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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Built on a Promise God’s covenant with us frames our lives with promises. Those promises may seem distant when we feel uprooted or displaced. Yet God honours our questions and encourages us to stand with confidence in the face of fear. God, who would shelter us as a mother hen covers chicks under her wings, journeys with us. Our covenant is with One who saves. Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18 This story of covenant making stands in the midst of a series of God-initiated covenants. The gift of the rainbow had been given as a sign or reminder to God of God’s covenant to “never again”(Genesis 9:8–17). Still to come is God’s covenanting with Israel and Moses at Sinai through the gift of the Law (Exodus 19–20). This story falls in the midst of the journey of Abram and Sarai. They have left Haran for a land not yet revealed (Genesis 12:5ff). The fulfillment of God’s promise is yet to come. Heir and land form the two core promises at stake in this story and God’s covenant with Abram. Already aged at the journey’s start, Abram finds it more difficult to trust. Without an heir, God’s promise of land has no lasting meaning. Will God prove trustworthy? Abram’s wondering anticipates the questions of subsequent generations. We dare not begrudge Abram his impatience. In his willingness to speak his heart before God, Abram speaks for us. The ritual of covenant making described in this text (verses 7–11, 17) involves ancient and obscure details. The “cutting” of animals echoes the verb in verse 18. “Make” (karath) covenant literally means “cut” or “prepare.” Some believe the practice of the two covenanting parties walking between the divided animals may be a visual image of the threat of being unfaithful to covenant. The fire in verse 17 may symbolize God, who thus takes the risk of such commitment. “Deep sleep” (tardemah) in verse 12 is the same word used to describe the state of Adam at Eve’s creation (2:21). Here, though, what descends in Abram’s sleep is a “deep and terrifying darkness.” What this means is clarified in verses 13–16, omitted from the focus passage. There, God reveals that the promised offspring will have a lengthy sojourn in Egypt and slavery. They will experience the same waiting on promises that now troubles Abram. The passage ends with naming the boundaries of the land promised held only in promise. These are not empty, unpopulated lands. People already live in these places. Will they be displaced, or will a way be made to co-exist? Will the recipients of promise use those pledges as bludgeons, or as means to reconciliation and community? We must wait and see – now as then. Sunday's readings resonate with the sense of “place” that God provides. Psalm 27 speaks of God serving as “stronghold,” “shelter,” “rock,” and “salvation.” Philippians 3:17—4:1 borrows an image from that day’s political arena by affirming “our citizenship in heaven.” In Luke 13:31–35, places of threat and risk are accepted because of Jesus’ underlying trust in God. Likewise, these texts link the place God provides and God’s call to faithfulness in times of decision and risk. Listen to the verbs directed to audiences of these readings: wait, be strong, take courage, stand firm. We can build our lives on the trustworthy foundation of God’s promises and purposes. Abram waited on and trusted in God’s promises, even when they seemed distant. The Lessons today help us trust in God’s word and God’s way, especially when fulfillment of the promise seems a long time coming. In what experiences have you found God trustworthy? With Abram, we have questions and wonderings about what will come. What makes it possible for you to live toward the promise of God’s realm and its ultimate fulfillment, freed from fear and anchored in hope?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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