Is it even possible for us to lead godly lives? I think the reason why I love this prophecy of hope from Jeremiah is that even after all his prophecy of judgment leading up to these words; Jeremiah still believes that we can live godly lives, if we are willing to accept God's help.
Let me share a little of the history behind this prophecy in Jeremiah 31. Around 1,000 B.C., Israel was united under Kings David and Solomon. During the period of Solomon's son Rehoboam's reign, the northern kingdom of Israel separated itself from the southern kingdom of Judah which included Jerusalem. The northern kingdom falls to Assyria in 721 B.C. Jeremiah has prophesied that Israel is being judged by God for breaking their covenant with God by turning to other gods and by failing to love God and neighbor. In the midst of being judged for breaking their covenant with God, Jeremiah preaches a prophecy of hope when he preaches in verse 31, "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."
Verse 31 is the only reference to a "new covenant" in the Old Testament. But what is truly new about this covenant? After all, God had been establishing and renewing covenants since ancient times
God established a covenant with humanity and all creation in Genesis 9. . .
'Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9"As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 'and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 1 will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 'God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 'I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 'When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 'God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.
Later in Genesis God established a covenant with Abraham promising him land and many descendants.
God established a conditional covenant with Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai. God had delivered Israel out of slavery and through the sea, but Israel was expected to follow the commandments associated with the covenant. They would be blessed for keeping the terms of the covenant, but it would be to their peril to break them. And break them they did - over and over again. God, like a loving parent, would have to try something new in teaching his children discipline, obedience, and love. In verse 32, Jeremiah describes the need for change.
"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."
Verses 33-34 show how the new covenant will differ . . . 33But 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. 34No 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.
God will write the law on our hearts - it will become internalized and individualized. Our covenant relationships with God begins at baptism, when through the cleansing water, the Word of God spoken, and the faith of all of us gathered, God makes us his own in the covenant of Holy Baptism. Our covenant relationship with God becomes a part of who we are and our sins will be forgiven.
This Old Testament prophecy of hope is fulfilled in the Good Friday blood of Jesus Christ that is internalized and individualized every time we swallow and drink the body and blood of Holy Communion with Christ. As Jesus blesses the bread and wine before his last supper, he says, “This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”
In Jesus Christ, God writes his new covenant on our hearts. Psalm 40:8says,”I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
God does it. God writes it on our hearts. God puts his law within our hearts. God creates in us a new heart. With God’s help, it is possible for us to live a godly life – loving God and one another with all our heart.
One way that God does it is by sending saints into our life who help to shape and mold our hearts into loving, disciplined, and forgiving hearts. That saint who helped mold and shape our heart might have been a parent or grandparent, a friend or fellow church member. Maybe, like Merle Graning, who turned 100 years old on February 25th, we’ve been blessed with a long life in which to love and serve others.
Think about this date . . . February 25, 1918. Merle was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the house at 3819 Clybourne, the address Merle has committed to memory. He grew up with older sister Charlotte, older brother Mel, and younger brother Clyde.
Merle has good memories from his childhood. He would join his brothers and other neighborhood boys in walking from Brooklyn to the airport during the annual air shows in the 1930’s. They would climb over one fence; go under a second fence, and then “run like hell across the field to get into the stands to watch the air show”.
Merle’s father being a street car conductor meant that these same boys could get on his father’s street car at the Brooklyn yards for free to get downtown to League Park and go to an Indians game with discounted tickets from school. Merle assured me there was no way to sneak into League Park. It was in that magical park that Merle watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig lead the Yankees against the Indians. All I can say is “Wahoo”.
I join with Merle in grieving the loss of Chief Wahoo.
Merle attended James Ford Rhodes High School, but he told me, “school wasn’t meant for me”. Teenagers often quit school and went to work during the depression. Merle went to work in a Western Auto warehouse. Merle had also delivered newspapers around the neighborhood and met a neighbor girl named Genny who lived at 3925 Muriel, again off the top of his head! Merle and Virginia became close friends before his number was picked for the draft in January of 1941.
Merle completed his basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi before spending 3 years in the South Pacific going from island to island fighting the Japanese while carrying the tripod for an air-cooled light machine gun. The fighting got most intense in the Philippines where “a lot of our fellas got it going from town to town on our way to Manila. They attacked us in the open country between towns”.
As the war came to an end, Merle made it home and while still in uniform, joined together with Virginia in the covenant of marriage on May 26, 1945. Merle had written her a letter almost every night during the war and she always wrote back. Merle’s best friend, Harry Rounds would be the best man. Virginia had become close friends with Merle’s sister Charlotte, who was the maid of honor.
Merle went back to work at his old job at Western Auto until the company closed and he spent the next 30 years working for Firestone as a warehouse superintendent. Merle said, “It was a good job”.
Merle also knew how to have a “good time” on Saturday nights out with the boys at the Broadview Bowling Alley and then stopping off at the Glenn Restaurant. Merle also started his golfing career at the nine hole Roseland Course on Tiedaman before graduating to Skyland as part of Divinity’s golf league and bowling league.
Merle was blessed with birth of Sue in 1952, which he tells me is one of the secrets to a long life. Have one child! Eat everything – which was easy for Merle because both his mother and wife were excellent cooks. Have one child. Eat everything. And don’t go through the stress of moving.
Merle, Ginnie and Sue moved into their home on Muskingum Ave. in Brook Park when the road was dirt and the house was brand new in 1956. The house has been so well kept inside and out that the Granings were recognized for having the best kept-house in Brook Park. It housed most of Merle and Virginia’s 72 years of marriage. It has been the holiday gathering place for grandchildren Andy and Becky and now their children.
Soon after moving to Brook Park Merle and Virginia joined Divinity and Merle began singing in our choir in 1958. He had sung in Army worship services and as part of a barbershop quartet while overseas.
Many of us remember our choir singing their annual Christmas concert in the front of the church when Merle passed out at the end of the last hymn and had to be taken to the emergency room.
Merle proudly remembers, “I hit that last note”. After 50 years of singing in our choir and coming to rehearsals, Merle said, “Wednesday is my night out”.
100 year-old Merle’s last words of wisdom during our visit, “Time went so fast. Enjoy life while you can”. Amen!