It was a San Francisco-based friend who first used the phrase “parking by the audibles” with me. I must have looked confused, so he went on to describe what a nightmare it is to park on San Francisco’s steeply inclined and narrow streets. Apparently, some cars come equipped with sensors in the front and rear bumpers, so that when the bumper nears an obstacle, the sensors chirp. “It’s the only way to parallel park in San Francisco,” He reported. “You inch forward until the bumper chirps. Then you inch backward until it chirps again. Parking by the audibles.” Who knew?
Though I have never attempted to parallel park in San Francisco, I have witnessed “parking by the audibles” in other settings.
Imagine the person who, in conversation, withholds comment until everyone else has weighed in on the issue. They want to know where the limits are, inching into the discussion rather than risking a misstep. This person often nods along in agreement even if they don’t really agree, idling quietly on the conversational side street for fear of bumping into something.
Imagine the person who obeys laws and abides by rules, only when others are looking. When there are no state troopers present, this driver careens down the expressway like a maniac. When the teacher leaves the room, this student creates an uproar. When the cat looks away, the mouse goes glibly astray.
Imagine the person who is completely externally motivated, who has no inner compass, no internal ethic. This is the person who, when caught in the act, is sorry they were caught, not sorry for their behavior. I have a friend who is a strict vegetarian—except when a slice of bacon is left on a friend’s plate at the diner. When no one is looking? BACON!
Parking—and living—by the audibles. Relying on external clues to guide our daily lives. It’s exhausting.
We have been preaching on five Old Testament covenants during Lent. You might remember Noah and the Rainbow, Abraham and Sarah’s Long Wait, Moses and the Unwelcome Rules, Snakes Below and Snakes Above. In each case we read about God’s seeming relentless willingness to forgive, to bless, to protect, to heal. Sunday’s Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31.31-34) varies from that pattern a bit.
Deep in exile, God’s people fear they will never see their homeland again. As is true of many of us, though they trusted God, God’s timing made them tense. It was there—deep in despair and doubt—that God described a new covenant. A covenant unlike any they had known before. In Sunday’s reading, God promises that the sign of the covenant will not be external—rainbow, offspring, stone tablets, elevated reptile—but internal. Where no one can see or hear.
“I will put my law within them,” says the Lord. “I will write it on their hearts.”
No longer would God’s people be expected to “live by the audibles,” responding to only what they could see and hear. They were to “live by heart,” where God would etch truth. Previously, their lives had been marked by strict adherence to external obedience—food laws, worship regulations, social customs. Now, under the new covenant, obedience would be so deeply embedded into their lives as to be written on their hearts. This new way of being would be so thoroughly known, that teachers would become irrelevant.
“No longer will they teach one another or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord.’ Because they will all know me.”
This new covenant has been offered also to us, who, as Sunday’s hymn of the day sings, “Change my heart, O God. May I be like you.” There is nothing wrong with external obedience—traffic laws and table manners are good things. But God cares about what happens in our hearts, because it is from our hearts that all else proceeds.
Please join us Sunday for Worship and discussion of this New Covenant.
We invite you to remain after worship as All Ascension Reads, “Dear Church,” by Pastor Lenny Duncan (Part 1). All are welcome to the discussion, even if you haven’t read the book. (But, as is true with all book clubs, those who haven’t read the book might wish to listen more than speak.)
My San Francisco-based friend has since left the terror of city traffic for a home in the Sonoma valley. Does his car still have sensors in the bumper? I don’t know. But if it does, he doesn’t need them. Now, he can park anything, anywhere, any time, the only “audibles” being nosy neighbors or tipsy tourists on a wine tour.
People of faith delight in the law of the Lord, even when no one is looking. Or listening.
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post