Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
What's new? If you walk down the aisles of the supermarket, you quickly discover that almost everything is "new." "New and improved" is a label that adorns the product packaging on nearly every shelf. In fact, we see that word "new" so often, it fails to grasp our attention anymore. It has been written that these are Weasel Words which attempt to give the impression of radical improvement in the quality or performance of a product which might not actually be there. In fact, US government regulations require only that there be a small functional change in a product or its packaging to qualify it to use this description.
In like manner, each September the television networks hype the new television season. As the previews appear on the screen, however, we quickly realize that the new shows are quite often nothing more than the same old shows with the same old story lines. The only thing new about them is that they have different actors and actresses filling the roles. Many shops, when being renovated, have a sign on the outside saying something like 'Sorry for the wait. We're improving the shop for your convenience'. People who enter said improved shop rarely find anything has happened except things have been moved around. Hardly convenient.
Yet today Jeremiah puts before us that overused word "new." He speaks of a new covenant that God is going to make with all God's people. Does the prospect of a new covenant cause us to sit up and take notice? Or does that word "new" merely make us suspicious that God is simply trying to rehash the same old thing under the guise of a different wrapper?
As the prophet details the content of that new covenant, he claims that, unlike previous covenants, this is a covenant that will never be broken. When we hear a claim like that, our suspicions are aroused. From personal experience, we find it difficult to identify examples of unbroken promises, covenants that have been able to endure faithfully across the years.
Entrepreneurs open new businesses, signing partnership agreements with their fellow owners. But invariably there comes a day when that pact is dissolved, and the owners go their separate ways. During election time, candidates rattle off promises left and right. They solemnly vow, if elected, to accomplish all kinds of wonderful feats for their constituents.
During wedding ceremonies, pews full of worshipers watch as a young man and woman solemnly exchange their vows and enter the covenant of marriage. While the onlookers certainly hold high hopes for the couple's life together, in the back of their minds they wonder if the marriage will really last. Or, like nearly half of all marriages today, will the covenant that they just witnessed end up a broken promise?
The idea of a covenant that will never be broken is a thought that entices us. Yet we wonder if it is something that God can truly accomplish. Do we have any basis to put confidence in those words that Jeremiah speaks? We are in unfamiliar territory for most of us. We can not think of a time in our lives we knew absolutely that a promise was going to be kept. There are several large segments of the law that is all about one person being forced to keep their promises to another person.
As we look through the pages of the Bible, we discover that we indeed do have reason to be confident in God's promises—confident even in those promises that might seem at first to be unkeepable. For instance, in the early chapters of Genesis we witness how God vowed to take Abraham and his wife and to make them the parents of a great nation, even though they were childless and advanced in years. God kept that promise, making them the originators of the Hebrew people, a family of faith, which continues, even to this day.
In like manner, God made a bold promise to David, covenanting with him that one of his descendants would always continue to reign among the Jewish people. Despite the rebellions and apostasies along the way, God kept the promise. For in the New Testament, the Gospel writers emphasize Jesus' descent from David, a fulfillment of that ancient promise.
In the New Testament, Paul also affirms God's reputation for keeping the promises that God has made. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul apparently addresses some people in the church who contended that since many Jews rejected Jesus as the Christ, God would undoubtedly respond by rejecting the Jews. But Paul firmly insists that is not the way that God works. Instead, according to Paul, once God makes an irrevocable covenant, God doesn't back out of it. Therefore, God is not about to renege on the vow he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants.
As the early generations of Christians sat down and considered how to combine the received texts of the Hebrew scriptures with the newly written, authoritative writings of the early church, they looked to the concept of covenant as a central, focal hinge. Thus, the Bibles that Christians read today are primarily divided into two sections: The Old Testament (Covenant) and the New Testament (Covenant).
In particular, we find Jesus himself referring to Jeremiah's prophecy when he sat with the disciples in the upper room on the night before his death. The apostle Paul records the ancient words of institution: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25). Therefore, each time the church shares in the sacrament, believers are invited to remember the promise to establish an unbreakable, never-ending covenant with us and with God's people of every age.
Is that promise too good to be true? Is that promise too wonderful for us to believe? In the living of our lives, how many promises are made to us that we're able to trust without question that they'll be honored faithfully to the end of time? I think most of us would have to say, "not too many" or "none." Workers labor faithfully for an employer for decades, only suddenly to discover one day that the employment covenant is being terminated. Laborers entrust their hard-earned money to investment counselors, relying upon the promises they make for their future security. Yet there are times when that covenant of trust is broken, and people's plans for retirement are destroyed. The bonds of friendship last for years until one day when an argument causes the relationship to come to an end. As we look at the reality of our lives, it's difficult for us to understand entirely what an everlasting covenant is.
The good news is that God is able to do what we are not able to do. The good news is that even when we are faithless, God is faithful. That might be a hard thing for us to fathom. But that is the good news that was proclaimed by Jeremiah and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
We live and swim and exist in a world of constantly broken promises. The real issue is to take seriously the idea of kept promises and to somehow really understand that God gave us a new set of promises. We not only mistrust the idea of kept promises but we also distrust the idea of a new and improved set of promises. The whole set of ideas from Jeremiah rings hollow to our modern ears. Every time we hear “New and Improved Promises!” yawn we think to ourselves. So, we need to realize it is a covenant (testament) and secondly, we need to see what God has done and will do in Jesus Christ the literal embodiment of the New Promises. We need to emphasis how new and improved is our vision and understanding of God because of Jesus.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Definitions of Covenant and Promise: Covenant: A covenant, in general context, can be defined as a formal agreement between two or more parties where they agree to do or not to do something. Covenant in Religious Context: A religious covenant refers to the promise made by God to humanity.
The people of the Bible understood covenants well. In fact, they made covenants daily to define and describe their relationships with each other. Abraham made a covenant with the Philistine king Abimelech to resolve their conflict over a water source (Genesis 21:22-34). David and Jonathan made a covenant that established their everlasting friendship and that affirmed David's right to the throne of Israel (1 Samuel 18:3 and 23:18). Jacob and Laban, his father-in-law, made a covenant in which each promised never to harm the other and Jacob promised to provide for Laban's daughters (Genesis 31:43-53).
The fundamental difference between covenants and other agreements is the relationship established between the covenant makers. Each party made specific promises and could expect certain benefits (and penalties, if the promises were broken) based on the terms of the covenant. But this relationship went far beyond legal concepts. Covenanted parties viewed each other as friends who were bound together permanently. Abraham's covenant with Abimelech allowed these two very different men to live peaceably in the same area (Gen. 21:34). The covenant between David and Jonathan was one of mutual loyalty and love (1 Sam. 18:3). The legal obligations of a covenant relationship were based on the friendship established by the covenant itself. To be in covenant was to be in relationship. (https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/a-covenant-guarantee)
Though our biblical translations refer to people "making" a covenant, the Hebrews described the establishment of this type of relationship as "cutting" a covenant.
The cutting, symbolized by the slaughter of animals (Ex. 24:5,8), indicated that each person in the covenant promised to give his or her own life to keep its terms. To break a covenant was to invite one's own death as a penalty. There are no more serious relationships than those that are a commitment of life itself.
Thus, God's use of covenants to describe his relationship with his people (Gen. 15; Heb. 13:20-21) is striking for several reasons. It shows that God wanted to bond eternally with a people who persistently rejected him. It shows that God was willing to prove his devotion to the relationship by offering his own life. Finally, and probably most stunning of all, it shows that God not only was willing to offer his own life to keep the covenant, but he also was willing to pay the price for any covenant failure on the part of the human beings with whom he was in relationship. This promise certainly exceeded the limits of human covenant-making practices. (https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/a-covenant-guarantee)
New and Improved is An American advertising term invented some time during the course of television history. Now widely regarded with contempt for the utterly intelligence insulting nonsensical term it is. "New and improved Whammo juice!!! A refreshing carbonated drink that doubles as an industrial cleaning agent!!!" "Wait... how can it be new AND improved? You can't improve on something new, since to improve something implies revising something existing..." (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=New%20and%20Improved)
Weasel Words which attempt to give the impression of radical improvement in the quality or performance of a product which might not actually be there. In fact, US government regulations require only that there be a small functional change in a product or its packaging to qualify it to use this description. Thus, changing the design for the spout on a box of detergent would allow the manufacturer to tout it as being "new and improved". Changing the quantity of the product can also be a "new and improved" change, even if the change isn't in the direction that would qualify as an "improvement" for anyone except the manufacturer's accountants. Your favorite cereal might become "new and improved" when they increase the size of the box but decrease the amount of cereal in the box. Your favorite shampoo might become "new and improved" when they add a strong fragrance that makes your hair smell awful — or, worse, makes you sneeze.
A favorite trick of manufacturers is to "improve" an item by adding "botanical" ingredients. This is generally done by putting a handful of herbs into a strainer, then dipping the strainer into a 500-gallon vat of hot water for a minute or two. Two drops of the water is then added to every bottle of the product, which is then priced fifty cents higher than it used to be.
Comedian George Carlin observed that the phrase is perfectly meaningless in the first place. Which is it, a new product, or an old one which has been improved? Logically it cannot be both "new" and "improved"...
If the ad is specific about what they improved, it's We Don't Suck Anymore. If the ad emphasizes that the product is still the same despite a change in its packaging, it's New Look, Same Great Taste!. May be related to Absolute Comparative if the ad isn't specific about what makes the new product better.
Garfield had a nice Deadpan Snarker moment with this phrase.
"To think, all this time I've been eating old and inferior."
Parodied in a Steak'n'Shake commercial claiming their steakburgers are "Old!" and "Unimproved!" The implication, of course, being that they need no improvement.
The famous case of Tampax Tampons being "Improved" by putting fewer tampons in a box. This resulted in a drop in sales, and Tampax had another "New and Improved" going back to the old quantity. So, for those of you keeping track at home, two improvements = no change.
The automotive industry is the undisputed master of this trope (especially notorious among the American auto manufacturers), so much that the automotive publications industry (you know, as in Car & Driver and Motor Trend?) is the undisputed master at countering the automotive industry's mastery. You see, cars (much like other things) are defined in "generations" with each "generation" being defined as having a significant improvement over the preceding one. The current model of Corvette, for example, is currently in its "Seventh generation." Because the gestation period of a new generation of a particular car model is so long (and expensive), most models go through a "mid-life update" (sometimes multiple updates) where minor and easy things are changed to at least make the car look more competitive against the truly latest generations of competing models. Of course, you would only really be aware of this from reading previously mentioned automotive publications and having them explain the deceptive terminology behind this, because, of course, the manufacturers will always pass off these "freshened" models as completely and totally 100% "redesigned" and "re-engineered" from the ground up, even when it's blatantly obvious that the most significant change to the model is minor exterior styling changes. Lately, however, the manufacturers have taken it up to the next level, blurring the lines between a truly new "generation" and "mid-life update" thanks to improved manufacturing and engineering processes which are able to make minor and cheap yet truly tangible and appreciative changes to a car model, at least from the buyer's perspective (for example, truly redesigned or enlarged interiors).
In one that flew completely under the radar, Old El Paso, a brand primarily known for making salsa, began advertising their "New and improved zesty flavor". What they really did was doubled the salt and nothing else. Please note: "zesty" is completely meaningless.
Legally, a product can be considered 'new and improved' if there is a 'substantial alteration in the product's performance or operation'. Usually, it's through the addition or alteration of the formula; since the formula (and thus, the product) is technically 'new' and the product itself is demonstrably 'improved', it's nearly bulletproof when it comes to advertising law.
Parodied in the "Diamond Shreddies" advertising campaign.
Inverted by Monster Munch in the UK: on their packets they advertise " Old! Bigger like they used to be! (as in 1977)". Walkers Crisps did this on several occasions. Nobody was able to tell the difference as most of the time, they were able to replace ingredients without the flavor significantly changing. However, there was at least one instance of them having to own up to it. They had to change the name of the flavor "Barbecue" to "BBQ Rib" because it tasted so different with the new ingredients. Many people who liked "Barbecue" also like "BBQ Rib" but think it should have been launched as a different flavor, rather than replace one of their favorites.
Many shops, when being renovated, have a sign on the outside saying something like 'Sorry for the wait. We're improving the shop for your convenience'. People who enter said improved shop rarely find anything has happened except things have been moved around. Hardly convenient.
Even better, these "improvements" often move commonly purchased items "conveniently" to the back of the store to force customers to see other merchandise.
In one which is an inversion, Irn Bru has had Original and Best on its cans for years, but the formula has never actually been changed. The reason for this is that it was the first and most prominent iron brew to be produced.
Inverted by ads for Shredded Wheat. "Not new. Not improved. One honest ingredient since 1892."
Fittingly for a manufacturer whose weapons have names that sound like TV advertising jargon, Borderlands 2's Tediore features the "New and Improved" title modifier for its line of shotguns. Aesthetically, it adds a tiny box to the side of the gun. Functionally, it provides modest but wholly positive bonuses to the gun's basic stats, making it a rare instance of where the 'improved' part of the trope title is actually an honest statement (even if the 'new' part is still a little bit shady).
Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill show includes a bit where a finicky cat dubiously inspects his food and its "new and improved" sales pitch. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NewAndImproved)
Promises are used to win elections, and sometimes are actually best unfulfilled. Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He kept us out of war," only to enter World War I a year later.
Lyndon B. Johnson promised in 1964, "We are not about to send American boys 9- or 10-thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." During his presidency, the U.S. entered the Vietnam War and Johnson did not seek reelection.
Richard Nixon in 1968 claimed to "have a secret plan to end the war" and promised to find a way to "peace with honor" in Vietnam, but American troops were not withdrawn until 1973 — a little more than a year before Nixon resigned.
Gerald Ford was the only president to never be elected, so he never made any campaign promises to keep or break. He gets a pass.
Jimmy Carter campaigned on solving the energy crisis, but his speeches about conservation and attempts to add solar panels to the roof of the White House weren't good enough. He was unable to get support for a gas tax, and the energy problem only worsened during his presidency, according to The Atlantic.
Ronald Reagan promised to make a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer during his campaign, and although he proposed the amendment in 1982, it never went anywhere.
George H. W. Bush famously promised in 1988: "Read my lips: No new taxes," only to sign a bill raising taxes during his first and only term.
Bill Clinton campaigned on a renovation of the health care system before he took office in 1993. Although he attempted health care reform — "Hillarycare" — it ended in failure.
George W. Bush promised to "change the tone" in D.C., privatize social security and reduce government spending — none of which he succeeded with.
Barack Obama: Politifact tracked 533 of Obama's promises, and found that 48% of them he managed to keep while 24% of them he broke. (https://www.axios.com/10-big-broken-promises-of-past-presidents-1513301978-5b4fd8ba-a90a-450a-873e-51226c9861c9.html)
When people want to make a donation by establishing a charitable trust for their church or some other charity, they have an important decision to make right at the start. They need to decide if this is a gift where they want to retain the right to change their mind about it at a later date, or if they are committed to making the gift no matter what might happen in the future. The former would lead one to create what is known as a revocable trust, while the latter example would result in the establishment of an irrevocable trust. From a tax perspective, only an irrevocable trust is a true gift, resulting in a charitable tax deduction. A revocable trust is not considered to be a genuine donation, because at any moment the donor might change his or her mind and terminate the agreement.
When heart transplant operations are performed, one of the greatest risks is that the body will not accept the new organ. Often the body's immune system attempts to fight against the implant in an attempt to remove it from the body. As a result, hospitals regularly have to administer a battery of anti-rejection drugs in order to assist with the acceptance of the new heart.
The new covenant involves an end to the sacrificial system that was part of the old covenant. In the state of Orissa in India, there is a Hindu cult that continues to practice human sacrifice. Lately, however, the local priests have not been getting any volunteers. They have had to resort to making human-size figures out of flour and ritually slaughtering them on the altars. The priests insist that the offering of flour effigies is equally satisfying to the gods.
For the first time in about 500 years, the Roman Catholic rosary has been changed. Traditionally the rosary has focused on meditating upon three cycles: the five Joyful Mysteries, which begin with the annunciation to Mary; the five Sorrowful Mysteries, which recall Jesus' suffering and death; and the five Glorious Mysteries, which celebrate the resurrection and ascension. Last fall Pope John Paul II added a fourth cycle to the rosary: the five Mysteries of Light, which include Jesus' baptism, the miracle at Cana, the proclaiming of the kingdom of God, the transfiguration, and the institution of the sacrament at the Last Supper. Although Protestants do not make use of the rosary, Protestants should recognize that the rosary has been a powerful way to encourage Christians to contemplate the breadth of the Gospel message.
With the new covenant, God vows to save us despite our unworthiness. A twelve-year-old boy drowned in the Henan province of China last October as ten people looked on from the shore. The crowd stood there until the boy's father offered a high enough rescue price to make it worth their while to get into the water. By the time someone accepted the father's offer of the equivalent of $1100, it was too late—the child had already drowned.
In a world of uncertainty, we want some things we can depend on. That is why many people purchase various kinds of insurance. The Goodfellows insurance company has sold insurance to more than 40,000 people to cover them in case they are abducted or impregnated by aliens. That package runs about $400 a year for up to $1.7 million in coverage. Back when fears about Y2K were rampant, around 15,000 women took out policies to cover themselves in case they were selected to give birth to the Messiah.
Jeremiah reminds us that with this new covenant, God is no longer a stranger to us. Rather, God's words reside within us. Austrian police apprehended a 28-year-old man after he robbed a Salzburg bank. For some reason, he chose to rob the branch where he was a regular customer. The bank employees were able quickly to identify him. Authorities tracked him down to a local bar, where he had just finished drinking five bottles of champagne. Not surprisingly, it was fairly easy for the officers to take him into custody.
The risk with a kind of unilateral covenant like God extends to us is that we may not appreciate it, since we aren't asked to pay a price to bring it about. There used to be a gas station that gave away beachballs every summer. If you filled up your tank, you got a beachball for free. But then one summer, suddenly, instead of offering free beachballs, the gas station put up a sign that said that the beachballs now cost 49 cents. The owner of the gas station said he did that, because at 49 cents people figured that the beachballs were a bargain. But when they were completely free, people figured they were cheap and worthless, and they weren't interested in them.
"I don't believe I ought to quit because I am not a quitter" (Richard Milhous Nixon, during TV address on September 23, 1952).
"Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken" (Jonathan Swift).
My ten-year-old son was facing surgery. He had talked to the doctor about how much it would hurt. It was the Sunday before his surgery and we had Holy Communion that morning. He left a note on the altar written to God. "God, Take care of this. I'm scared of hospitals and doctors. I do not want to be put to sleep. Thank you. Eddie" I found the note as we cleaned up after the service. When Eddie went down to surgery he was still frightened and left our presence on his knees as he was wheeled through the operating room doors. I remember being angry with God for not answering such a simple prayer from a little boy. When Eddie awoke after the surgery. He told of an angel in white (In the bright lights and white uniforms it was probably a nurse, I thought.) who began to stroke the inside of his arm just like his mother did when she wanted to calm him. Only God and his Momma knew how to calm him, and God had one of his "angels" answer his prayer.
There is an English garden that is immaculate in every way. The visitor who had been waiting in the garden for his appointment confessed," Your master must enjoy such a lovely garden." The gardener replied," He lives in Scotland and has not been here in twenty years." The visitor responded in disbelief," When do you expect him back?" "Today, sir, today." Jesus' promises are kept and are delivered on time. He will return.
In the film The Matrix Keenu Reeves plays a character named Neo, whose very name in Greek means "new." When we first meet him, he is working as a computer programmer in a large corporation by day. His passion however, is his nighttime work as a computer hacker and seller of pills that provide people with an escape from the tedium of their overly-regulated lives. Choi, one of Neo's customers, gives us a clue as to Neo's coming role and destiny when he thanks Neo for his purchase and exclaims, "Hallelujah! You're my savior, man! My own personal Jesus Christ!" Soon after Choi leaves Neo is involved with a group of rebels trying to overturn the system enslaving humanity, the system they call the Matrix. They would agree with Choi's remark, in that they believe that Neo is indeed the leader they have been looking for, even though he himself does not believe it. Soon Neo is being transformed in a way that Jeremiah might agree is "a new covenant," even though the filmmakers do not refer directly to God.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: As he faced his death, Jesus offered up prayers to God.
People: With loud cries and tears, Jesus prayed to the one who could save him.
Leader: God heard his prayers; God listened because of his reverence.
People: God listened? But Jesus suffered on the cross!
Leader: In suffering, he learned obedience. Through obedience, he was made perfect. By his perfection, he became the source of eternal salvation.
People: In suffering, obedience, and perfection—Jesus Christ saved us all!
Leader: Let us pray now as David prayed, after the prophet Nathan confronted him concerning Bathsheba—
All: Merciful God, we know that we have sinned. Our transgressions appear before us ever so often. And it is against you alone that we have done these things. It would be just for you to condemn us, but we appeal to your mercy. Make us clean, O Lord; wash our sins away. Create in us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within us. Do not cast us away from your presence; do not take your Holy Spirit away. Restore us to the joy of your salvation. Amen.
We thank you, O God. At this time, we dedicate our future activity to your purposes. We pray that You would guide us—and the use of these offerings—to fully participate in Your new covenant. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
Heavenly God, we thank you for your undying faithfulness. Though we have sinned, you have never wavered in your love for us. You could have condemned us to die alone, but instead you chose to grant us everlasting life with Christ. You are truly an awesome God.
We pray now for those who grieve. Help them to know that they are not alone, for you suffer with us all. We pray that you would wipe their tears and hold their hands as they grieve. And help us, O Lord, to participate with you in this task of love.
We pray for those who, like David who inflict suffering on others. Speak through us, as you did through the prophet Nathan, to show them the error of their ways. Cleanse their hearts and ours and restore us all to the joy of your salvation. Deliver our world into your new covenant, where the law is written on the heart. Bring us into a world of goodness and love—an earth that resembles heaven itself. In Jesus' name we pray these things, Amen.