Covenant and Discipleship

Preached on 1 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

I want you to think about a relationship or experience that you found rewarding.  Maybe it’s your career or a major project or achieving a significant goal.  It may be your marriage or raising your children.  Think about the joy and satisfaction it has given you.

Now think about the path that got you to where you are today.  I bet it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, was it?  Most things that are worthwhile involve risk and hard work and even suffering; they’re not easy.  If you had known at the outset that this undertaking would be that difficult, would you have moved forward?

Now I want you to think about today’s gospel reading.  I have to admit that if that were my first introduction to the Christian life, I’m not sure I would have gone any further.  I mean, really.  “Those who want to be my followers – deny themselves and take up their cross and follow.  Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Following Jesus –  Discipleship – is hard work.  It’s risky and sometimes it’s downright scary.  But discipleship offers great joy and grace and blessing.  Many of you know this to be true from personal experience or from the personal experience of someone you know.

What do you think the disciples were thinking though.  We’re coming in in the middle of the story here.  The disciples have been with Jesus for some time now, travelling around the countryside, hearing him teach, seeing him heal the sick and cast out demons.  They were just talking about who the people on the street say he is, when he asks, “But who do you say I am?” and Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”

In practically the very next verse, Jesus explains to them just what that will mean.  He will suffer and be rejected by the church authorities.  He will be killed and then rise again.  When Peter cries, “No, this cannot be,”  Jesus rebukes him.  Yes, it must be.

This is the first time the disciples have heard that this is what is in store for Jesus, and the implication is, possibly for them as well.  They probably expected that this adventure would end with the defeat of the Romans. Discipleship is hard. So, why do we try?

One reason is Covenant – a sacred relationship we have with God sealed by holy vows.  This Lent, our lectionary offers us a series of Covenant stories in our Old Testament readings, all leading up to and pointing toward the New Covenant we have in Jesus; the one we celebrate at Easter when we will once again renew our Covenant with God as we reaffirm our baptismal vows.

Last week, we heard about the Covenant of Noah.  God made an unconditional, eternal covenant with all living things, never again to destroy all life.  God asked for nothing in return.  God would be their god and they would be God’s people.

This week we hear about God’s Covenant with one man and one woman and their descendants.  This Covenant is narrower.  It is with Abraham and Sarah.  God promises them progeny and land.  Now, Abraham already has one son, Ishmael, born to his wife’s slave.  But God says that while he will bless Ishmael, this Covenant is to be through a son born to Sarah, his wife.  They will be exceedingly fruitful; their descendants will be numerous.  Abraham and Sarah will be the father and mother of nations, of kings!  In the verses we missed, God vows to give them all of Canaan which they now inhabit as aliens.

Just as with Noah, this is to be an everlasting Covenant.  God will be their god and they will be God’s people.  This time, though, there is a requirement.  All males must be circumcised.  It will be both the requirement and the sign of their Covenant with God.  Just as God placed the bow in the clouds as a sign of the Covenant with Noah – which God said would be a reminder to God; just as a ring is a sign of the Covenant of marriage, so circumcision is the sign of the Covenant – a reminder of their sacred relationship and the promises of God.

Covenant is central to our life in Christ.
As you continue your journey through Lent, I invite you to ponder in your hearts, each of the many relationships in your life.  How is each one a covenant?  How is each one sacred, holy?

Start with the easier ones – like your spouse, your children, your parents, perhaps.  With the church – this congregation, the Body of Christ.  I encourage you to expand your meditation to your friends, your work life, your civic life.  How do you live in covenant with your fellow citizens from the homeless person you pass on the street to the mayor of the city?  Keep expanding your circle of relationship, the circle of covenant.  I wonder what you’ll discover.

Yes, discipleship is hard.  I think you’ll find, though, that as we grow more faithful in our discipleship, our relationship with God grows deeper and we more fully experience the abundance of life Jesus promised.

Thanks be to God.