“Covenant”

March 4, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16

Introduction

Have you jumped into your gene pool?  I ask because DNA ancestry tests are all the rage right now.  From the comfort of your own home, you can use DNA services such as 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA or Living DNA to discover more of your family tree than ever before.  Spit in a cup, send it off, and six to eight weeks later you get all sorts of new pieces to your ancestry puzzle.

More and more people want to know who they are, where their ancestors came from and whether they have any fascinating or mysterious relatives.

A website called Exploring Life’s Mysteries speaks about DNA kits saying, “Thanks to scientific breakthroughs over the last few years, you can now fill in more of your ancestry puzzle than ever before.  You may uncover exciting facts about your family background or discover that your ancestors are not the people you thought they were.”

I got one of these kits for Julie for Christmas.  It was interesting, and fun, to see in layman’s terms scientific data about her family heritage.  It was even more interesting and fun to listen to her and her family debate the accuracy of the test—what was true, not true, and what was left out.

But for some, putting the ancestry puzzle together can be less fun, and more painful.

Two brothers, for example, were surprised to discover they had different fathers.  They confronted their elderly mother, who said she had never been unfaithful to her husband and neither son was adopted.  Don Kincaid, who witnessed the ordeal of these two brothers, says, “It has been traumatic to discover their true lineage through the DNA tests.”

So it seems when it comes to these DNA kits, proceed with caution.

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          For people of faith, the book of Genesis becomes a sort of DNA service which contains reliable and important information about our ancestors in the faith, specifically Abraham and Sarah, and we uncover some exciting facts about our faith family background and discover some timeless treasures about God and even ourselves.

Now Abraham and Sarah are not morally perfect people, by any stretch.  Sarah laughs when God predicts she will have a son in her old age, and then she denies to God she did.  Abraham tells a lie to King Abimelech, describing Sarah as his sister.  Fortunately, God intervenes and tells the king the truth before he crosses the line with Sarah who is married.

They are not perfect people by any means and are certainly guilty of stretching the truth.  Yet, despite their imperfections, God uses this husband and wife to become ancestors of “a multitude of nations.”—making a covenant with them that assures their strong and tall family tree.

The three great monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—are all considered Abrahamic faiths, with a shared family tree.  These religions and our moral, ethical and spiritual lives would be greatly impoverished if we did not have Abraham and Sarah in our ancestry.

Meaning this Genesis DNA service establishes a link between God, this couple, and us; and teaches us who we are as people of faith.  In particular, it proves we are in a relationship with God that has at its root covenant.

Move 1
Because Abraham and Sarah entered a covenant with God, they were, covenant people.  But, what does this mean— covenant?

A covenant is a promise-based relationship; it’s what we see in the covenant of marriage, in which two people promise to be loving and faithful to each other, for as long as they both shall live.

God’s covenant with Abraham begins when God says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” God then changes Abram’s name because the name Abraham means “father of a multitude.”

God promises to be in relationship with Abraham and make him the father of many.  In response, Abraham is asked to walk before God and be blameless.  This covenant is an “everlasting covenant,” where God is faithful to the covenant, staying close to Abraham and making him “the ancestor of a multitude of nations.”

Abraham, however, did not succeed in being blameless.  But then again, no one can succeed in achieving such a standard of perfection.

But—more good news— God is faithful even when we are not, and makes the promise, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

Being people of covenant is a key part of our “ancestry puzzle.” It tells us who we are and whose we are… now and always.  This covenant tells us what we can expect from God.

Move 2

So what can we expect from God?

As covenant people, we are in a relationship with a God who always acts first.  Notice how God takes the initiative in the covenant with Abraham, saying, “I will make my covenant between me and you.”

God acts before Abraham does anything.  And this is true in God’s relationship with us in every time and place and situation.  God is always at work even before we know God is acting, at work for us in ways that will heal us and help us.

Theologians call this “prevenient grace,” meaning the grace of God that comes before any human decision.

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          In his book, “The Silver Chair”, C.S. Lewis tells the story of the lion named Aslan, who readers of Lewis’ serious that includes, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” is a symbol for Jesus.

In the book, Aslan hears two children calling to him for help, and after rescuing them he says, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.” Aslan had always been there for the children, ready to come when needed.  That’s prevenient grace, the grace that comes before.

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          God always acts first with prevenient grace.

Because God offers us forgiveness, we ask for forgiveness.

Because Jesus is a healer, we pray for healing.

Because the Spirit has been moving since the first day of creation, we ask for the Spirit to move us today.

Because God has been calling to us, we call to God.

In I John we read, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  We love because God first loved us.”

God always acts first—prevenient grace.

God’s love comes first— prevenient grace.

Move 3
As people in covenant with God, the Bible becomes the story of promise-based relationships.

In Genesis, God first makes a covenant with Noah, and then with Abram.

In Exodus, when God hears the groaning of the people of Israel in Egypt, God remembers God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Later, God speaks with Moses on Mount Sinai, and gives him two tablets of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

In the book of Judges, after the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the angel of the Lord says, “I will never break my covenant with you.”

In each instance we see how God always acts first, and always in accord with the established covenant.

Now unfortunately the people of Israel break their side of the deal.  “They have broken my covenant,” says God through the prophet Hosea, “and transgressed my law.”

So God promises, through Jeremiah, to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”  And this new covenant comes to life in Jesus, who offers his own body and blood on the cross to show us exactly how much God loves us.  At the Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples the cup and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is “the guarantee of a better covenant.”

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          The season of Lent, and our journey to the cross with Jesus, is our time to intentionally remember who we are, and who we belong to—and then live accordingly, as people of this new covenant, people ready and willing to love, and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven.

Lent is a time for us to repent and turn to the radical thinking that tells us, and others, no matter what we have done, no matter how badly we think we have messed up, we are still loved.  We still belong to God, who always acts first, and always in accord with the established covenant.

Conclusion

When we focus on covenant we learn that God is always faithful, even when we are not.  God never breaks this faithful and loving relationship, even though we often fall into faithlessness.

The Good News of the Bible is that we are covenant people, with an ancestry that goes back to the everlasting covenant God made with Abram.

When we use the Genesis DNA service, we discover that our promise-based relationship with God is stronger than any human failings.

God shows us the same kind of unconditional love that a good parent shows a child.  Children are going to misbehave, as we all know, but good parents remain loving and faithful— even when their nerves are frayed.  No matter what children do or say, the link between parent and child remains in place.

God, our heavenly parent, loves us unconditionally, just as God has loved humans throughout history.

And because God always acts first, and always in accord with the established covenant, the everlasting covenant started with Abraham, continues still today.

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          So may we, in this season of Lent, and as covenant people…

May we remember who we are, and whose we are.

May we turn back to God, to call on God, who is already calling to us.

May we accept the forgives and reconciliation given to us through Christ Jesus, and may we aim to share it with others.

And may we strive to live out the DNA rooted in us as people in covenant with God.  Amen.

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