Message from Pastor Maria
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. –Jeremiah 31:33
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “law,” I think of things I’m not allowed to do, like don’t break the speed limit, don’t steal. I think of laws that give us boundaries to live within by telling us what NOT to do, spelling out what’s illegal.
When it comes to the Bible, we think of the 10 commandments, and how do many of those start? “Thou shalt not…” So at first, law in the Bible kind of feels the same. But when we look at the 10 commandments and why God gave them to us, we discover that they’re a gift… they’re a gift from God who wants life to go well for us! So God gives us these instructions of how to live with God and how to live with each other so that life will be good for us.
In the Old Testament, the word for law is the Hebrew word torah. One of my seminary professors talked about torah and said that we usually translate it as “law” but a much better translation is “instruction” or “teaching.” When we think of instruction or teaching, it’s positive, isn’t it? It’s more than “don’t do this” or “don’t do that.” Instruction tells us what to do. Instruction is “use your walking feet” instead of “don’t run.” It gives us positive guidance.
So think of the whole of God’s teachings in the Bible… think of God coming to us in Jesus, and Jesus being asked “What is the most important commandment, the most important instruction?” His answer: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And a second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the Torah and the prophets hangs on these. (Matthew 22:37-40 paraphrased)
So God’s instruction isn’t all “Thou shalt not.” In fact, Jesus tells us it’s quite the opposite. It’s love. Love God and love people. Which makes sense! Loving makes life go well for us. It helps us let go of anger and fear and resentment and bitterness. It fills us with love, fills the world with love, and gives us a sense of peace.
So in Jeremiah, when God says, “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts,” that’s what God’s talking about. God will put this teaching of love on our hearts.
Let me share a passage by author Anne Lamott that talks about this. She writes: “There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, ‘Why on our hearts, and not in them?’ The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.” ― Anne Lamott (author of Traveling Mercies)
Isn’t that beautiful? Reading sacred text – reading the psalms, reading Proverbs, reading the words of Jesus in the gospels, reading the letters of Paul – spending a few minutes reading sacred text can put scripture on our hearts. It might not make it inside at first, but when our hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.
And our hearts break for so many reasons: for a situation we might be going through ourselves; our hearts might break for a loved one or for the plight of people we’ve never met – that happens when we’re aware of suffering in the world. Our hearts break for our planet that’s going through so much turmoil.
And every time our hearts are broken, those holy words of Torah, those words of instruction, those words of love, will fall inside. And we will be moved to love…to pray…to serve…and to bring a bit of hope.
So let Jeremiah 31:33 and Matthew 22:37-40 be the sacred text you put on your heart today and see what God does with them.