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March 3, 2016, 8:28 AM

Covenant


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”
But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”
The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” Then God brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” God continued, “This is how many children you will have.”Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.
God said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”
But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”
God said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. 11 When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. 12 After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him.
17 After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. 18 That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates.” 
 
Luke 13:31-35
31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”
 
“Covenant”
First world problems. It is one of the new catch phrases that I like and use occasionally. First world problems. It is a phrase used in response to someone who is whining and complaining about something that only a person in a privileged culture or nation could complain about. “My smart phone is so slow, so old. Look, its battery is running out already.” “The guy at the coffee shop got my coffee wrong, I said no cream or sugar. Grrrr!” “Oh no! The battery on my lap top is dying! Now I have to go plug it in!” First world problems. The phrase points out to the complainer that in the scheme of things their problem is small and they should keep things in perspective. We could also use the phrase, however, on ourselves, reminding ourselves that it is easy to only see the world from that privileged perspective and discount or ignore the viewpoints and plights of others.
 
I found myself thinking of that phrase a lot this past week as I prepared for this Sunday and spent some time with our scriptures, especially the Genesis piece. Let’s face it, our first reaction oftentimes to this passage of cutting animals in half and laying them out, of driving away the carrion eaters, is to want to turn away, perhaps even muttering, “Ewww! Gross!” We have the privilege of living in a time and in a place where making life commitments is a lot less messy. We can talk another time if that is actually a good thing. Today we need to push past our reaction to the animal sacrifice and see this ancient, critically important story an what it says to us thousands of years later. This story is part of the beginning stories that demonstrate just how much God wants a deep relationship with us. It is evidence of just how far God is willing to go for a true partnership with humanity, a true communion. This is a pastoral care moment in which God takes time to hear Abram’s worry and anxiety, his pain and fear about the future. God offers reassurances, even if God can’t hand over the baby right now, using the night sky as a sign of promise. God engages in a vivid ritual that will linger in Abram’s mind for years to come, all to assure Abram that God keeps God’s promises.
 
This story is part of the Covenant chapters of Genesis (12-17) in which God establishes the everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants. In chapter 12, God promises Abram that God will make a great nation of him, and through him all the nations of the world will be blest. The Covenant promises that God will be their God and they will be God’s people. “We are in this together.” God says, “We are creating a community together, a relationship, a partnership. It will be a community that blesses all others and it will shine as a model of this partnership life for all others to see and embody.” God will forever be our God, and will forever be seeking that partnership. God literally cuts a covenant with Abram to stress this absolute importance of this moment, this promise.
 
Covenant. There really isn’t a metaphor or synonym that captures its depth in our language and culture. Sometimes we use words like ‘promise,’ or ‘contract,’ or ‘agreement,’ but these words are too small and too finite. Covenant, like last week’s Wilderness, is a capital “C” word. Covenant is forever-binding, world-transforming, intimate. It is a partnership between God and God’s people that is unending. Promises can be broken. Contracts and Agreements can be dissolved. Covenant is forever. It is true that at times God’s people didn’t uphold their end of the Covenant. They didn’t live as God’s people, didn’t living as if God’s realm, God’s kingdom, was their reality. So God sent prophets, to call people back to God living, to the Covenant. When God’s people continued to neglect the Covenant, God comes in the flesh, Jesus Christ, to walk among the people and show the way.
 
Today’s gospel from Luke is another phenomenal glimpse into the extravagant love of God. It is more evidence of how far God is willing to go to bring us back to Covenant living, to partnership and relationship with God, to communion. The Pharisees have come to Jesus to protect him and warn him. “Herod is after you now! You saw what he did to your cousin, John, beheading him! Herod is after you now! Run! Get out of here! Save yourself!” What they fail to realize is that Jesus isn’t about saving himself, he is about saving us. He faced that temptation in our gospel reading last week, the temptation to put himself first by turning a rock into bread and feeding himself. He made his decision. Jesus knows where this journey ends, how this journey ends. In an intimate moment we have the privilege of eavesdropping on Jesus’ yearning, God’s yearning. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I have yearned to gather you in my arms like a mother hens gathers her chicks. How I have yearned to gather you back into Covenant, into communion, into partnership, but you would have none of it.” Jesus says this about the city that will end his life, call for his death, crucify him on the hill outside the city walls. Here is God seeking still to pull us back into Covenant living.
 
Covenant living, a significant part of our Lenten journey, a recommitment to Covenant living. We renew our promise to live God’s commonwealth, God’s kingdom, God’s way here and now. We commit to living out God’s way as an example and a model of that community, partnership. relationship cut with Abram so many millennia ago. A community where the widow and orphan are protected and cared for. A community where strangers are welcomed, the hungry are fed, all people are loved and named beloved. A community where forgiveness and restoration are lived out daily. God will always and forever be our God—Covenant. The question is are we willing to acknowledge of first world mindset. Will we be God’s people? 

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