The New Deal
Jeremiah ch 31 v 27-35, Luke ch 17 v11-19
In the book of Jeremiah he starts talking about the exiled people who’ve been going through all sorts of stuff and promising a new start which he calls a ‘New Covenant’. Well, the word covenant is pretty much the same word as ‘deal’. Oh, no! Well, we’re not going to do anything about that deal today, but we are talking about the New Deal, the New Covenant and what that means to us and in that reading something I’d like to highlight was that Jeremiah says in this new deal, it will be different to the old deal and the law won’t be a law that over there somewhere; it will be written in your heart and because it’s written in your heart you won’t need someone to tell someone else about it because everyone will have that law written in their hearts.
What on Earth is that about? and then the New Testament reading? Well, this is a particular story. This is a story in the life of Jesus and Jesus approaches some lepers – some people with dread skin diseases – people who are unclean who you’re not meant to go near in the Jewish religion, and he leads to them being healed and one of them is a Samaritan. So, he’s a foreigner and you’re not meant to deal with foreigners either. So that one person comes back and Praises him and worships God and Jesus says where are the other nine?
Those are the two readings and I’ve chosen to focus on what is this new deal? What was being promised hundreds of years before the life of Jesus and how does it connect with that story of Jesus? And we also have struggle with what the deal is in terms of how we live our lives.
Here’s a really silly little thing that I do in my life, which is I run and I’d like to think I’m like Eric Liddell, you know, with big flappy white shorts on and you know in the film,
I don’t know whether he really said it but in the film this guy says, ‘I worship God but I’m also fast, and when I run I feel God’s pleasure in me’; and the film Chariots of Fire sets up a kind of tension between his faith and should he run on a Sunday. Now, I have a similar struggle in my life, which is having moved out to the Village of Langley, they have an annual run called the Langley 7, which if you look it up, it’s actually called the ‘Not Langley not 7’ because they kind of redesigned it. So it’s now 8, which is the number of miles is and it’s mostly not around Langley but around Sutton. I thought I ought to do this but the thing about it is that distance is only a bit over a kind of quarter marathon. It’s not a very long run. It’s not nearly as long a Great North Run sort of thing, but it’s got lots of hills in it. So you start off. On Ridgegate Reservoir and immediately you’ve got that really steep hill up the road there. Then you go down a steep hill so that’s nice. But now you’re in the bottom of a valley so you have to go back up a steep hill to the top of Ridge Hill – you know, near the Hanging Gate Pub and then you go down a hill. So that’s nice down to Sutton, but then you have to go up a long, long, hill which is going towards Wincle, you know that long drag past the Ryles arms and then even worse you turn off at the lane called Withinshaw, which has got a really nasty steep bit in the middle of it and you finally get to The Ridge at the top and you think that’s great because then you’re going downhill and downhill downhill downhill downhill and downhill downhill and downhill . . . and then you have to go uphill again.
So I thought well I’ve got to do this and I started practicing for it. And then I finally tried doing the whole thing and I felt a bit rubbish afterwards and about four days later. I got shingles and I was ill for about a month and a half. Were the two connected? I don’t know. So, this was a problem. Then I got better from shingles three or four weeks ago and I started running again and this run is next Saturday. So, this Saturday I decided right I’ve finally got to go out and try and see whether I’m up for it or not because I’m determined to do that run. I’ve got a decision to make. We’ll come back to that later in the story . . .
So that’s a silly kind of decision. Am I going to do the Langley 7? But we’re faced with decisions all the time. And this is where we come to this thing the New Covenant because in the Old Testament reading it’s promising this new deal, which is very different to the old deal. The old deal was the rules that the people of Israel were meant to follow but persistently failed to follow which is why they’ve ended up exiled.
This promise is a wonderful reading go back home and read again. This is a picture of a new world. And in this new world there’s a new way of understanding the deal which is that it’s written on your heart. We’ve got this new deal where the law is going to be written on our hearts. What does it look like? Well God teaches through events and stories and the story that answers that question is the life of Jesus. because Jesus came to depict that new world, that new order, that New Covenant, that new deal. When you start looking at Jesus he breaks rules. He walks through the field eating on a Sunday when you shouldn’t do anything like that. He breaks rules in this story. He approaches unclean people, and he approaches foreigners and he leads to them being healed.
So this is something about the new deal because we’re used in our lives to rules, and actually we kind of want rules, just like me. I’ve got this rule on to the Langley 7. I’m determined to do the Langley 7, a silly small example but we’re kind of constrained by rules things that we ought to do either because society says we should do it or because we see other people, maybe in church, even, who do all these seemingly wonderful things. We tend to be driven by things like duty and guilt or the rules of society or the rules even of our family and we’re constrained by those rules.
Then this new deal comes to the people of Israel and Jesus comes to the people around them and says this is a different deal and it’s that key phrase; ‘the law is written in our hearts’. It’s somehow something that we know which is a truth about what we should do.
So this is about our calling. What are we called to do and it’s not what you should do. It’s not what we are driven by guilt to do but it is about finding something that we’re called to do. And if we look, as God invites us to, at the picture of what calling is about, what the New Deal is about, if we look at Jesus we see something which is simultaneously inspiring and challenging. Because the story of Jesus is the story of someone gradually approaching Jerusalem and approaching a cross. It’s not an easy story. It’s a sacrificial story. And actually when Jesus is asked, what does it mean to follow me? He says pick up your cross and follow me.
Now this not the cross, but pick up your cross and that brings us back to calling because each of us has the thing that we should be carrying, but it’s not the thing that comes from guilt or from a book of rules or from what we think people expect of us or socially expected norms. What is written in our hearts is this new order, this new deal. It’s written in our hearts and God invites us to discover that thing with were called to do.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot and I was mulling over it before I started looking at these readings and then I was chatting about it when we were driving off somewhere and we stopped for lunch and we walked into the place. and there in the corner were Dave and Ruth Mock. This is over near Knutsford. So bit of a chance encounter, both of them now run churches, Ruth’s been running a church for about 18 days. and we spent lunch talking about their Churches, their lives and so on and that that set me thinking. And last Sunday something else set me thinking. My work colleague Rouf from Thailand came to stay for a couple days to see what English Countryside is like and he wanted to come to our church. He said it was interesting that it was relevant to today’s world, what Pete said in the talk and Mark announcing the event on Tuesday. Whereas he said when you go to the mosque, it’s all just about faith as a kind of narrow thing. And he also said you have quite an ageing congregation, which he thinks is something that’s happening in religion as he sees it travelling round the world.
Now when you look at yourself from the outside or through someone else’s eyes yes, you notice that and here we’re thinking about our calling individually amd also thinking about the church. And there are a lot of older people in this church – like me. When you get older one thing you do is you retire and when you think about retirement you think about finishing a really busy life. I think of my auntie in Aberystwyth working in a department store for about 40 years, and we have a clock that she was given as a retirement present with a little plaque on the back. Well done. You’ve done your 40 years now you can clear off!
When people retire it can be quite difficult. I’m speaking from personal experience because your identity changes. Who am I? I’m no longer that person runs around like crazy but on the other hand, what a relief I’m retired as I don’t have to do that anymore. I can relax. Different people I know interpret retirement in different ways. Some of them do voluntary work. and others play golf and so on but retirement, that’s something that comes with age.
But what about our calling? What about us as individuals? As part of this new deal with the word of God in some way written in our hearts as a starting point for identifying what were called to do? Do we kind of retire from faith? It’s a rhetorical question because you know when you get to Pentecost which is sort of the new deal with fireworks and a light show and so on and Peter standing up and talking to the crowd of people he says your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Let’s gender neutralize that; your young people shall see visions and your old people will dream dreams. Everybody is included. But we do have to think about this question of what does faith mean to us as we get older and that’s a question for us to ask as a church because we are a church with quite a number of older people in it. And it’s the same question. If you’re young, you know, I remember being at University and I went to the Christian union there and we had to kind of reunion a couple years later and a number of the people there who seemed like really enthusiastic members of the Christian Union that said yeah: I’ve kind of jacked that in. Now they kind of retired from it.
I was quite struck this week. (So a little sort of brexit reference) to hear something about the Queen during her speech about how she didn’t wear her crown. Why didn’t she wear a crown? It’s quite heavy actually and she said. I’m getting quite old and you can’t look down when you got a crown so you have to hold the notes up in front of you. So she wore a little Tiara instead but in talking about that, they said the Queen regards her job as a lifelong duty, not something she ever retires from. Actually our Journey of Faith isn’t something that we retire from. Someone wrote to me a few months ago and said can I can an old person have a calling? When we think about it clearly, we do. Faith isn’t something to retire from.
I’m just going to go back to my run, my Eric Liddell moment, because I thought well, I’ll go out and try this yesterday. So I went out and I went down the hill and I ran up the hill and around down the hill. And eventually I got up to the very highest bit. Now, the run I did is a bit of a cheat because I start from where I live so I miss out the last hill. So when I get to the top, the very top, I know this is the highest point and it’s all going to be downhill from there. And at the highest point you can look at that way over to Croker Hill, you know, there’s a telecom mast there. you can look at across the valley there. You can look all the way to Manchester, and you can look all the way to Shutlingsloe.
So it’s a fantastic moment. It’s a moment of exuberance and exaltation and then you can run off downhill and get home. I thought that’s fantastic, and two things happened. I kind of worked out this talk during that run. And the other is because I quite enjoyed doing that I realised there was not a duty to somehow do this Langley 7, really need to do it. I decided, no, I’m not going to do it.
What I’m saying is the word of God is written on our hearts and it is to tune in to what is the right thing to do right thing for us. Should I do that run . . . and this strikes down to much deeper things because we do live challenging lives. We do have struggles ourselves. We have people around us to support we have to deal sometimes with very hard things from day to day.
But this New Deal is for all of us individually, and as a church. We asked a few months ago ‘What’s the angel of our church?’ and that idea comes from these letters written to the seven churches in Revelation, you know, there’s one written to the church in Laodicea which says ‘I have this against you. You’re neither hot nor cold but lukewarm’. When you look at that you think well, I wouldn’t want to be like that. This New Deal is a challenge for us individually, whatever our situation in life, and it is a challenge for us as a church.
What is the word written in my heart? What is it that makes me a vibrant person thrilled in my faith rather than lukewarm? What is it that makes us as a church a vibrant Church filled with faith rather than lukewarm? And the answers are not written down but in our hearts. The answers comes from prayer. I mean particular things like praying which start from being open to the things written in our hearts. It comes from drawing close to people who understand us and being open to their thoughts, help and guidance.
And it’s a calling for our church. What is the angel of our church? Maybe reflect on that as we pray and break bread and wine together.
Terry Gibson, 20th October 2019