Sermon February 28, 2021
In the passage from Genesis, we encounter a word that deserves our attention. It is the word covenant. We may not talk about it enough. Covenant means an agreement or a contract. Some might say it is a partnership between God and God’s people which by the way means everyone. God gives gifts to God’s people and in return God’s people agree to make commitments to God. I like to say the word promise. We promise that we will do certain things. We know that God is always faithful to God’s promises.
Last week we heard about the covenant between God and Noah. Noah had been faithful to God’s wishes by preparing the ark and saving all the living things on earth during the flood. After the flood, God provided a rainbow, a sign of the commitment that never again would a flood cover the entire earth. The rainbow continues to be a sign of that promise. We find God’s promise in the beauty of a rainbow.
In today’s passage, we learn about the covenant between God and Abraham. God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. He even gave Abraham and his wife their new names. The name Abram means exalted father but when he became Abraham he became the father of a multitude, a patriarch for many people and nations. Sarai became Sarah. Both names mean princess but I think of Sarah as the loving mother to countless generations. She was the woman who thought she was too old to have a child and yet became the mother so many. Next week, we will read the ten commandments which was part of the covenant between God, Moses and the Israelites.
The importance of covenant is continued in Paul’s letter to the Romans. God gave the gift of parenthood to Abraham and Sarah. But Sarah and Abraham were always faithful to God. Faith meant giving over their lives to God, it was their constant trust in God. Abraham’s faith was also God’s gift to Abraham. After all, it was through faith that God gave Abraham the strength for all the things Abraham did. Paul suggested that Abraham and Sarah were hoping against hope that they would have a child. Their faith was rewarded. Faith is our way to respond to God and yet our faith is also a gift that God gives us to help us through the difficult times.
It is the faith of Abraham that we are called to follow. Abraham is the example of faith that we need to emulate. One writer said it this way, “Abraham is not only the father of a single ethnic nation, he is the spiritual ‘father of a multitude.’” And this faithful multitude, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, is too large to number (Rev 7:9). Through him, all the nations of the world are blessed (Gen 22:18)”. I believe that God will reward our faith just as God rewarded the faith of Abraham and Sarah.
In this Lenten season, I suggest we consider our faith journey. How can we live like our father Abraham? How can we be so faithful that we are always seeking to follow Jesus? Can our faith be an inspiration to others? Part of our challenge is that faith takes some giving up or giving in. It means that we trust that God knows what is best for us. It means that we will seek to find God’s way and not always follow our own way. I think that last one can be difficult. You see, I think God wants us to use our own intelligence, skill and energy to do God’s work in the world. So, how do we know when we take action whether it is something that God wants us to do or something we are doing on our own? I think it all comes down to prayer. We pray to be sure what we are doing is God’s will. It also takes a willingness to yield to God’s plan. By the way, while some would say that we should follow God’s plan someone suggested this week that a better way to think about it is to follow God’s dream.
This week, I received a meditative thought about what faith or belief really is. Brother David Vryof suggested it is about yielding,
“Belief involves our whole being and orientation toward God. It is the yielding up of our selves – our bodies, minds and spirits – in trust and in confidence to the One who has created us and redeemed us and called us by name. It is to enter into relationship with this God and to live connected to God’s life and power, like a branch that draws its life from the vine”.
Is it possible during this Lent to focus on giving up our own way and finding the way of God?
Faith will help us follow Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus taught that he would undergo suffering, that he would be rejected and that he would be killed. Those were hard words for his followers to hear for the first time. Then, he shared what it meant for he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Does that sound like the words of the covenant to you? Jesus will always be with us and asks us to commit to him by taking up our own cross. It is a command that requires faith. We must trust in the strength of Jesus to help us on that journey.
In this Lenten season, we ask ourselves what can we do to take up our own cross? We are not expected to physically take up a cross such as the one Jesus carried. This may be a metaphorical statement, but it still has great meaning. C. S. Lewis encouraged us not to be complacent. Lewis said that “Some wrongly conclude that carrying the cross is nothing more than living a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities.” Let us this lent imagine what God’s plan or dream for us is meant to be when we take up our own cross.
Can we find a way to let go of our anger, fear or frustration? I know that the changes that have been forced upon us the last year have caused many people to build up feelings. Perhaps Lent is a time when we can give some of those negative feelings to God as we look forward to the light of things opening up.
Can we stop thinking of a way to get revenge for times when we have been wronged and instead seek a place of reconciliation? I am not suggesting that anyone put themselves in harm’s way. I am rather suggesting that maybe we can listen and learn and accept who that other person is.
Can we find a way to be less selfish? Bishop Michael Curry says that the opposite of love is not hate but selfishness. Is there a way this Lent that we can focus on others instead of focusing on ourselves?
During black history month, perhaps we can learn from two of the rules, that Martin Luther King Junior gave to his freedom marchers. One is to make sure that we are in good spiritual and bodily health so that we can do good for others. It is difficult to do God’s work when we are sick. May you find some way to be healthy both physically and spiritually.
The second expectation of Dr King touched me. He said that we should refrain from the violence of fist, tongue and heart. It is easy to see the violence of fist. We have seen it many times on the news as they describe killings that have occurred. But we do not often remember that violence comes in the form of what we say. Bullying is a good example, but our words can be harmful even when they are said quietly. And how might we address the violence that we might feel in our hearts. If we can find a way to deal with that challenge, I am sure that we will be carrying our own cross.
I read something by Rolf Jacobsen that seems to sum up our lives in Lent. He borrowed an idea from Ecclesiastes and suggested that “For Christians, Lent is a time to die to our sins, to die to our self-centered wills, and a time to die to our very selves. And when that happens, Lent is also a time for the Holy Spirit to forgive our sins, to raise up a new creation in Christ in place of our self-centered wills and renew ourselves with the breath of baptismal new life.”
Whatever you choose to do or not do in Lent, I would ask you to remember the partnership that is found in covenant. While we may work to come closer to God in Lent, we can be assured that God is moving closer to us, that God is standing beside us always ready to listen, to help and to forgive. Amen.
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