Covenant Without End

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I’m guilty of romanticizing fall. When Labor Day rolls around I’m flooded with nostalgia and a sense of excitement. I have an urge to go out and buy new clothes and new shoes. My Facebook feed is flooded with first-day-of-school photos. And my mind creates false images of joy and happiness from my youth. While it’s true that I liked school, I hated shopping and having to try on clothes and shoes and never getting quite what I wanted. School was also a mixed bag. I liked the routine and the structure, my friends, and classes. On the other hand, I was often teased and bullied and felt left out and different from my peers.

Yet, here it is after Labor Day once again and I have the same sense of excited anticipation that I’ve had since Kindergarten. These days my feelings center on church rather than school, but they are much the same. What will this new program year bring? What will the joys and challenges be? However, my familiar sense of anticipation is tempered by recent and on-going events. The superstorms of last week have given way to bigger superstorms this week. Wildfires continue to burn throughout Montana. The President has called for an end to DACA. The wider world is filled with chaos, some predictable and some not at all. I’m also coming to grips with a health diagnosis that is as much a relief as it is a concern.

Enter Moses. I wonder if Moses had any sense of excited anticipation as he prepared to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In the midst of plagues and Pharaoh’s anger, God informs Moses that it’s going to get messy. Yet, through the messiness and misery the people of Israel will learn a new song and experience new life. God will keep God’s covenant (yes, there was a covenant before Sinai) with the people. Will the people keep their covenant with God?

Through the blood of lambs, the people will be marked and spared. God will save Israel again and the nation will be restored, eventually. Yet, God alone won’t save the people; they will have a ton of work to do. Not the work of Pharaoh’s slaves, but the long, slow, intense work of transformation. First, they will have to slaughter a lamb (goat or sheep doesn’t matter) and they may have to share with smaller households. Then they will mark their doorways. And they will eat, eat quickly and be ready to move. After that, the hard journey will begin, should they be willing to leave behind everything they have known and follow Moses into the wilderness.

It’s no wonder that the Last Supper took the shape it did with this story of Passover fresh in Jesus’ mind. Eat this bread that is broken for you, a body given for your wholeness (remember those lambs shared between households). Drink this cup poured out for you, blood shed for your forgiveness (remember that God has saved you). Do this to remember my love for you and my commandment that you love one another. Moses led the people of God out of slavery in Egypt into a journey that would take a couple of generations to complete. Jesus led the people of God out of Roman captivity into a journey that has yet to be finished.

The story of Passover is one that is hard for us to understand with our Twenty-first Century ears. We want to shy away from the blood or the possibility that God would murder all Egyptian firstborns. When we get trapped by our desire to read the story literally, we fail to hear its deeper meaning. Living in covenant with God is messy and scary and cannot be done alone. Households may have to come together and share resources to make sure all have enough. God is also very likely to ask us to leave behind the predictable routines of living in captivity and live for a time with discomfort. We might even be asked to ignore the raging of Pharaoh and the plagues of our day and step into an unexpected, perhaps unwanted, position of leading people where they are reluctant to go.

For many of us September is an exciting time of new programs, new initiatives, and renewed hope. This year such excitement might be tempered by the climate – both literally and politically. Is this not how the ancient story goes? This is not the first time the people of God have lived with storms and oppression. This is not the first time that chaos threatens to pull apart the comfortable lives we live. As in the days of old, God hears our cries. God knows our hearts. God feels our yearning for liberation. God has shown us the way of covenant.

Will we share with households that may have less? Will we love our neighbors as ourselves? Will we remember with more than nostalgic warm-fuzzies the fullness of our communion story? God, as always, honors God’s covenant with God’s people. How do we live into our covenant with God?

Perhaps this is the question for us as seasons change and our programming and ministries gear up once more. Perhaps we should let ourselves be filled with excited anticipation because we know that God always keeps God’s covenant. Perhaps God is, once more, teaching God’s people a new song so that we might hold up our end with a little less complaining and a lot more love…

RCL – Year A – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 10, 2017
Exodus 12:1-14 with Psalm 149 or
Ezekiel 33:7-11 with Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Photo: CC0 image by Лариса Мозговая

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