|| Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 || God’s Covenant and the membership of all ||

A reflection by Dan Spragg

I had of course, prepared a sermon earlier in the week. In fact, I probably finished it at around 1:45pm on Friday. But, things change don’t they, so instead I would like to simply offer a few points as we gather here today.

The story from Genesis is one of Abram having a few moments where his yes and no to God are all coming out at the same time. Which is important for us to understand. The context in which God makes the covenant, the everlasting promise to Abram, is one where Abram is full of doubt and full of faith, he is obedient and he is uncertain. The signs of God’s promise often it seem appear in times of uncertainty and mixed emotions. It’s also fair to say that Abram was looking for a sign, he was engaging with God in his mixed up state. Certainly we at this point in time have many thoughts and emotions. We are shocked, we are angry, we can’t believe it; we are sad, we want to help, we are numb. And it is into all of this that God can be found, if we engage, with signs of unfailing promise for God is the covenant God, the God who faithfully offers grace and peace in the midst of chaos.

There is a song most of us will know I imagine. It is a Sunday school song about Abraham. “Father Abraham, had many sons…” A classic Sunday school song! Thanks to this we will certainly never forget that Abraham, or Abram as he started out, was the one who God made the Father of many. The song declares that all who sing it are included in this family. Abram of course was the one who God called in Genesis 12, to be the father of a great nation, and to be a blessing to all people. I don’t believe God was intending it only to ever be a literal family. Paul talking to those who weren’t of Jewish descent in the book Romans, talks about all of us with our forefather Abraham. “I am one of them, and so are you…” the song says. We are all children of the covenant and this week we would do well to remember Ishmael, one of Abraham’s literal sons, who the Muslim people trace their history and heritage back to. One of the slogans that is going around New Zealanders at the moment says, “We are they,” after the Prime Minister, trying to address cultural divides, made the comment, “they, are us.” This couldn’t be a truer statement, for our Muslim Sisters and Brothers are truly our Sisters and Brothers. We must in this time be very quick to avoid any judgement and avoid finding any reason which seeks to exist because the targets were different. They were not. We must not let any form of racism or phobia of any kind, directed towards anyone, make its way across our hearts and lips. As Christians, our history with Muslims has been far from ideal, atrocious at times, but we need to remember our shared beginnings being in this moment when God made a promise to Abraham. If we can’t get our heads to this, then we must at least simply remember that all human beings are children of God, our differences do not provide excuses for judgement, they do not provide reasons or justifications for awful acts of violence of any kind. We are all beloved children of God. The struggle with this, is that of course the shooter too is included in this, which if I’m honest is hard to deal with. But I do feel it is important for us not to disown him as a human in this. If we sever our connection with him, then I wonder if it makes it easier for us not to deal with the presence of evil that is among us. If we shift all the blame onto him, and disown him as one of us, if we make him the scapegoat, then I believe we will fail to confront the fact that this evil is present amongst us, yes even here in New Zealand. As hard as it is, we must remember that in God’s eyes, every single one of us is beloved, and love at the end of the day wins. Love does not mean no consequences, love does not mean facing up to the seriousness of the actions that have been done, but us all being held in the love of God is where we must find solidarity with not only the victims but also the attacker, for if we disown him we run the risk of creating another. The reality of love, and the call to live in that love must be our starting point.

One of the parts of this Genesis passage that I love is that in the middle of it, in the middle of Abrams rocky road of questioning God there is this word ‘righteousness’. In the middle of it all God views Abram as righteous. Righteousness so often gets misrepresented as being some sort of moral piety whereas in actual fact it conveys something quite different.  Righteousness is best described as justice, and justice as we learned in our first Lent video[1] a week or so back is the right use of power, of wealth, or influence. For me, acting with justice shows that you belong to something. In acting with justice it shows that you belong to the way of God. The way of God, or the family of God, which is begun born out of a God initiated promise to Abram. In singing that song, “I am one of them and so are you…” we are declaring the truth that we too are caught up in this covenant. We too are caught up in this way of God, invited to be bearers of justice, part of Abram’s journey of being a blessing to all the world. For the Church to be a community of people who have membership in the covenant of God is to participate in God’s bringing of justice to the world. The vision of God’s way as that place where true justice is the reality for all is the vision that pulls us forwards and gives direction to our living as members of God’s covenant. A bit happened in the story throughout the scriptures after Abram. Israel too had its ups and downs, Jesus revealed God to us most fully, and then through Christ’s death and resurrection it was revealed that all humanity is a part of this covenant – the membership of all has been confirmed – and here and now we are called as the church to bear witness to this reality – all already have their membership in the family of God, that’s how grace works – Abram’s righteousness was credited to him by God, as evidence of his membership. His membership wasn’t confirmed once he displayed that he was righteous. It simply doesn’t depend on us.

How do we treat our membership? By living it out, and now is the time for us to boldly live the right use of it. In times like these we must live justly, we must live out the blessing of God to all we meet. There is no them and us for we are all on a journey of awaking to the reality of God as it pulls us forwards to that beautiful place of true justice & freedom. Even us who have found ourselves in the church are still on this journey, we all still have many things to wake up to! Much of our lives are still lived in the dark, so we are all simply in the same boat. We must respond at this time as ones who know the membership of all, who live the right use of this out. We must respond with peace not war, with love not hate, and with hope that this is not the new normal.

We are in the season of Lent and Lent is a wonderful season. Lent reminds us that living our lives as ones who have faith does not mean we are excluded from struggle and pain. In fact, faith may even make us have to confront struggles and pain even more. As we wrestle with making sense of these attacks, Lent reminds us that the life of following Jesus, and learning to live in the way of true justice, is full of ups and downs, but we must wrestle our way to peace, hope and love. Abram’s biggest learning was that he had to trust that God would do what God had promised to do. And that is our biggest learning too, to trust that God is good and faithful. Lent reminds us, that despite the turmoil of life, despite the turmoil of being a community of Jesus followers today, despite the fragility of life, despite the evil and hate which has reared its head, the journey doesn’t end with Easter Friday it always ends with Easter Sunday.

I would like to share this quote, the author of which is unknown unfortunately.

“What does it mean in a time of violence, pain, and loss, that Jesus’ response is not to rush to “solve and answer” the problems that plague us, but that he takes the time to lament, to cry, and to feel compassion? What does it mean for us today that Jesus’ compassion extends to even his enemies? How are we — in the face of religious differences, cultural upheaval, mass migration, communal crises over affordable housing, and violent conflicts — to live? Do we turn our faces back toward Galilee? Do we “stand our ground” and fight? Or do we embody the likeness of Christ, who lamented over the world’s brokenness and was moved to compassion to resurrect all things that experience death and estrangement from God? In this season of Lent, we are offered the opportunity to join Christ’s mission to make all things right. As we confront the powers that be, let Christ be our guide, an ever present reality of justice and righteousness grounded in compassion.”[2]

In a moment we celebrate Holy Communion. In communion we see a visible sign of God’s grace. God’s covenant with us – which is God’s initiative, is visibly marked here as we are invited, once again to step into life in Christ – where we are all gathered up into the life of God in this Risen One. In the risen Christ we are all lifted and held in Grace, sustained and empowered by the living Spirit of God, and even though humanity’s ‘sin’ has been exposed by the cross, and even though the wounds of evil have been made fresh this week, all are found loved and held in the grace of God. In communion we experience this grace by seeing the invisible – the body of Christ in the world, throughout all time and space – as united by the hospitality of God, made visible as we eat and drink together this meal of Jesus, hosted by him, at his table.

May you see and taste love and grace through the hospitality of God afresh this day.

[1] At The Village this Lent we are engaging with ‘The Way of the Heart’ a video series set up as a sort of Stations of the Cross produced by www.theworkofthepeople.com. The first video was author Brian Mclaren talking of “Justice, Power, and the Kingdom”.

[2] From <https://www.facebook.com/mark.pierson.3511/posts/2419796518032499>