Jeremiah describes the Kingdom of God in three very simple parts. Firstly, God's law will be in the hearts and minds of all - everyone will know God, from the greatest to the least. Secondly, God will be their God, and they will be God's people. Finally, God will forgive their sins.
Each part is very simple, and each part only really refers to an individual's relationship with God. (The business about not having to teach one another about God is just a reflection of God being known to everyone.) Jeremiah appeals to the mathematician in me - it feels like the three points are "axioms" - they don't actually describe everything about God's Kingdom, but you could work out all the rest from these three points. It's a bit like Jesus saying that all of the law and the prophets comes from the two commandments of "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind" and "love your neighbour as yourself".
I've heard lots of descriptions of the Kingdom of God - I'm sure we all have - but there's a kind of simplicity in Jeremiah's which makes me smile when I hear it. Just the idea of no-one needing to teach anyone else about God, because everyone knows God is mind-blowing. What's more, Jeremiah doesn't just present this as a vision of a possible future - he says it is the future!
So, where are we now? Over two and half thousand years after Jeremiah, have we got any closer to his prophecy, or are we actually further away?
Well, I'm very lucky. Channel 4 just happened to answer part of the question last night, to some extent. I don't know whether any of you saw it, but Jon Snow presented a programme called "The New Ten Commandments". Basically, about forty-thousand people voted on a web site for what they think the top ten commandments should be.
The first half was a bit depressing - we found out which of the original ten commandments people thought had no place in society today, and what new commandments 11-20 would have been. Most of those ones were very much about the individual - "be true to yourself", "nothing in excess", "live within your means", "enjoy life" and the like. The message seemed to be that what was important was "me me me". Then came the top ten themselves - which were all about others. There was nothing in the top ten that I think any of us would disagree with - and nothing in there that isn't already in the Bible, either.
The most interesting thing was the vote for number one though. Apparently, it had four times the number of votes that number two had, and more votes than the rest of the top twenty combined. What was it? "Treat others as you would like to be treated" - or, as Jesus put it, "love your neighbour as yourself".
Despite everything we hear about church numbers declining, almost everyone agrees with Jesus about one of the most important aspects of moral life! Now remember that these weren't commandments which were dictated to people, coming down the mountain on tablets of stone - these were the commandments which people voted for, which their hearts and minds tell them are important. Maybe Jeremiah's prophecy isn't too quite so far away after all - is a spark of faith all that's missing?
On the other hand, look at the state of the world in terms of how we actually treat each other. It's obvious that even if we all think we should treat others as we'd like to be treated, we don't actually do it. If we did, third world poverty would be a thing of the past. There'd be no wars. Violence wouldn't be an issue. In fact, just as Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets came from his "big two" commandments, the rest of the "new top ten" all come from the number one. Perhaps much of God's law is written on our minds, but not on our hearts yet - not deep down.
Of course, we shouldn't concentrate on "love your neighbour as yourself" while ignoring the other command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind". This echoes Jeremiah's prophecy that all people will know God - to know God deeply is to love God wholeheartedly.
It seems pretty obvious that while the world has a pretty good idea of the humanitarian part of God's law - even if we can't put it into practice properly - knowledge of God and love for God is pretty low these days. What's God's plan for sorting out this part?
Well, I believe that God has already made the biggest move required for mankind to know God. That move was to give us Christ. Christ's birth was a demonstration of how serious God is about getting the message across. People like to see something concrete - something they can hang on to. The idea of God is such a big one, we need something a little more like us before we can start to grasp it properly. The miracle, of course, is that Christ was entirely like us - while still being entirely God. Through Christ, we can each have a personal relationship with God. It is through Christ that Jeremiah's prophecy of all people knowing God will be fulfilled.
In the same way, Christ's death was a demonstration of how serious God is about forgiving our sins. God said, "I love you so much, this is what I'm willing to do so that we can be together in the way I planned. Even though it's you who broke our agreement, I'll do whatever it takes to put things right."
Christ's resurrection is proof that God's Kingdom will come. When Christ rose even after taking all the sins of the world on himself, he showed that death cannot conquer God's love. The Holy plan revealed by Jeremiah must and will happen.
So, if it's all going to happen anyway, where do we fit in? If everything's inevitable, doesn't that mean that it doesn't matter what we do?
Absolutely not! We each have a responsibility for becoming part of God's Kingdom ourselves, and spreading the Good News of that Kingdom. We must keep searching for deeper personal knowledge of God. We must put this knowledge of God into practice, giving every aspect of our lives to it. While the world may have some good ideas about how we should treat each other, we must do our utmost to actually live our beliefs.
We've also got to share our knowledge and experience with others, helping them in their search. Jeremiah's point about no-one having to teach anyone else about God isn't talking about now - it's talking about the time that everyone already knows God. To get there, we have to teach each other about God. Preachers and clergy are a bit like dentists in that way - always trying to make themselves redundant, trying to help people to get to the stage where their services are no longer necessary. It's not about people stopping worshipping God - quite the reverse - it's about people being so aware of God, so deeply connected with God that no teaching or preaching is necessary! The heart of the Christian faith is not an institution, but a relationship. The church's teaching and nurturing role is a necessary one, but is not a goal in itself. The "little" goal is always to come into a closer relationship with God through Christ, and to enable others to do so too. The big goal is for all mankind to be in a "total" relationship with God. That's a pretty ambitious goal! Jeremiah saw that it would come one day, and Christ's resurrection guaranteed it.
Before that day comes, though, the Kingdom of God can still be present in our lives. The world hasn't reached that state of perfection, and none of us have as individuals, either. That doesn't mean there aren't elements of perfection we can recognise and celebrate. Those bits of God's Kingdom which are here and now help us to find that deeper relationship with God which will bring the rest.
Jeremiah presented a powerful vision of God's Kingdom, where everyone would know God, have God's laws in their hearts and minds, and be clean from sin through God's forgiveness.
Christ put all of that vision into practice. Through Christ's teaching we can know God's laws. Through Christ we can each have a deep, personal relationship with God. Through Christ's death we can know forgiveness. Through Christ's resurrection, we can be sure that God's Kingdom will come.
Until that day, we must keep Christ in our sights: striving to find deeper knowledge of him, doing our best to live our lives in his footsteps, and putting our faith and trust in him.