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Spiritual Growth

A New Covenant, a New Community

By Sung-ok Lee

Jeremiah 31:31-34 / John 12: 20-33
At the beginning of this Lenten season I received a very light weight package from my mother. It was a brown box inside which you could have fit four shoe boxes. The funny thing was nothing was in the box. I found it strange that Mom would forget to put whatever “goodie” she meant to put in and send. Carefully I called and asked her if she remembered what she put in the box. As if expecting my call she said, “I figured you’d be perplexed; I didn’t lose my mind, I let go of everything and wished for you the same.” Then she said to fill that box with new hopes, new dreams and share them with others. That was her Lenten message for me.

With an emptied self I was ready to receive God’s new covenant. In fact, Jeremiah’s God waits for no one to invite them in. In this Jeremiah passage, God declares he is writing himself into us. In the Methodist tradition in which I grew up, we spoke of the heart becoming “strangely warmed." And only then would we swing the door open and invite God in.

The God of Jeremiah will have none of this waiting game. This God has grown weary of people’s inability to keep God’s law. No more will the covenant be written on a tablet, a covenant which was external and could be broken. Instead, God will write the covenant on the people’s hearts. This will be no privatized transformation of individual lives.

As Walter Brueggemann points out, this covenant is given by God without reason or explanation. God wants the relationship with the people and resolves to have it by writing himself into the people. Like a scar permanently leaving its mark, we are “branded by God” for life. With a full heart equipped with the mark of God’s love, the task at hand is to build new community, what my mother referred to as “share with others.”

Life today has become tougher; women and families are simply trying to survive in the midst of an economic crisis and a climate catastrophe. This Lent my heart has grown “strangely warmed” knowing I’ve been branded with God’s new covenant and as I think about United Methodist women across the country who are involved in building new community through their loving acts of mercy and justice. I am convinced that “another world is possible” by the stories of women told and communities built at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, including those of indigenous women of the Amazon.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, there is hope in the world. Because we believe in the Prince of Peace, we can continue to support nonviolent solutions to peace as opposed to war. We can dare to grapple with the problem of climate crisis to reduce our carbon footprints; to eradicate rapidly growing poverty; to open the borders of our hearts to the global movement of immigrants and refugees; to stop the spread of major diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria; and to fight for healthcare access for the 45 million uninsured in the U.S. And we can continue to address race and gender issues in society – broadening the role of women in peace building, empowering the girl child, preventing violence against women, and increasing education around maternal health and sexual reproductive rights.

Jesus tells us, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”(John 12:23-24)

May this Easter be one of building community, sharing new hopes and new dreams with others and expanding our relationship with God.

*Sung-ok Lee, a deaconess, is also an executive for Christian Social Action and director of National Ministries with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Last Updated: 04/07/2010

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