Sunday, February 21, 2016

Covenant Promise - Sermon for Lent 2C


Genesis 15:1-11, 17-18

We worship a covenant-making God, and as Disciples of Christ we speak of the covenant relationship that binds congregations, regions, and the General Church to each other. Ronald Osborn was one of the leading figures in creating a restructured Disciples church, and he wrote: 
In religion, in marriage, and in the life of a nation, a covenant is a sacred bond sealed with an oath or vow of allegiance. In the community of Christians the pledge is called a sacrament. A Christian swears faithfulness to God. God promises faithfulness to the church. This two-way pledge is seen most clearly in the Christian covenant sacraments of baptism and communion. [Faith We Affirm, p. 59]
When God called on Abram and Sarai to leave their homeland and head toward a strange land, God promised to make them to be a great nation that would bless the rest of creation (Genesis 12:1-3). Three chapters later, Abram is beginning to wonder whether God intends to fulfill that promise. He and Sarai are getting older, and they still don’t have that promised heir, which means that one of the employees is going to inherit.  

It’s clear that Abram is getting impatient with God, and is willing to argue with God if necessary! Isn’t it good news to know that it’s okay to argue with God? 


While Abram is beginning to wonder if God is going to fulfill the promise made when he and Sarai left Ur, God again renews the covenant. The question for Abram and Sarai is whether they will continue to trust God’s promise to bless them with descendants beyond measure.  What’s interesting about this particular covenant renewal ceremony, is that in contrast to most covenants, which are two-way agreements, God doesn’t ask anything of Abram. God takes full responsibility for fulfilling the promise. Implied perhaps is the hope on God’s part that Abram and Sarai will continue to put their trust in God.

When it comes to patience and trust, there is no better example for people in Metro-Detroit than the fate of the Lions. When I’m not listening to NPR, I  occasionally listen to sports radio in the car or on my walks.  I find the discussions there about the Lions to be very interesting. I don’t need to tell anybody here that the Lions haven’t had a lot of success in recent decades. The owners keep promising to deliver a championship-caliber team, but they always seem to fall short. This frustrates both the radio hosts and the callers. So when the Lions hired Bob Quinn as the new General Manager, hosts and callers seemed to expect him to fire Jim Caldwell. When he didn’t, they threw up their hands and declared that we’re back to the “same old Lions.” Nothing changes, they cried, even before Mr. Quinn had an opportunity to remake the roster. It seems that like Abram, Lions fans are getting impatient! As for me, I’m optimistic about the Lions!  But, it will take same faith on my part to stay the course. 

The question is – will Abram stay the course? God simply reminds Abram that “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”  

This conversation between God and Abram raises a difficult issue, and that has to do with reproductive loss. In the ancient world the inability to have a child could be seen as a sign of divine judgment. When we silently pass over texts that speak of reproductive loss or infertility we may give the impression that this remains true today. So, when we encounter texts like this we need to take note of them and let anyone who has experienced such a loss know that they are loved by God and their loss is not a sign of divine rejection. We need to affirm God’s faithfulness in those cycles of hope and despair that often accompany such losses.  

It appears that Abram and Sarai might be experiencing this cycle of hope and despair. God had gotten their hopes up, but the promised child has yet to appear. Eventually Sarai will receive the promised child, but not before she offers Abram her servant Hagar as a surrogate. So even though Sarai receives her child, we need to remember that no matter our marital or family status, we are all part of God’s covenant community. We are children of God by adoption so that we might be partners in the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, so that we can be agents of God’s blessings in the world.

So, what does it mean for Central Woodward to be a covenant community? What defines our relationship to God and to each other? 

Jesus calls on us to love God and love one another. These two commands summarize the entirety of the Law, and the commands help us understand our part in the covenant relationship. Even though God doesn’t ask anything of Abram in Genesis 15, if you turn over to Genesis 17 you will find that God has added a few stipulations to the covenant. Those stipulations begin with the requirement that Abram and the males in his household are to be circumcised as a sign they are part of the covenant community. God also changes their names from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, as a sign that God will fulfill the promise to make their descendants a blessing to the nations (Genesis 17:1-22). 

As we move forward into our own future as a congregation, we do so as members of a covenant community called together by God. We’re more than simply a collection of individuals who gather on Sundays to sing songs, listen to a speech, and consume a small piece of bread and a thimble-full of juice. We gather as God’s people who are joined together by God’s Spirit, so that we might be a blessing to the world. We are a family, but we’re a family that continually expands and changes as time goes by. 

Some of you have been part of this community for decades. You may have even been baptized by Edgar Dewitt Jones himself. You have stories to tell about the old church. You might even have a few stories to pass on from your parents about the predecessor churches. Some of you, on the other hand, have only been with us for a few weeks, but you to have found a home. Whether you have been in this community for decades or a few weeks, together we form a covenant community that is blessed and empowered by God’s Spirit. 

We have work to do if we’re going to live out the covenant promises. After all, covenants are usually two-way affairs. Therefore, this is a partnership with God. We don’t go out on our own. We go out led by the Spirit, the same Spirit who came upon Jesus at his baptism; the same Holy Spirit who led him into the Wilderness; the same Spirit who continued on with him throughout his ministry, his death, and his resurrection. It is the Spirit who came upon on the saints gathered in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost.  

Abram’s encounter with God reminds us that God’s timing might not be the same as ours. We may get impatient and even argue with God. The promised future might not come as quickly as we might hope, but I believe the message that God is sending to us is to remember that God is faithful. 

Every time we gather at the Table, we’re invited to remember how Jesus stayed faithful to the promises of God. When we gather at the Table we also remember that God loves us and will be faithful to the covenant promises.  

Yes, I do believe that someday the Lions will be a championship team. I know it can happen. I don’t know when, but I do believe. Maybe Bob Quinn has the answers. Maybe he doesn’t. We’ll just have to wait and see what transpires during the season of free agency and on draft day. 

The same is true for us as a congregation. I’ve been seeing signs recently that God is on the move in our midst. Maybe you’ve noticed some new faces in church. I hope you will take time to get to know each other, for God gives us to each other as gifts of hope and promise. It is good to remember that to be in a covenant relationship with each other, and with God, involves opening ourselves up to the gifts that God has given to the community, so that together we might pursue God’s vision of blessing and of wholeness in an often fragmented world.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 
Troy, MI 
2nd Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016

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