The old no more
Jeremiah 31:31-34

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. 32 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. 33 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. 34 No 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 makes a new covenant.  God makes a new covenant. 
The whole concept of ‘covenant’ is essential to how people—of any background, of any religion, of any state of faith or otherwise—the whole concept of ‘covenant’ is essential to how people see themselves in life, in the world, in relation to God, or to some ‘force’ or whatever.  Certainly the Old Testament is full of references to ‘covenant’.  But, for the most part, when we hear those references we tend to filter them through our natural human sense of justice, of cause and effect, of how things must be.  What does the term ‘covenant’ mean?  The first words usually offered go something like ‘contract’ or ‘agreement’; and from there we start to think, “You do this…and I’ll do that” or “If you do this…I’ll do that”.  To get somewhere a little bit closer to what God means by the concept of covenant we sometimes use the word ‘promise’—but then we may just drift into thinking, “If I promise I’ll do this…then you have to promise that you’ll do that”.
Historically, in the Old Testament, when the concept of covenant is so significant, it often referred to a mutually agreed contract.  On other occasions it referred to an imposed contract, where a stronger party (like an invading army!) set out the terms, “We will govern and you will pay us tribute!”
But the covenants that God makes with Abraham and, later on, Israel are different.  God decides what he wants to happen and then he puts it into effect in establishing his relationship with others.  God does not say to Abraham, “Go to Canaan.  Do your best.  And then I’ll see whether or not I want to continue things with you.”  God does not give his commandments to Israel, captive in Egypt, and say, “Let’s see how well you can keep these for the next 12 months and, if you average about 7 out of 10, I’ll negotiate with the Pharaoh for your release (or, at least, better pay and conditions).”
Not at all!  “I am your God,” is how God begins the covenant.  The relationship is established, by God’s will, by God’s action, by God’s initiative, by God’s decision.  “I will rescue you.”  “I will bless you.”  “I will give you descendants.”  “I will give you land.”  “I will forgive you.”  “I will be with you always.”  It is true, God puts in place physical marks of the covenant—signs that people can look to and say, “See!  We are in relationship with God!  We are his children, his people!”  Circumcision was such a sign, a mark of the covenant.  The Ten Commandments were, too.  But not in the sense that if his people fail or opt out, then God gives up and stops his plan.
It’s important that you keep this in mind when you hear God say “I will make a new covenant.”  It is critical to understand this when you share the Gospel of the grace of God with someone.  Because, by nature, every person keeps going back to an old covenant, and to an old understanding of covenant.  The concept of grace is (without the miracle of the Holy Spirit) impossible for us to comprehend!  [I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.]  By nature, we keep falling into some kind of mechanistic process, some kind of quid pro quo, some kind of ‘this for that’….
…even in genuine attempts to share the Gospel…  “God loves you and accepts you and claims you as his own!  Freely!  It’s a gift!”  (But then…and this is the bit that is that people are waiting for… “all you have to do is believe!” or “all you have to do is pray and ask him into your life” or “all you have to do is turn your life over to him” or any little thing that makes me think that I have to do something, or can do something, or am not quite able to pray hard enough or fervently enough or believe strongly enough or quite give God full control or whatever it takes until I am focused on the bit that I have to do to make it real.)
It is hard to hear and receive and trust a covenant of absolute grace, when your mind is full of and burdened by and locked into an understanding of ‘justice’ or ‘consequence’ or ‘cause and effect’.
Some time ago I spoke with a parent who had grown up with no real knowledge of God, no culture of God, and no developed capacity to conceive or trust or live with that “peace” that passes our understanding, that only comes by the grace of God.  This parent was now in a situation of having a child who knows and is growing in understanding God’s love.   This parent, without what we would call ‘faith’, was envious of the childlike faith of the child!  And not envious in the sense of an intellectual curiosity; was thinking “world view”, sense of “self”, … wanting peace!
So I shared an occasion when, early in my ministry, a young child had asked to talk to me because he was quite disturbed and concerned about a sudden sense in his own life:  “I don’t believe in God anymore.”  I was a young, still relatively inexperienced pastor, and one of the ‘core’ kids of a ‘core’ family in my parish was distressed enough to tell me “I don’t believe in God anymore”.  So, how do I reply to that?  What neat little argument?  What ‘proof text’ from the Bible?  What excuse to get back to him tomorrow?
I hesitated only briefly and then said what I knew God would say, “Don’t worry about it.  God believes in you.  So you’re OK.”
When I shared this story with this particular parent a while back it was enough to shift the burden from past, and from struggle, and from lack of understanding or lack of opportunity or lack of effort or whatever—to shift the burden—even the burden of faith!—on to God; on to God’s grace.  I could physically see the burden shift.  I could physically see someone whose life was full of doubt, constructed on doubt and unbelief, suddenly relax into the grace of God.
This particular life has a long way to grow!  To imbed that sense of peace, to become so familiar and so confident and so adept at applying that peace of knowing the grace of God in every situation and every trouble and every temptation and every doubt—that’s a lifetime of growing.  In traditional Lutheran terms we call that a life of ‘sanctification’—the Holy Spirit makes us holy!  But that sanctification, as you know, is never to be confused with justification, when God declares us righteous for Jesus’ sake; when he says “it is finished” in reference to the whole cycle of sin and guilt and anxiety; when he says “come to me and I will give you rest”, when he reminds us “I have called you by name, you are mine”.  Once he has grabbed us, rescued us, pulled us up out of the mire of sin and the mire of guilt and the mire of constantly thinking we have do something to earn his love, then he continues his work of re-creation, new creation, sanctification.  By his Spirit God writes his law, his will, his intention, his way-the-world-is-to-be…on our hearts.  The Holy Spirit does this.  Faith is a gift.  The sanctified life is a gift, the creation of the Holy Spirit in you and me.  God writes it.  God makes a new covenant, a new relationship.
And the old model—the model that threatens us and burdens us because it always highlights our weakness and failure and sin—the old model does not apply.  “I am making everything new,” God says.
“…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.”  Recognize, when you are encouraging people to know and trust God’s grace—recognize that God remembers their sin no more—it is no longer a factor.  Help them to recognize that.  It makes it awfully hard for people to “know” God, as he puts it, when they keep trying to know a God who remembers their sin when our God, the only true God, isn’t that God at all because our God does not remember their sin!  Recognize what people are struggling with.  And do what you can to let them off the hook!  Speak the Gospel of the absolute grace of God clearly and repeatedly and without any chance of linking it to any set of conditions.  Do that passionately and consistently and don’t let anyone wriggle their way around it.  Through you proclaiming the gracious Word of God the Spirit works—the Spirits gets right to the heart—and writes it there!
I’ve told you this before, I know.  And I will tell you again.
Amen.