Lent 2: Return to Covenant

by susan on March 18, 2014

covenantReturning to Covenant
Genesis 12:1-9

1Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak* of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring* I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.                                          (NRSV translation)

In a country where roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce and job turnover is at an all time high (millennials are expected to have 15-20 jobs over the course of their lives!), it can be tempting to take a conversation about covenant and turn it into a rant about our disloyalty.

That would be a mistake. That would be like assuming that many of your decisions to leave church in pursuit of a more authentic, Christ-centered community shows your unfaithfulness.

There may be more too these trends than we realize. On the one hand, we do seem to have a commitment problem. Many of our relationships are superficial and temporary. We have one foot in the door/one foot out. Many of our promises are about what’s in it for me and they are quickly abandoned if our needs are not being met. We’re tired of feeling obligated, stuck or confined and so at times it does seem we have abandoned covenant all together.

We do have a commitment problem.

But, what if our commitment problem is not only exposing our disloyalty? What if it is also evidence of our longing to return? Our longing to return to real, true and meaningful covenant? Our longing to return to the kind of covenant that matters and makes a difference in this world?

The word “covenant” is not used as often today as in ancient times and it can make some of us squeamish. Covenants have been used to place other, not so well meaning people in power, to limit our voices, or to align (or confine) us with people or who have misled or taken advantage of us. We’re fearful of the word and with good reason. We are left to wonder whether covenant can still have an important role today.

Promise and covenant were central in the unfolding story of scripture. In fact, they really seem to underlie the whole thing! After all, what kind of Creator would create something without also being faithful to its future?

The practice of covenant making, however, did not arrive on the scene immediately. Last Sunday as we explored Genesis 2-3, we saw that things had gotten off to a less than stellar start. God created a world with day & night, sun & moon, land & sea and all kinds of living creatures that culminated with the creation of humankind. Instead of choosing obedience, though, the first man & first woman mistrusted God.

A lot happened after that initial blunder and most of it did not seem to be moving things in a positive direction. Honestly, God seemed to be struggling to find a way to deal with these repeatedly rebellious men and women. Disobedience, jealousy, murder, lust, and then the tower of babel – time after time, God tried to intervene and seemingly got nowhere. A curse, a flood, a scattering of the people – nothing restored things to their rightful places.

It was time for something new.

So, God focuses on one particular family to change the course of things. No pressure there.Today, we are introduced to Abram, a man whose name would later be changed to Abraham. We are given a thorough description of his family lineage. And our passage for today begins with Abram hearing a word from the Lord:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

This is no small thing that Abram is told to do. It would be like God telling you to leave your inheritance, your culture (including its language and traditions), your house and livelihood to go, well, somewhere. Oh, where? you want to know…you’ll find that out later. Your only concern is to get packing and start moving.

The Lord told Abram to leave the things that gave him security, stability and meaning and follow Him.

But, that’s not all. He then makes some promises to Abram and to Sarai, his barren wife who has a very important role in this story: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

From Abram’s point of view, this probably sounds wonderful; after all, his wife is barren, he is a nomad from Ur, and he is no king or warrior. Yet, God is promising him a future filled with blessing and greatness.

Here’s the thing though.This good news of blessing will not be for Abram and Sarai alone. It will be for all nations and all people. Blessing is never for us alone. It is always meant to be shared.

First there is a call, then there are promises, but this agreement is only finalized when Abram leaves home and sets out on the journey.  And the journey isn’t finished in his lifetime.  His descendants, the Israelites, will have their own journeys: a journey to and out of Egypt, a 40 year journey in the wilderness, the journey into the promised land, the journey into exile, and the journey back. Through it all, the covenant remains in the background. In those times when the road seems the most treacherous, those words of hope and promise remain in the memory of God’s people.

Covenant can be a scary thing.
It does cost us something.
It does not guarantee instant fulfillment or gratification.

Yet, it is also full of hope and promise.
Covenant as God intended makes a difference.
It not only changed Abram and Sarai, but it transformed those they would never even know. They would cling to it in dark nights and winding roads.

Covenant is God’s chosen vehicle for reclaiming the world.

What would returning to covenant look like?
It begins with our listening to how God is speaking, inviting us to invest more deeply in a way that makes a difference in the world.

What would returning to covenant with God look like?
Maybe you decided to follow the way of Jesus long ago, but you have changed, your understanding of God has changed and you need a way to recover true, meaningful commitment to God?

What would returning to covenant with one another look like?  In marriage?  In friendship?  With our brothers and sisters in Christ in this faith community?

Are we willing to allow an agreement we make with one another to move us and change us, not for the sake of the covenant, but so that we can be a blessing in the world?

This week during our 3D groups, we heard our faith journeys likened to ships set out to sea. When we covenant with God and one another to set sail, we do risk being disillusioned and disappointed. At times it seems we thought we were headed out on the Love Boat where fun and fulfillment would come easily. When we wake up from that dream, we realize that the vessel we actually set sail on is more like a tug boat.

Sometimes we move too slow, sometimes too fast. We have to stop for maintenance. The beds are not all that comfortable, we run out of food, or someone on board with us forgets its our turn to clean up the deck.

But, then there is that beautiful moment when we realize that we are serving a greater purpose. That all the while we were worried about our wants and needs, we were set out for the benefit of another. We look back and instead of seeing our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, we see a stranded vessel – one who also needed to be restored, renewed and brought back to life.

It can be tempting to give up on covenant all together.
Instead of giving up, with God’s help, we can return to practicing covenant God’s way.
It can be real & transformative.
It can be beautiful & life-giving.

 

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