“Energy for Life”
March 22, 2015
II Corinthians 3:1-6
The early New England Congregationalists affirmed the whole of the
Christian faith as a covenant, a relationship of mutual commitment between God
and God’s people. At their best, they saw that covenant as growing out of
gratitude for God’s gifts of forgiveness and power for a faithful life.
A “covenant of grace” was how they described it. It was not a matter of
“Do this for life” but of “Do this from
is, act in certain ways—do justice, love kindness, walk humbly—not to win God’s
grace but because you have received God’s grace already. Through no effort of our own we are the recipients of
God’s love, we are already the sons
and daughters of God—so act accordingly.
And while those Congregationalists understood that this was an
everlasting covenant, they also recognized the many ways in which they broke
that covenant. So from time to time congregations would engage in a period of
fasting and self-reflection in order to renew their covenant with God and with
one another. They didn’t wait for Lent
to roll around. When repentance was called for, they repented. They turned in a
new direction and changed what they were doing in response to God’s love and
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new
covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
I find great inspiration in the ability of people and organizations to
reshape themselves, to find new energy and purpose. I find a certain strength
in stories of relationships that are renewed after sinking into hatred or,
worse, apathy. This often seems to happen at those times that seem least likely—when
people hit bottom, when no life at all appears possible.
Religious people call it "new life in Christ," or the
"power of the resurrection." It's the energy that makes new life
possible. Paul writes: "There is no question of our having sufficient
power in ourselves: we cannot claim anything as our own. The power we have
comes from God. . ."
I want to understand and experience that power better than I do. That
is in part why I am a minister and why life in a congregation is so important
to me. I am convinced that in communities of faithful men and women—in a church of all places—the energy that
makes new life possible, the power that comes from God might be discovered.
As is often the case, I get hints about the life of faith from what I
learn about physics—in this case, “the world's general tendency toward decay.”
Bathwater cools to the temperature
of its surroundings.
Physicists tell us that “Nature seems to be less interested in creating structures than in tearing structures apart and mixing
things up into a kind of average.
“Nineteenth century physicists codified this as the second law of
thermodynamics, which can be paraphrased as ‘You can't unscramble an egg.’ Left
to themselves, says the second law, atoms will mix and randomize themselves as
much as possible.
“That's why iron rusts: atoms in the iron are forever trying to mingle
with oxygen in the air to form iron oxide. And that's why bathwater cools:
fast-moving molecules on the surface of the water collide with slower-moving
molecules in the air, and gradually transfer their energy.”
We see the tendency of things to decay all around us.
We see it in relationships that fall
We see it in congregations that were
once strong and are now struggling.
We see it in
nations that resort to war to settle differences.
We see it in the wear and tear that
comes with growing older; ultimately we see it in our own death.
For thousands of years faithful people have pondered the religious
meaning of this tendency toward decay. The Hebrew people reflected on their own
experience with God and saw the slow erosion of that once close relationship.
That relationship was based on a covenant—an agreement of faithfulness
between two parties. Their story of faith began with Abraham and Sarah, chosen
by God who made a covenant with them.
Central to this story is the memory of being led out of slavery in
Egypt by Moses, being taught the ways of God in the desert wilderness,
declaring faithfulness to the covenant.
At one time ancient Israel was a mighty nation. But with time the
leaders and the people ignored or forgot the lessons the wilderness an—as we
do—broke the covenant they had made.
Do you remember
the covenant, the agreement, you made in joining this congregation? We covenant with
one another to seek and respond to the Word and will of God. We purpose to walk
together in the ways of Jesus Christ, made known and to be made known to us.
How is your covenant agreement holding up? Do you see decay or
By the time the words of Jeremiah that we heard this morning were
spoken, the nation of Israel was destroyed. Their place of worship was
destroyed. The people were living in exile in a foreign land. The message even
from prophets like Jeremiah usually was "you can't unscramble an
egg." What’s done is done. A covenant broken means the deal is off.
Left to themselves, there is a general tendency for things to decay, to
fall apart. Religious words like sin, breaking covenants help us to get a
handle on some of this.
But there is something else going on the world.
Fallen logs rot, but
You know about promises not kept.
But you also know of lasting commitments.
People betray one another, yet we
find the ability to love.
So what's going on?
The Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine finds a clue in the phrase
"left to themselves. . ."
In the real world atoms and molecules are never entirely left to
themselves. They are almost always exposed to a certain amount of energy and
material flowing in from the outside. And if that flow of energy and material
is enough, then the steady decay and degradation demanded by the second law of
thermodynamics can be partially reversed.
When outside energy and material enters an atom or a molecule, a life,
an organization, a people, a new quality of being alive develops.
Is it possible that this insight from the world of physics can help us
in our lives of faith?
Jeremiah again: "The days are coming when I shall establish a new
covenant with the people of Israel and Judah." What was regarded as the
certain end is not seen that way by God. We are not left to ourselves and our
In the midst of a despairing and hopeless situation, Jeremiah announces
that there is a power at work doing something unexpected, something undeserved.
Jeremiah, who can be even gloomier than I often am, Jeremiah announces a power
at work in the world that brings new life where we might expect no life.
What would it be like to experience that power, which for Jeremiah, for
Paul, is nothing less than the power of the living God?
For many—often for me—such power seems unbelievable.
A strange thing about those words from Jeremiah that we heard this
morning. Four times in four verses we hear the phrase "says the
Lord." It's as though the prophet wants to drive home to a skeptical
audience that these words are more than his own.
God says. . . God says. . . God says. . . God says. . .
Our signs say: “God is still speaking.” But for many today that voice is
extremely hard to hear, if not silent. With good reason we are suspicious of
people who claim to speak for God—even when—especially
when—they are robed and in a pulpit.
But now the world itself seems to speak of that power that brings new
And somehow forgiveness is connected with this.
Could it be that forgiving another person, forgiving yourself releases
a tremendous amount of energy? Everything that was being used for resentment,
for anger, hatred, or self-loathing is now available for something more
Could it be that accepting the forgiveness of others, the forgiveness
of God creates new possibilities in your life?
God says: I will remember their sin no more.
Forgiveness is connected to this new way of life, with this renewal of
And somehow this new life is about each of us taking individual
responsibility for our relationships with God and with each other.
"No longer," Jeremiah says, "No longer shall one person
teach their neighbor saying 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from
the least of them to the greatest."
So often in churches people want to take responsibility for others--or
want others to live as they see fit.
Jeremiah speaks of God's new covenant, written upon our hearts, for which each
of us takes personal responsibility. No longer is it: I tell you how to live as
a person of faith or you tell someone else what he or she should be doing. The covenant, written upon our hearts,
calls us individual accountability before God—and that is a key insight of
In the midst of change and uncertainty, God is continuing to do new and
amazing things with this congregation;
In the midst of change and uncertainty, God is continuing to do new and
amazing things in our individual lives.
In covenant faithfulness, God’s love and forgiveness are with us
We are not left to our own devices. God's power is here for us.
May we continue to discover it with joy.