Sermon preached by the Rev’d Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2012
In the name of the living, covenantal God who invites, welcomes, and feeds us. Amen.
Covenant is an old fashioned word that means a mutual promise – a contract, a promise of connection, a promise of relationship. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. It’s an “I’ll do this, if you do that” kind of thing.
As a culture, we don’t talk much about covenants. Sure, there are treaties signed between nations and contracts are drawn up between business partners, but entering into a covenant isn’t something we hear much about – except at church.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is depicted as a God who desires relationship with all of creation and that relationship was built on covenant. The terms of the covenant changed over time. Sometimes it was very specific and involved rules or laws – like those given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. That was a mutual and conditional relationship: if the Hebrew people followed the laws God gave them, then God promised to be their God.
At other times the covenant between God and people was less specific and more general in terms of how the relationship was to be played out – like the covenant made between God and Abraham that we heard in the reading from the book of Genesis: “walk before me and be blameless and I will make you the ancestor of many nations.” One man was to follow God’s lights and God would bless him with a whole bunch of kids.
Some of the covenantal language in the scriptures suggests that the divine/human covenant would begin immediately while in other places it seems as though the covenant would not be fulfilled until a later time.
Furthermore, some of the covenantal language is universal – covering all of creation, but at other times the covenant seems to be an invitation to a particular group of people, as is the case with the covenant between God and Abraham. It was this covenant that identified the Hebrews as God’s chosen people and it eventually gave rise to the Jewish, the Muslim and the Christian traditions. All three of these religions trace their history back to the “father” of their faith – Abraham.
It is important to note that the promise God made to Abraham was not dependent on his good work, according to our epistle lesson this morning, but rather on the righteousness that grew from, was rooted in Abraham’s faith. He believed God, he acted on that belief and it led to righteousness – right relationship. That’s what righteousness means – right relationship. Abraham is the father of our faith because of his right relationship to God.
The relationship established by mutual promises between God and humankind has always been a little tenuous, however, a kind of “on again, off again” affair. The relationship between God and humans is not always a right relationship.
From the very beginning, God invited humankind into partnership and people responded, holding up their end of the deal – at least for a time.
Then people would forget, or they would doubt God’s promise and turn away from the partnership – preferring to make other deals.
God would call again – often through prophets, “Come back, be my people!” And often the people did turn around and return to their partnership with God, but not always.
Throughout the history of faith, covenants were made and covenants were broken. New covenants were drawn up and the cycle would start over. During the season of Lent, we are reminded of this pattern.
The divine/human covenant – this partnership between God and people took a dramatic turn a couple thousand years ago. This time, instead of God keeping a safe distance – staying in a place completely “other,” God chose to form a covenant that broke down the walls that had divided the divine and human natures – narrowing, and in the end, obliterating the distance between them.
Taking on human form, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a partner not only in purpose, but also in substance. A completely new covenant was formed – a covenant of flesh and blood, a covenant that is both specific and universal, a covenant that is both fulfilled and being fulfilled.
This covenant, like all other covenants that God has proposed, is based on God’s desire for relationship. And this covenant, like all other covenants of the past, can be broken. You see, the very nature of covenants is that they are mutual – there are two parties involved and it takes action on the part of both parties for a covenant to be valid.
I have a good number of friends in my life – some stretching as far back as grade school. Most of my friendships, I realize, have been based on either location – we lived next door, we were in the same classes, we were roommates – or affinity. We were interested in or liked the same things, our personalities complimented each other or they were very similar. And some of my friendships, I must admit, have been based in my own co-dependence.
Those aren’t the only kinds friendships I’ve had, though.
A few years ago I was approached by a woman I barely knew. We hadn’t spent much time together and, on the surface of things, we had very little in common, though I found her interesting and smart.
“I think we could be friends,” she said to me out of the blue.
“Oh?” I mumbled.
“Yes,” she said, “I think we could be friends. I would like to be friends. Maybe we could hang out sometime.”
It was that simple. It was that profound. An invitation to a new relationship built on nothing more than a desire to be friends. I said yes and we have become friends. Good friends.
She allows me to be who I am and consequently, I think I’m at my best in that relationship.
God has come to us with a similar invitation – an invitation to be in relationship through the person of Jesus. But this relationship, like all relationships, can follow the same kind of on-again, off-again pattern we so often experience. We heard this in the Gospel lesson today.
Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends didn’t always get it right. He was stuck on his own idea of what his relationship to Jesus was – Jesus the man, the teacher, the friend – but not the Jesus, the Christ.
Peter’s vision of Jesus was too narrow, the lenses through which he saw Jesus were not wide enough to take in the big picture. He did not understand that the divine invitation was for all of creation to be in partnership with God – to become one with God – and that it was going to occur, was occurring on God’s terms.
All of creation would become one with God. That’s the trajectory.
My friend’s invitation to relationship has made me re-think the way we begin – or continue to be in – relationship with God.
So often, I think we feel hoodwinked, backed into a corner when the subject of our relationship with God comes up. “Do you love God?” our baptismal liturgy asks. “Have you asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your life?” the evangelicals want to know.
The point is, God desires to be in a relationship with each of us and over the millennia, God has provided ways for that relationship to occur.
There’s no heavy handedness here, no stacking of the deck. Just an invitation. God says to each of us, “I think we could be friends. I’d like to hang out.” It is that simple. It is that profound.
But God’s invitation doesn’t end there – though that’s a good place to start.
Hanging out with Jesus was good enough for Peter – for a while. But God wanted more for Peter, God needed more from Peter, according to our Gospel lesson.
Peter needed to put his ego aside, to step back, take off the lenses that shortened his vision and allow God to be God. He needed to take up a cross. He needed to see the big picture, the movement of God that brings all things back to God.
That’s the trajectory.
And it’s a mystery – a holy mystery. It is what we proclaim; it is what we celebrate; it is what we remember when we gather around the altar and eat the bread of heaven and drink the wine of salvation together. We not only get to hang out with God, we are invited to be the body of Christ – for each other and for the world.
“I think we could be friends,” God says. “I’d like to hang out.” “I’d like for you to be a part of me and for me to be a part of you.”
All of creation will return to the Creator – that is the trajectory. And today, once again, we are invited to a part of this sacred mystery – this holy partnership of divine grace. Amen.