This is from my friend, Lauriston Avery, a very talented educator and certified Lay Servant in the United Methodist Church. This was in response to my posting for January 3rd, “Seeing The Future”. If you have a post you would like to add to my blog, feel free to contact me through the comments section. May the Blessings of the Season continue throughout this New Year.
In peace and with Christ,
Dr. Tony Mitchell
Meditation for today based on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 15:1-8
I was at a wonderful Christmas party this season when I got into a chat about how Christmas falls on the pagan feast day of Saturnalia. It was the wise Christians who preceded us, who decided to observe the birth of Jesus on that feast day of December 25th, in order to hold sway and influence over the pagans who celebrated it, and therefore subsume their bestial practices in better behavior.
The pagan practices were literal blood sacrifices and needed desperately to be revised and understood figuratively, but the spiritual truth hidden in the mythology has it’s root in the good news of the one true and divine creator. I would venture to suggest that all human souls throughout history, whether it was 2000 or 10,000 years ago, have had the same experience of the divine and in our human attempts we have tried to characterize that divine experience in story, song and legend ~and that all these things have been but prefigures of the true God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.
We often read the Hebrew Scriptures in juxtaposition with the Gospel and this is to remind us that the Hebrew Scriptures prefigured the Gospel and which helps to give us a new understanding of the language.
I read the Bible every day online and because it’s online, I’m able to switch my translations from the King James version to the new international version to the contemporary to the message whenever I am curious about other meanings. I was struck the other day about how the word “terrible” is used in the King James version and is translated as “awesome” in the new international version
We have to be careful to understand the connotation of the word as it exists in our contemporary understanding and be sure that as we read and understand these prefigures of our own personal faith that we understand the true intent of the language. In this way we can connect our own lives, our own histories and see them as a prefiguring of our new spiritual life to come.
The original covenant rainbow that God made as a bridge to humanity with Noah is, “I will be your God; you will be my people”. This prefigured the bridge to God that we have in Jesus, who makes human to us, makes plain to us, what it means to be with God, “Emmanuel” in our lives.
The covenant God makes with His upright people, the chosen heirs, His Israel, has been renewed many times over the course of our spiritual history. There is a covenant bond established at creation between the creator and his creation, there is the renewal after the flood with the symbol of the rainbow connecting heaven and earth, there is the renewal after the exodus from Egypt and it’s perpetual remembrance through the celebration of the Passover feast, and then our ultimate renewal in the celebration of our spiritual Passover in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Our God, Yahweh is the covenant-keeping, delivering, guiding, and protecting God of Israel who brought Israel to himself. He is the life-love bond ( 19:3-4 ). Yahweh commands us to obey Him, obey, meaning to “listen intently to.” With obedience, Yahweh will realize His promises to us, he will answer our prayers.
Yahweh’s promises were in the form of four assurances that included responsibilities. (1) Israel would realize the life, love, and blessedness of being Yahweh’s precious possession, chosen from all the nations. (2) Israel was to be a kingdom, a royal people, children in the family of the sovereign Lord of the cosmic kingdom. Implied was that all kingdom privileges, blessings, and responsibilities were to be theirs. (3) Israel was, as a kingdom, to be priestly in character and service. They were to see themselves as standing and serving in the presence of Yahweh as they ministered to and on behalf of the nations of the world. Thus the covenantal task of being a channel of blessing would be realized. (4) Israel was to be a sanctified, dedicated, and consecrated nation. As an organized people ruled by Yahweh, they were to avoid and fight against sin and corruption and reflect the purity, majesty, and grandeur of their holy Lord among the nations.
Today, we heard Jeremiah’s prophesy of the New Covenant. Jeremiah assures the continuing covenant, the release from captivity, everlasting love, and hope for the future. This “new” covenant is understood in the same way we understand a “new” moon~ always there before, but revealed again. This new covenant still founded in law, will be written on the hearts and minds of the people, and as forgiven people, reconciled with the One, together they would renew and re-create, a new heaven and a new earth. The renewed covenant Jeremiah prophesied was ushered in by Jesus Christ, our new mediator, the one who, in today’s Gospel establishes himself as the I AM. I am the vine, Jesus tells us. You are the branches.
Kathryn chose this passage as the Gospel to be read at her marriage to Peter. In their covenant of marriage, Kathryn and Peter promised each other the blessing of a new life, a new family, with Jesus as their one heart, uniting them together. Their act of commitment before God renewed in them the same covenant prefigured in creation by Adam and Eve, and in establishing themselves as a new family, they set out on their journey, hand in hand, to live out their values, that they should be rooted in faith, rooted in Jesus as the one who would bring fruitfulness to their relationship. Theirs is a new testimony of an age old promise of love.
As those of you who are in any relationship know, the decision to love one another, can only bear fruit if the relationship remains connected, connected to the root, the vine, that is divinely inspired, and humanly formed in the image of Jesus, and through him, in the image of us, imaged as we are, in God.
Love is very attractive! Love also attracts others to the person of Jesus. Loving God and loving one another in Jesus’ name must be our overall ambition above all others. That is the kind of love that can change the world.
Love is the most effective form of evangelism. When people see real love they see God. The best way to tell people about Jesus is to love them and if we show our love to all others, and become friends, we become His friends, all who love one another.
We need to cultivate a growing friendship (vv.14–15) with Jesus by spending time with him, and praying and listening to him through his word.
Jesus says that if you stay close to him (‘remain in him’) three things will happen in terms of fruitfulness. First, your prayers will be answered (v.7). Second, God will be glorified (v.8). Third, your joy will be complete and overflowing (v.11, AMP)
Our own histories can prefigure Christ in our own lives through our own covenants with God that we must renew annually, if not daily. If we remain connected to God, we can bear abundant fruit, real, true actual fruit, in the world.
And this for me, is our goal for The Church, and our church, as set for us by John Wesley, that is, we are to go into the world, and make disciples for Christ. This we do by living, being, little Christs ourselves, Christians, and through our example, draw people closer to God, draw people away from their bestial nature and closer to their better nature.
We can accomplish our goal if we are intentional about renewing our covenant with God. With a renewed covenant we allow God to work in and through us for His purposes, which will result in our meeting the goal of making The Church, AND our church, a place of abundant and joyful life. We will be doing the real work of building the kingdom of God, into a new heaven and a new earth.
As we walk through the world bounded in flesh, it’s hard to see God’s hand unless we are looking for it intentionally, but we CAN see God when we pledge ourselves to him, formally today in liturgy and informally in our daily walk, even in our breathing, our daily prayer.
Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine keeper, gardener accurately, and reminds us that in order for us to bear fruit we must be rooted in him, we must be pruned, the deadwood must be taken away. The purpose of pruning is so that you can bear even more fruit. Pain, sorrow, sickness and suffering, loss, bereavement, disappointment and frustrated ambition are some of the ways our lives are pruned.
In this new year let us resolve to shed those things that complicate our lives, those things which keep us from fully communing with God; God who longs to bear fruit in us and through us for the world’s sake. Let us bear the pain of being spiritually pruned with patience, knowing that the result will be something beautiful.
This is a day of new beginnings. At the start of this new year let us pledge to be daily conscious that each day is another new beginning, a new opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness and grace and move forward into a spiritual life that can bear rich fruit for the kingdom of God.
Let us resolve to remain rooted in Christ’s love, pray that we may bear fruit for the love, peace and benefit of this world. This surely answers all our prayers, and will make our joy complete. Let us make this covenant commitment today, together.