morning! What an encouraging week it has been -- warmer temperatures
and melting snow are something I look forward to, and a couple days
of sunshine do a lot to raise my spirits and improve my outlook. I
met with the New Life Sunday School class this past week and we are
using “The Wild Way of Jesus” Lenten devotional as a guide
for our conversation. We talked about what we’re giving up --
or adding -- for Lent this year. It was a great conversation; I learned,
among other things that Scott Harney’s brother has written and
shared daily devotions for Lent for years, and that Anne Griffith
has done practices in the past of writing a note of appreciation for
each day of Lent and de-cluttering an item a day: a great example
of saying No to something in order to literally make room for something
better. I felt a little humbled after those inspiring examples to
share my commitment for Lent 2021, which is to give up complaining.
My husband Tim is already skeptical about my success. I am not a serial
complainer, but I do get crabby sometimes -- especially when it’s
cold and gloomy outside. It’s good for me to be reminded of
the good gifts which God has placed in my path, and to be intentional
about giving thanks for them. It’s a great practice any time
of the year, but this year I’m thinking of it terms of being
on the lookout for rainbows, instead of complaining about the rain.
You heard in Judy’s testimony, and may have picked up in
our text from Genesis the theme of God’s blessing and faithfulness.
The season of Lent is often characterized as a time to give things
up: bad habits or favorite foods. You may have your own goals and
practices in that regard, but in our worship services, we are going
to be focused on God’s faithfulness: not only does God keep
the covenants which God has made, but God fulfills them in ways
which go beyond what we asked for or could have imagined. As you
heard in the verse from Luke 6:38 not only will our cup be filled,
it will be a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running
over, will be put into your lap. God doesn’t work in half
measures: not with the fathers and mothers of our faith in the Old
Testament, and especially not in the extravagant gift of God’s
only Son, Jesus Christ, the new covenant with the world.
Last week we heard about God’s covenant with Noah: a bow
set between heaven and earth as a sign that God would never again
destroy the world as God did in the Great Flood. I’ll be referring
to this promise through Lent, and if you are paying attention, you
will see rainbows within our building as well as in the heavens.
It’s important to keep Noah’s story in mind because
it is the broadest covenant possible: between the Creator and all
of creation -- every living thing. God’s promise is written
on the broad canvas of heaven, and it is unilateral: no matter what
humanity does, God promises to never again destroy the earth and
all living things.
As we get closer to Easter, we’ll see that these covenants
get more narrow and more specific, and they become contracts which
require assent on both sides -- and that means cooperation from
humanity. Increasingly, biblical characters Noah, Abraham and Moses
become partners with God -- although it is never an equal partnership.
Our text today is another covenant story, this time with Abram and
his wife Sarai. As part of God’s promise, their names are
changed to Abraham and Sarah, to confirm that their identity is
part of God’s purpose. And God’s purpose is to build
a nation -- a multitude of nations -- which will be God’s
people, and inherit the promise of the covenant.
That is a tall order, especially for a couple who is in their nineties,
and childless. But remember, God does not see covenants as partial
measures: God is all in with commitment to humanity. But this time,
the old folks Abraham and Sarah have to do something, too.
Judy shared in her testimony that she was willing to take the money
she had for her business and give it toward a need through the church.
The end of Luke 6:38 says, ‘for the measure you give will
be the measure you get back.’ This is not strictly true for
Abraham and Sarah, because God is giving waaaay more than they are.
Not only do Abraham and Sarah have to be willing to conceive and
raise a child in their old age, in Genesis 22, God tests Abraham
by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac -- a terrifying prospect
for both Abraham and Isaac. Abraham follows God directions, and
God halts the sacrifice of Isaac and sends a ram instead. Genesis
22:17 says, because you have done this and have not withheld your
son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your
offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that
is on the seashore.
As people of the desert, Abraham and Sarah would have been pretty
familiar with both stars and sand: the number of each would be ‘more
than you can imagine.’ Remember, God had made the covenant
with Abraham to be the father of nations before Isaac was even born.
Three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam all trace their roots to Abraham, Islam through Abraham
and Hagar’s son Ishmael. I cannot imagine what was going through
Abraham’s mind when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac:
how could the covenant be fulfilled if his son was killed? Was God
forsaking that covenant? But Christianity exists because God gave
even more than God required of Abraham: God sent His only Son and
allowed his only Son Jesus Christ to be killed. For us. For you
Most, if not all, of the folks in this crowd in Damascus can trace
their families back to Abraham. Because Abraham was willing to put
his faith in God, believe God’s promise, and let himself be
part of God’s purpose--I think it’s fair to say that
Sarah was part of the promise and purpose as well -- their descendants
are as numerous as sand and stars. God’s covenant with Abraham
was not only for Abraham and Sarah, but it has extended to every
generations since then.
There is a Serbian proverb which says, “Be humble for you
are made of earth; be noble for you are made of stars” As
we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, we are made from dust and will
return to dust. The word hummus means earth, or more literally dirt.
It is also the root word for human, and for humble. This is the
stuff we walk on. But we are also made from the Spirit of God: Adam
and Eve were formed for partnership with one another, but also to
be in relationship with God. As we ponder God’s covenant and
God’s faithfulness this week and in the coming weeks, I hope
we can keep that balance of dirt and stars: we should be humble
because we are the created and God is the Creator, but we are noble
because God is willing to let us be partners as children of God:
God’s own beloved. God’s covenant with Noah included
all of creation, all living things for all time. God’s covenant
with Abraham was with one man and woman who become the father and
mother of a multitude of nations, from their generation forward
until the present day. But there were expectations of Abraham and
Sarah and their descendants: male children were circumcised as a
sign of that covenant; Abraham as expected to continue to follow
God’s commands, even if it meant sacrificing his son. God’s
covenant is becoming more focused on a specific group of people,
and we are expected to take a role in that covenant: we are not
just sand or dirt to be walked on, we are part of the divine plan
for the world: we are made of stars and we are called to be righteous,
to be partners with God.
As Christians, we know where this covenant is going, and who will
be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose. We are children
of the covenant, inheritors of the promise of Jesus Christ. Jesus’
love for us is unconditional, and we don’t have to earn the
grace of Christ, but grace does not come without a cost. We have
to be willing to step out in faith: we have to commit what we have
been given in order to be partners with God. Maybe it’s finances,
maybe it’s time, maybe it’s a skill or talent, maybe
it’s all of those things. We are made from earth, but we are
so much more than dirt: we are God’s children and part of
the inheritance of God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham;
we are part stardust.
We believe that it is well because we know who made us, and that
we are made in God’s image. We believe that it is well because
we know who died for us and that we are redeemed by Christ’s
grace. We believe that it is well because the Spirit is still with
us, guiding, directing, empowering, and walking alongside us. God’s
bow is in the heavens, we have sand beneath our feet and stars to
guide our way. It is well, it is well with our souls. Amen.