Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 12, 2018

Stories of the heart

Jeremiah uses his prophetic imagination to envision a new time, when things could be different. The prophet often bemoans the fact that though God’s people have been carried through incredibly hard events, they’ve not done what the law requires.

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. [from Jeremiah 31]

They’ve worshiped other Gods. They’ve not taken care of the poor. They haven’t welcomed the immigrant. They have observed neither the letter nor the spirit of the law that was given by God through Moses. Over the heads of the people hangs the anvil of doom, the threat of war and exile.

Here in this passage we get a glimpse of the prophet’s real dream. After all the trouble is over, after the people’s behavior has come back on them because it has weakened them, then maybe they will have the opportunity to become something new, something better, a people that doesn’t have to worry so much about the particulars of the law because that law will now be written on their hearts.

People and cultures always have trouble with law and heart—two things that are sometimes hard to reconcile. One may seem too hard; the other too soft. We all struggle with how to pull them together.

Problems arise because we too often see law and heart as being at opposite poles, but the prophet shows us that they are far closer than we might think. Jeremiah’s people broke the laws of God, and thereby also broke God’s heart. It’s not that the law will disappear, but that the law, at least the parts that are truly important, will originate from God’s heart-writing. That has always been their origin, though we’ve been slow to recognize that.

As a storyteller, I like to imagine this writing by the divine to be a little “outside the lines.” What if we experienced this writing not as just laws, but as stories of how God’s law and God’s heart have come together in one person, community, and experience? These stories are God’s way of combining letter and spirit, law and heart.

Maybe it’s a story of a group demonstrating the law of love by sponsoring a refugee whose life is in danger (law: no murder). Or the story of an individual who cares for an ill parent with the help of the community (law: honoring mother and father). Or the story of a neighborhood that actually understands what it means to be neighbors, that has a culture of invitation, safety, openness, celebration, and relaxing with each other (law: keeping the values of Sabbath). Or the story of a person who learns the real meaning of relationship versus money (law: make no idol).

When we show hospitality to the stranger, offer refuge to the homeless, feed the hungry, work for peace and justice—when we do these things, we are living the stories that we’ve seen or experienced. We are living the stories that have been written on our hearts.©Melissa Bane Sevier, 2001

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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