Just Like Any Good Parent
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
We kids had an understanding with our Dad. We knew Dad loved us because he took good care of us. However, if we ever needed to borrow some money, we had to sign a contract. Now, don’t go getting the impression that this was a frequent occurrence. My father was Scottish after all. He followed the wisdom of Proverbs which says, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.” But every now and again, Dad understood that everyone needs a little hand up.
So we would sit down at the kitchen table, where all serious family matters were discussed, and we worked out the details on paper so there were no misunderstandings. Clarity was the purpose of this, not trust. When I read Jeremiah, his words reminded me of these times with Dad.
There is no question in anyone’s mind that God loved God’s creation. In the beginning, God gave us everything. God said, “ I am your God and you are my people.” God made this covenant with us and at that time, even walked in the garden with us. God said, “I have given you a higher intellect than most of my other creations” (although as the bumper sticker reads, the more I get to know people, the better I like my dog.).
Then God said, “I expect you to be the caretakers of this paradise.” But, of course, as we all know, we were not content with our lot in life. We wanted to wear the Daddy pants. We wanted to make the decisions, be the masters of our own destiny, be the masters of the universe, we wanted to own creation, make it ours. So we broke covenant with God, no longer being God’s people, allowing God to be God, and we God’s people, and we lost paradise because of it. And God wept.
But not for long in the eternity of time. God does what all parents tend to do, God forgave. So God tried again and allowed Abraham to sense God’s presence in the passing of a stranger, in the nudging of the wind. God reinforced the covenant, “I am your God, you are my people.”
And for awhile, that worked until Abraham’s young’ins got to squabbling’ over who was to be the leader of this family once Abraham passed, an argument that eventually landed the whole darn pack of them in slavery in Egypt.
But once again, God does want parents who tend to forgive them. They are liberated from Egypt. God continues to care for them drifting manna from heaven to feed them, producing water from solid stone. God is holding up God’s end of the covenant and for awhile we did too. But then we got lonely and impatient and if you can’t feel or find God, what do you do? Well, you make a god for yourself. And even though Moses, in his anger, lost the first set of tablets by throwing them at the golden calf, God made him a second set. And just like my Dad’s contracts, not because God didn’t trust them, but for clarification. This is what God expected from God’s people, all set out nice and clear. 10 principles to live by. Keep these and our covenant is restored. It is not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of clarity, God hopes.
Well, as you know, nothing is that simple with kids. Given enough time, they will try to press the boundaries once again. My father used to say to me, “Instead of working so hard trying to get out of doing your homework, why don’t you just do it? It’s easier.” Like every teenager, we want to be treated like an adult, supposedly making the rules instead of living by them. Of course, once we become adults we realize it is never quite as free and grand as we thought it was.
Becoming an adult means accepting a lot of responsibility for our actions, accepting our place in the world. We may be mesmerized by the thought of becoming as omnipotent as God, and immune to all the childishness of this world but I wonder if we would really like it if we ever got there. I wonder how much fun God is having spending God’s time just trying to get God’s children to act justly and to love their parent?
How does God feel when God’s rebellious teenagers become tempted to turn a rock into bread to feed themselves, and watches them jump at the opportunity. What it is like being God when your children keep trying to test your love for them by throwing themselves from steeples to see if God will catch them? I envision God covering God’s eyes when we go splat upon the ground, and in a tear soaked, trembling voice, says, “I am your God, you are my people. Not the other way around.”
What is it like when you untie the apron strings and then watch as your children stress themselves to the point of anxious burnout so they may inherit all the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of wealth and power, the kingdom of status, the kingdom of fame?
We know the glories and pain of being a parent. Why would it be any different for God? I don’t know about you but I had enough on my plate just being the parent of two kids. I can’t imagine trying to be God and literally taking on the whole world. Quite frankly, I don’t need to be God, God can have that one.
So now what do you do as a parent? You’ve been present, and your presence has spoken of love. That didn’t work. You clarified everything in a contract. That didn’t work. Now what? You do what any loving parent does, you continue to forgive. Jeremiah informs us that, once again, God restores God’s covenant. But this time, God is going to try and draw us closer. When the care and advice is not working, when the rules no longer apply, all that is left is having a sit down with your children and try to touch their hearts.
This is the time when you enter their room to find them lying on their beds, face buried in the pillow, curled up in a fetal position. It is the time when you sit on the bottom of their bed and try to touch their heart which pain is turning to stone. “Listen buddy, I know what happened to you is crappy. I’m not trying to punish you. I just want you to stop and think about why you’re acting this way and who it’s hurting. I really do love you and, if it was within my power, I would trade places with you in a minute.” It’s at that moment a heart is touched, when we experience our parent taking our place.
When we see a refugee giving her last morsel of food to her starving child. When a father stands in front of rebel soldiers looking for child soldiers and says, “Take me instead.” When a life jacket is given to a child floating to freedom in the Mediterranean Sea. When a parent rushes back into a burning house to save their child. After trying to talk to us, after trying to lay out the rules of conduct for us, God restores God’s covenant with us by taking our iniquities upon God’s self.
Sitting on the end of our bed, God says, “It’s going to be all right. I will take responsibility for all your wrong doings and the world can punish me. Those who mocked you can call me all the names they want. Those who have accused you can spit in my face. Those who bully you can lay their straps upon my back. Those who want to crucify you in social media, they can hang me from their crosses.” And in doing just that, God writes the law of God’s love upon our hearts.” There’s nothing else to be done and God the parent hopes upon hope that we will rise from our beds and grab onto to God. I am your God and you are my people. I will write this law upon your hearts.”
It is sad, but the reality is that we are most likely to really hear these words of Jeremiah when our own efforts are exhausted. When we are weary of our own inner turmoil, we are ready to hear Jeremiah. When we are weary of broken relationships and the uncertainty of trusting others, we are ready to hear Jeremiah. When we are weary of our intermittent relationship with God, occasionally close but more likely far away, we are ready to hear Jeremiah. When we are tired of playing God because no one told us it would be this hard, when we need a fresh start, when we need the slate wiped clean, then we are ready to hear Jeremiah.
“I am your God and you are my people, and to know that in our hearts.”