mouth speaks—from Luke 6:45.

For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Ps. 51:10

What did the heart mean to the writers and hearers of these passages? In that time, the heart wasn’t a muscle that pumped blood, although there was some knowledge that the heart impacted life and death—but in the writings, it was more about what you love. What you value. What motivates you. It was more what we would consider our mind/thoughts/personality/motives.

In our passage Jeremiah states that God will put the law in them, God will write it on their hearts and God will be their God and they will be God’s people. God will write on their hearts what God loves so that they will also love what God loves. They will ALL know God, from the least to the greatest. What an amazing promise from God who describes the betrayal of the covenant like a wife cheating on a husband. The idea that regardless of Israel’s transgressions that God will forgive them and change their hearts to want what God wants is truly miraculous.

Just as the people in Jeremiah’s day had responsibilities to honor the covenant, so do we. WE are to keep the covenant with God—the new covenant—one sealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are still called to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This following of God’s word written on our hearts, indwelling us in the person of the Holy Spirit is still tied to this covenant that Jeremiah mentions.

We need to learn to follow the leading of the Spirit in our lives as we discern what we are to do and not do. We all “know” in some way or another. Even young children know fair and unfair. Young children have compassion for the poor. We have all felt some level of conviction around our actions or inactions. These are glimmers of God’s writing on our hearts. We are especially aware of what is not fair to us or to our loved ones, however, we have to remember, it takes a bit more work to discern what is not fair to others.

To know what God has written on our hearts in relation to others can be more challenging and takes the power of the Spirit and practice—repetitively checking in with systems and situations—to get insight on how God would do it. It is really hard to see our normal as anything other than normal!!!

Culture is getting better at lifting this up—two examples that come to my mind are the Barbie movie and Taylor Swift’s song The Man. Both lift the double standards of expectations of men and women.  For me, both were uncomfortable as I have experienced the dichotomy of it being ok to have the nurturing parts of pastoring. It is OK for me to have the hospitality and welcoming part of pastoring, but as a woman, not as much the leadership part of pastoring.

In a previous church where I was a solo pastor, I heard comments like: are you the office manager? Who is the Head of staff? Can I talk to your boss? Who will the boys and men listen to if there is only a female pastor? Was that question ever asked for the hundreds of years of men speaking to women and girls? And my personal favorite, the person who said it was OK for me to be a pastor because clearly my husband gave me permission to. I am thankful that here at FPCA I have the opportunity to use all of my gifts.

Yesterday there were several dozen of us at the Racial Justice Training. An excellent use of time and so powerful.

And there again, it is so hard to see unfairness not related to you. To understand the impact of racism in our schools, our workplaces. If it isn’t our experience, we need to find ways to hear about the experiences of others. We need to have proximity to others to understand their lived experiences and not unintentionally support a normal that harms another.  We have to work at it. We have to educate ourselves, we have to expose ourselves, and we have to do things differently if we want to learn to recognize what God has written on our hearts about this versus what the world has written on them. Or it is easy to overlook it and think:

It’s fine. It’s normal. It’s legal. It’s OK. Why can’t they get over it? What’s the big deal? Why does it matter?

We need to pay attention to what is written on our hearts. What is writing on your heart? What is writing on your heart, intentionally or unintentionally?

I learned the hard way that even background noise can impact us. When Anna was about three and a half, we were in a Target and I heard her singing, as clear as day, and loudly, The Devil Went Down to Georgia. She knew all of the words—she even knew the silence that we had in our car when I turned the volume off for the bad word in the lyrics.

My heart sank. This was the result of listening to the Coyote Ugly CD in our car. As a child of the 80’s, I quickly thought about the other CDs we listened to and realized we needed a different music in the car. I found Steve Green’s Hide them in your Heart…which was Bible verses set to music, and then discovered Christian radio.

Our world is constantly writing things on our hearts and without reflection, it can cause us to wander off the path God has for us and not even realize it because it looks “normal.” The Barbie movie had an easy example of this—Barbieland had shown them it was OK for women to control everything and exclude the Ken’s. To marginalize the Ken’s. To let them be the sidekicks. No one questioned this imbalance. It took Ken no time in the Real World to see the benefits of patriarchy to men. It took him no time to bring patriarchy back to Barbieland and rename it Kendom. We pick up so quickly ideas and themes that align with our best interests and we have to be so intentional to not let that happen.

How do we do this?

Through the leading of the Spirit and through our own discipleship—or following Jesus. In Matthew 28 Jesus commands us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to learn to live according to the leading of the Spirit and informed by study and prayer.

John Calvin in his Institutes said that our hearts are a perpetual forge of idols. Calvin wrote that we have to be careful to practice piety to avoid this. Piety for Calvin describes a “right heart attitude” toward God, with submission and obedience to God, shaped by prayer, study of scripture, and love of God. We are called by God’s love for us to arrange our lives to give the Spirit room to work in and through us…through practices and relationships that point us to what God has written on our hearts. We know there is something more. We are called to a more pious way of living.

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard says of people who are formed by God, by discipleship, create “…social structures will naturally be transformed so that “justice roll[ s] down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 24). Such streams cannot flow through corrupted souls. Conversely, a renovated “within” will not cooperate with public streams of unrighteousness. It will block them—or die trying.”[ii]

God has written something on our hearts that can change the world if we listen. God has written something special, something of great value, on our hearts. Our hearts matter and without care, God’s writing can be covered up by the writing of the world. The writing of the culture. It is through our discipleship, through our prayer, worship, study, and exposure to the prophets in our world that we can learn to re-shape our lives, our world, our culture, to be in line with what God has put in our hearts.

God has written the good news of the gospel on our hearts. The good news that God loves us and pursues us – while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us—while we are still figuring things out. We don’t need self-help books or podcasts, or videos, we need to learn to tune into the words God has given us and written on our hearts. We need to learn to discern the leading of the Spirit, and lean into the love and grace of God.



[ii][ii] — Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ – 20th Anniversary Edition by Dallas Willard




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