Sunday’s sermon: One Promise to Rule Them All

one ring

Text used – Jeremiah 33:14-18

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

  • [READ The Fellowship of the Ring[1] – pp. 48-49] → “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness, bind them.” So begins probably The Most Epic quest story of all time. You know, if we had a screen, I could really nerd out for a minute and play the movie clip for you … but since we don’t, you’ll just have to make do with what has become probably one of the most famous lines in movie history: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
    • One Ring = ring of power forged by evil Lord Sauron
    • Purpose = basically world domination
      • Rule over the other rings of power
      • Rule over the free will of those unlucky enough to be bearers of the ring
      • Rule over all the various races: elves and humans, dwarves and hobbits alike
    • One Ring to unite all the power, all the darkness, all the evil in one single, simple-looking gold ring and impose dominion for all time – “One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
    • And throughout the entire epic adventure, Tolkien’s beloved cast of characters puts life, love, and limb on the line time and time again just to make sure that the One Ring doesn’t achieve its evil purpose of uniting all in evil and darkness. “One Ring to rule them all … One Ring to rule them all.”
  • Throughout the fall, we’ve been traveling through story after story in the Old Testament.
    • Began with the story of God creating humanity in the Garden of Eden
    • Touched on the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and various kings of Israel and Judah
    • Lots of ups and downs in those stories
      • Lots of challenges
      • Lots of big issues and ideas to grapple with
      • Lots of insights into faith and God
    • Lots of variety in these stories, too → But throughout all of them runs one common thread: relationship.
      • Created by God to be in relationship with God
      • Offer of special, sacred relationship from God to Abraham
      • Offer renewed over and over again
        • Through Jacob with whom God wrestled → result: God gave Jacob a new name, Israel, which means “triumphant with God” (inextricable relationship implied)
        • Through Joseph who carried the sacred relationship to a new land: Egypt
        • Through Moses who renewed the relationship in a burning bush and liberation and tablets of stone and 10 commandments
        • Through prophets like Elijah and Hosea
        • Through kings like David, Solomon, and Josiah
      • Special name for this relationship used throughout Scripture: covenant.
        • Powerful word throughout Scripture – Dr. Schlimm: The fundamental idea is that God and the covenant people are bound together in the closest imaginable ways. … It’s amazing that God willingly enters into such an agreement. … [Covenant making] created a powerful bond between two parties.[2]
        • Each covenant different slightly. The covenant – the sacred, binding promise – that God made with Abraham wasn’t exactly the same as the one God made with Jacob or Moses or King David. And none of them were the same as the unspoken covenant in which God created humanity – beings who could create and love and imagine and hope in God’s own image … what stronger sacred relationship could there be?! But as I said, the common thread that ran through each of those individual covenant promises was the promise of sacred, unprecedented, inimitable relationship with God Most High.
    • PROBLEM: in creating beings who could create and love and imagine and hope like God, God had the silly idea to give us free will → Because when you think about it, is love really love when choice is removed from the equation? If we didn’t willingly choose to love God and be in relationship with God, would it actually be a relationship … or would it be something more mundane, more passive, more subservient? So in hopes of a love more genuine and reciprocal, God gave us free will so that we could, in turn, freely choose God every minute of every day. If that’s what we choose … which time and again, we fail to do.
      • Failure to freely choose God = reason for so many covenants → Every time the people turned away from God, God reached out to them – through pilgrims, through prophets, through kings, through every possible way God could think of. And it would work for a while. The people would return. They would worship God lovingly and freely, reveling in that holy promise and that sacred relationship. But inevitably, the people would fall away again.
  • And so we come to today’s text: The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people if Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord is Our Righteousness.[3] → And God said, “It’s time to do a new thing.” After centuries of the people falling away and returning and falling away and returning and falling away again, God knew that something different – something drastic! – needed to be done. And so God prepared to do the most drastic thing of all: to fulfill that sacred promise of relationship with humans as a human. God chose to come down to earth in the form of one of those beloved, vulnerable, messy and messed up creature God had created: us.
    • Way for God to fulfill that holy and unprecedented promise of relationship that God made in creation and tried so diligently and purposefully to maintain → This promise spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was truly God’s One Promise to bring all the other promises to fruition and fulfillment.
      • See this in the Heb. in a really interesting way – Heb. for “I will fulfill my gracious promise”
        • Expect “promise” to be the typical word for “covenant,” right? Nope. → The Hebrew word used here is actually “word.”
        • Heb. “fulfill” = complex word with lots of meanings including “recover,” “continue,” and “rise up to” → So God is essentially saying to the people, “I will rise up to the word that I gave you before. I will recover that word. I will continue that word.”
          • “Fulfill” also has interesting connotations both cost and belonging → So is God also implying that this new form of the promise – this re-creation and re-statement of that same sacred promise … this baby soon to be born in a stable … this God Incarnate, God-Made-Flesh, God-With-Us, Emmanuel … this fulfillment of promise in its most genuine, organic, intimate, human form ………… Is God implying that this promise will bring both belonging and cost as well?
            • Belonging = final, definitive, everlasting grace that welcomes us into God’s arms as children adopted through the free gift of grace offered to us through Jesus Christ
            • Cost = cost for both God and for us
              • Cost for God = painfully simple and complex at the same time → It’s as simple and as intricate, as beautiful and as brutal as the cross – the love that God displayed there, the sacrifice that God made there, the grace that was laid out for us there.
              • Cost for us = also simple and complex – cycles back to that pesky free will → As I said, in hopes of a love more genuine and reciprocal, God gave us free will so that we could, in turn, freely choose God every minute of every day. Choose God in the midst of easier, flashier, more instantly-gratifying options. Choose God in the midst of questions and doubts and uncertainties and fears, those of the world around us as well as those we harbor within ourselves. Choose God in the easy moments and the hard moment. Choose God in the light moments and the dark moments. Choose God in the hopeful moments and the hopeless moments. And what is sometimes hardest, choose God in all the routine, day-to-day, in between moments.
  • Because here’s the thing about this promise that we read today – these words from Jeremiah. They are eternal. Yes, they were spoken in a specific time and place to a specific people thousands of years ago. But their promise still stands. “I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land … And this is what he will be called: The Lord is Our Righteousness.” He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.[4] He will be called a prophet and a king, a rabbi and a friend, a blasphemer and a seditious radical, the One who comes in the name of the Lord and the One to be crucified. He will be called Jesus, and he will indeed be the ultimate, eternal, grace-filled fulfillment of God’s blessed and sacred promise of relationship. One Promise to rule them all, One Promise to find them, One Promise to bring them all and in a humble stable, bind them. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 48-49.

[2] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2018), 101, 102.

[3] Jer 33:14-16.

[4] Is 9:6.