The next prompt from Writing in the Margins:
Words “do” things. So much so, that God wants to write on our own hearts, Jeremiah 31:33 offers this,
This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts.
Through your practice of margin writing what has been written on your heart? Write that in the margin next to Jeremiah 31:33.
I referred to Jeremiah 31:33 a journal that I wrote many years ago. My pastor at the time read it and told me that this passage was very important to early Presbyterians. Now that I am returning to the passage, I feel like taking this pastor out to lunch and asking him again to expand upon what he meant. What I wrote in my journal was: In Christ, we are so blessed with a wide-opened invitation to the new Covenant described by Jeremiah. Jesus makes the law of God so simple: We are to love one another. In this way we come to know God and become part of God’s people.
Before I respond to this question, I saw a Facebook post recently referring to the Presbyterian church that gave me pause. Apparently about a year ago there was a discussion that seems bizarre to me at the General Assembly regarding Israel today. The discussions seem even more strange to me in light of all the troubles in the world today, especially in the Middle East. It seems Israel needs our prayers and support more than ever. As a vague generality, I would say that Presbyterians at the national level get sucked into some strange debates that do not reflect the experience of being a Presbyterian at the a local church. What I believe and have always heard taught at all six churches where I’ve been a member: God keeps his promises to the Jewish community of faith and to Israel. In the article I found addressing this issue, Mark Achtemier of John Knox Presbytery says it more eloquently than I could: “[This overture would] undermine the tradition of careful theology. We cannot make a categorical distinction between ancient and modern Israel, that would only make sense if God has abandoned his promise. The gift of calling of God is irrevocable. Approving this overture is to proclaim that God’s promises are untrustworthy.” The overture to make a distinction between the Biblical Israel and modern day Israel did not pass, but now I feel like I can’t read Jeremiah 31:33 without this caveat: As a Christian when I read the Hebrew Scriptures I let them speak to me personally, so I do read the phrase “House of Israel” speaking to a very broad community of believers, as all those who struggle with God. My understanding is that Christians are drawn into the promises of God through Jesus, who said that he could take stones and turn them into children of Abraham. So this passage on one level speaks to those of the Jewish faith and the nation of Israel. Informed by my Presbyterian tradition, the words “A New Covenant” also resonate strongly with my experience of faith.
So here’s my very personal reading. (Gulp)…
I love this powerful passage; I feel so comforted and awed by it. Imagine everyone knowing the Lord from the least to greatest with God’s law of love within them, living in a state of friendship with God and each other, all sins forgiven. Transport me to this place! And yet, in the quiet of my heart where I feel so intensely the presence of Christ, I know that I’ve already been welcomed. This is the state of grace! For me, as a Presbyterian, Jeremiah 31:33-34 is the most beautiful description of irresistible grace I can imagine!
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares 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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brothers, saying ‘Know the Lord’ for they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest declares the Lord, and I will remember their sin no more.
Doesn’t this speak to an amazing, deep, personal relationship with God?
To get back to the original question: What has been written on my heart through the practice of margin writing? To answer the question, I looked back at all the entries I’ve made and wrote a one-sentence lesson from each. I had three hand-written pages, so I did my best to boil it down to just words and themes. My heart’s been filled with an embarrassment of riches:
- Gratitude, wonder, awe
- Guidance, protection, provision
- Hospitality, rest, unconditional acceptance
- Renewal, knowing I need the Word like crops need rain
- Courage, diligence, and a responsibility to do good
- Illumination, wisdom, power
- Complete freedom in Christ
- Empathy, healing, peace
- A longing for justice
- The ability to focus on what matters
- Forgiveness, a home in God, belonging, family
- Hope, trust in God, joy
My heart is apparently bursting, and yet, I am still very much a work in progress. I could add links that relate to all of the words above, but for now I’ll just say that doodling in the Bible is good for the heart. After putting all this down, I find myself wondering: What holds me back from living into all this more fully?