In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises to make a new covenant with us, a covenant that comes in the person of Jesus Christ. As part of this new covenant, God promises to “put my law within them [us!], and … [to] write it on [our] hearts.” When that happens, we “shall all know” God, “from the least of [us] to the greatest.”
The Apostle John calls the transformation Jeremiah is talking about a new birth, birth from above, being born again (3:3). The Apostle Paul calls it a new creation, and adds that “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jeremiah’s language, and John’s and Paul’s, is striking. God, in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes us genuinely new people.
As best I can tell, that process of transformation, of being made new, of having God’s law etched so deeply in our hearts that we will all know God perfectly, that process won’t be complete until after we die. But even now we are all being gradually transformed, partially made new, in some sense being re-created. That is God’s promise to us, and it appears across Scripture.
But, familiar as that promise is, it’s hard to take in. Can we truly believe that God makes us new?
This week I came across a magazine article that helped me on this. The article began with the provocative question, “Are you the same person you were when you were a child?”
My intuitive answer was, “Yes, of course I am.” I know that God is theoretically making me new, but I don’t think of myself as fundamentally different than I was in the past. I don’t feel that new.
A lot of people are like me. But a lot are not. Some people think of themselves as having changed so much that it is as if they have become a different person than they used to be. One person said he would like to change his name every few years to show that he was constantly changing.
That seems a little extreme to me. But if you think about it for a minute, it kind of makes sense. We all change. A lot.
Physical changes are the most visible, as we go from childhood, to early adulthood, into middle age and beyond. I don’t look like I used to look!
But change is not limited to our bodies. I grew up as a Southerner, but now am a New Englander. I became a husband and a father, and those changes effected every part of my life.
Most relevant for my purposes this morning, I have changed religiously. I was raised in the Church, and was really committed for parts of my childhood. Towards the end of high school, I went through a period of indifference bordering on atheism. After college, I returned to God and the Church and even went to seminary. But at the time, I had ZERO interest in ordination. Fifteen years later, I became a priest after all.
The details of our stories differ, but we all change over time. The real question is not, do we change, but are there any constants in our lives, anything that doesn’t change?
Psychologists in New Zealand began studying that question in the 1970s. They tracked over a thousand children, checking in every few years with the test subjects themselves as well as with their families and friends. What they “discovered” is not particularly surprising, but it is relevant. People’s basic dispositions tend to remain relatively stable, particularly at the extremes. Really quiet, shy kids tend to become quiet, shy adults. Rebellious kids become rebellious adults.
None of this is good or bad in itself. The question for us as people of faith is always whether something brings us closer to God or drives us farther away from God.
An unfortunate constant in our lives is sin. Thankfully another constant in our lives is the grace of God, working to heal the damage caused by our tendency to sin.
And then there is the variable: the choices that we make.
Even my secular magazine article talked about the impact of the choices we make. For example, the particularly rebellious kids often grew into self-destructive adults. But not all of them. Some made life choices, things like finding a stable partner, that helped them to function productively.
So, what are the choices we should make? How can we minimize the destructive impact of sin in our lives? How can we cooperate with the grace of God pulling us towards God?
One thing we can do, at least to some extent, is to make wise choices in our relationships, which do so much to shape us.
When I was in college, I tried hanging out with the cool kids. I still treasure many of those relationships. But it was a hard-partying crowd, which was not always good for me.
Soon after college, Carrie and I started dating, and she settled me down. Our relationship brings out a better side of me. It makes me a better person than I would otherwise be.
Church should be that for us. We come together in Christ’s name, and we support each other, and our relationships with each other hopefully reinforce our best tendencies. Even when our brothers and sisters are not at their own best, they can bring out our capacity for patience and forgiveness and grace and love. Hopefully we do the same for them when we are not at our own best!
Our readings offer two more suggestions. These are not surprising. But we cannot be reminded of them too often.
In Timothy, we read, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful.” Pause there. The Bible is useful. Reading the Bible helps us.
The Bible helps us in several ways, according to our passage. My two favorites are: It is “training in righteousness”; and it helps us to be “equipped for every good work.”
To be honest, I don’t understand how the Bible does that. It’s an ancient book that is hard to understand and often off-putting. But I know from my own experience, I know from the consensus of great Christian teachers, that the Bible works.
When we spend time in Scripture, God speaks to us. The Holy Spirit moves in us. And something happens inside. Not necessarily every time. But regular engagement with Scripture over time changes us for the better.
Our Gospel reading is a strange and challenging parable. It takes some real engagement! But Luke tells us the basic lesson in the first sentence. We “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” We should pray like the woman in the parable approaches the judge: perseveringly. We should pray and keep praying.
Daily prayer is the single best way to open ourselves up to the transformative grace and power of God. As we pray, God works on our hearts, God makes the new covenant real and actual in us.
And so, we gather with each other for worship and in other ways. We study the Bible together and on our own. We pray. And God’s Spirit swirls around us, and unites us with each other and with God as the very body of Christ. And over time, we are truly made new.
Embrace that newness. Ask God to keep working on you this week. Commit to time in prayer and the study of Scripture. And celebrate the person God is shaping in you.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
 “Becoming You,” by Joshua Rothman, New Yorker, October 10, 2022, 20-24.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan