Saturday, March 2, 2013

Prevenient Grace

Jer 31:27 -34  The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals.   And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD.  In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."  But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.   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.  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.  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. 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.

 These words come from a very difficult time in Israel's history. Since the rise of Assyria in 745 BC, Israel had lost control of her national life. The Babylonians had come in 598 BC, and would come again in 586 to destroy the country. These words from Jeremiah are set between these two Babylonian invasions. He has spent the past 40 years warning both the people and their kings that unless they truly repented and changed their attitudes toward God they would not survive. But they refused to listen.

And so the prophet pronounces God’s judgement on the people. Now Jeremiah speaks the words of hope recorded above. He describes a God who is willing to overlook their failure and give the people a second chance - a New Covenant. Theologically, this is an example of the concept of Prevenient Grace:  Jeremiah speaks of how God’s loving Grace precedes any response the people might make. The experience of this grace will enable Israel to respond to God, since they have themselves lost the ability to respond. God is willing to work with humanity even in the face of recalcitrance, even when experiencing sinful rejection of God.


'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I've been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace


The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Protected by God
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.95


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