31 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. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
This selection from Jeremiah 31:31-34 is one of the most well-known and widely celebrated texts that speak about God preparing to do a new thing. And these words are often seen by Christians not only as a prophetic message for the nations of Israel and Judah, but also a message about the coming Messiah, who will give us a message of salvation through faith, rather than through works of the Law.
That’s all wonderfully theological, but let’s step back and ask a simple question: What is the context of this message?
The truth is that, as with most prophetic texts that speak of future hope, this message is delivered in a time of difficulty, and perhaps even despair. And messages like this one from Jeremiah have a long history in the story of God’s people. Consider for a moment the Law itself, which Jeremiah references. When did God make this covenant with God’s people? It was after a generation or more of slavery in Egypt. God’s people were forced into labor by a pharaoh who despised their very existence, and it was after God liberated them and they were a broken and homeless people, wandering in the desert, that God first made a covenant with them and promised that if they kept these laws- that if they lived in true relationship with God and one another-the Lord would be their God and they would be God’s people.
God did a new thing and gave hope to God’s chosen people in a time of change and uncertainty, and the people to whom Jeremiah speaks and writes are living in a no less uncertain time. Those who would have first heard Jeremiah’s words were a people that had been conquered, displaced, and oppressed. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. and the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 587 C.E. So, effectively, God’s people have lost their ancestral home. They have been taken away to live in diaspora- communities scattered across a foreign empire, and I’d say it’s a safe bet that many of them thought God had abandoned them.
This sense of loss and abandonment, of wandering lost and homeless in the wilderness, is one that hits awfully close to home for some in the LGBTQ+ community. How many have been pushed away or abused by their families? How many have been kicked out of their familial home? How many have been made to feel, time and again, like God has forgotten or abandoned them? How many have felt hopelessness and despair at the way their families of origin have treated them, nevertheless how those who claimed to be their family of faith behaved toward them?
Yet we see, if we read on through Jeremiah, that our God is not a God who abandons a chosen people. To God’s people, scattered across the ancient Near East, the Lord says, “Behold, I am about to do a new thing.”The covenant that I made with your ancestors is still a promise for you, but this covenant with its laws and prescriptions will no longer be an external thing. I will write my law in your hearts so that you will not simply live according to the covenant, but the covenant will live within you and will be a part of who you are. I will be your God and you will be my people, and it will be an inherent fact of your existence. And in this, nothing will come between us or break the bond that we have.
And we know that God’s promise does not end there, for God sent his only Son into the world to teach us God’s word, to die for our redemption, and to conquer death itself in his resurrection. And through Jesus Christ, God grants us salvation by faith, which is God’s gift to us according to God’s grace. Because we are the people of God- wherever we are on the sexuality spectrum, regardless of our skin tone or our ancestral roots, no matter our gender expression- God has written God’s law of love in our hearts through faith. How much more, then, can we expect to receive God’s promises: “I will be your God and you will be my people,” and “Behold, I am doing a new thing?”
That said, it feels like we’ve waited a long time for this “new thing” to occur. For two thousand years, members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Church have felt like change might never come; like the Church would never truly internalize and live out God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” when it came to us. Yet God has continued to promise, “I will do a new thing” – for we are part of God’s chosen people. Even in the face of discrimination, adversity, and hate, God has continued to proclaim, “You are my beloved children. I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Many have tried to drown out the voice of God with their own words of prejudice, but God’s promise has never been erased.
And now is the time. God is doing something new. God is calling us and empowering us to be the living and active presence of the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world, just as we are, just as God has created us and gifted us to be. God is calling us into a deeper relationship with God and is sending us out to invite others to join us in that communal relationship. God is showing us the way, even in the face of adversity and hate. We only need believe God’s promise and let God open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the new thing that God is doing, so that even the haters will be forced to see with their own eyes how God is doing a new thing through us and through the whole LGBTQ+ community.
Brian Biery (he/him/his), Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Shrewsbury, PA. I am also a Spiritual Director, trained through Oasis Ministries in Camp Hill, PA.
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