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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27:1-14, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

This week’s scripture from Genesis reminds us that we are part of a “covenant” tradition. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In Hebrew it is spoken of as “cutting” a covenant, involving commingling the blood of the two parties to the covenant. This could take us into a whole reflection on “blood” theology, but I won’t go there this time.

The importance of covenant, or an identity which sees us as a “covenant” people, is that our relationship with God is not just a whim. It is a promise more binding than a contract. We are somehow of one blood with God and will not be abandoned.

There are several covenants in the Old Testament (as well as several stories of some of them). This one in Genesis 15 (see verses 5 & 18) is the covenant with Abram, promising that this childless old man will become the father of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. He will go to a Promised Land and become the father of many nations.

During Lent perhaps we can see covenant as a symbol of hope in troublesome times. Lent is sometimes a season to face our demons. Even in this Genesis passage, in addition to the agony of Abram’s childlessness, we find a “deep and terrifying darkness” descending on him, a sleep in which he sees “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” passing among the parts of the slain animals which surround him. (Genesis 15:17)

One theme among this week’s scriptures might be the reassurance that there is a power which will give us courage and staying power during times of trial, not unlike that described by Pastor Rick last Sunday when he preached on Jesus’ and our times of trial and temptation.

I sometimes like to approach texts like these by selecting a phrase or sentence or verse from each that stands out—sometimes because it seems to summarize, sometimes because it is intriguing and catches my mind and curiosity, sometimes because it has taken a place in the history of scriptural interpretation, sometimes because it has been significant in my own spiritual growth.

In the Genesis passage, for me it would be verse 6, later quoted by Paul (see Romans, chapter four). It is relevant to a debate about grace and works that went on in the household of my childhood. Some see the “old” covenant as a covenant of “law” and the “new” covenant as a covenant of “grace.” Abraham lived before the “law” had been given, before circumcision was required. He had nothing but “faith,” and that was enough. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham wasn’t required to live by a narrow code before God would love him and enter into covenant (promise) with him. All he had to do was trust. I say “all.” Trusting may be the most difficult thing of all. Can we trust that the power of love at work in the cosmos will carry us through what may sometimes feel like terrifying darkness?

Psalm 27 is a Psalm in which the Psalmist cries out for protection when surrounded by threat and danger. He asks to be taught the Lord’s way. His hope is to “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” (verse 13, the verse that I would most emphasize). He does not see his faith as something just for the sweet by and by in a world beyond. It is something for the land of the living, even while surrounded by danger. The same thought is back in verse four when he asks “to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,” not just when I die but “all the days of my life.” Even in this life, however, it does not always come easily. Sometimes we have to “wait”, go through Lenten days of trial and examination which require strength, hearts which “take courage. (See Psalm 27:14)

The verses from Philippians chapters three and four contain a promise of transformation (transfiguration akin to what we talked about a couple of weeks ago). Such transformation is the context of Paul’s call to “stand firm in the Lord”—another call to courage. The phrase that draws me, though, is in 3:21, where it says “our citizenship is in heaven.” One translation puts it this way: “we are a colony of heaven.” Paul’s audience saw themselves as aliens in a hostile Roman world. They were called to live by and demonstrate, at some risk to themselves, a different set of values. They were like a colony, an outpost, trying to embody the values of heaven. What if our congregation thought of itself as an outpost of alternative values in a world where consumerism, pride, egotism, nationalism, even violence, seem to tempt and trap many?

Finally, the Gospel lesson from Luke finds Jesus responding to the threat of death with courage, calling Herod “that fox” and going on about his work “today, tomorrow, and the next day.” (See Luke 13:31-33) “ . . . today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way” could be a slogan for all of us—continuing in faith in the land of the living one day at a time. It is verse 34, though, that has always been stirring and revealing for me. As Jesus considers Jerusalem, the destination of his journey and a place that is life-threatening, his heart goes out to the people there. He meets the threat of death with love, crying out, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” It is one of several (not many) feminine images of divine love—a clucking hen hovering over her brood. The mother hen is the place of safety in the midst of trial and temptation. Is it an image that can get us through Lent, and life, with renewed courage each day?

All these thoughts came together for me in the idea that life (with perhaps heightened awareness during Lent) is a journey down a highway where a lot of construction is going on, not just on the roadway but in our lives and living. It sometimes takes a lot of perseverance to travel down a dusty and bumpy section of road construction. The call is “today, tomorrow, and the next day” to continue on our way as part of a colony drawing upon the promises and courage, knowing that the head of the road crew is filled with nothing but the most profound love.

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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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