Preached on 18 June 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 6)
We are now in the long season after Pentecost. Ordinary time – the Green Season; a time for growing. For the next 23 weeks, our lectionary will walk us through much of the books of Genesis and Exodus. We will hear foundational stories for our faith and we will find that one of those foundations is Covenant.
We talk a lot about covenants in the church, but what does it really mean? A covenant is kind of like an agreement or a contract, but not really. It is about promises – but more than that. It is about relationship, but deeper. Even when one party fails to fulfill their part, the covenant remains in place; the other party isn’t released from their part. Often, as humans, our promises to God are more what we aspire to than what we can actually be. We fall short and then we pick ourselves up – or more likely, reach out our hand and God helps us up – and we renew our commitment and our efforts.
So, a covenant is a deep relationship, based on mutual commitment and promises.
Now our God is a God of Covenants. We see them in several key places in the Bible.
So, back to the lectionary. Last week, we heard the story of Creation. Today, because Easter was late this year, we jump right into the middle of the story of Sarah and Abraham.
So, I want to do a little catching up.
The story of Abraham and Sarah begins when God calls them to uproot their whole household and leave their country, their kindred, and the house of their father and go to the land that God would show them and promises to give to their heirs. God promises, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And so, they do.
Now, you should be aware, they are already kind of old and Sarah is barren.
Between their call and the part of the story that we hear today, lots of things happen, but I’ll only tell you a few. Abraham complains to God that the promise of land means nothing when it appears that his heir will be one of his servants. God reassures him that he will indeed father an heir and his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. God renews the three-fold covenant of land, progeny, and blessing and gives him a sign.
When Sarah still doesn’t conceive, they take matters into their own hands. Sarah gives her servant, Hagar, to Abraham and she bears him a son, Ishmael.
Once again, God renews the covenant and makes it clear that the covenant is also with Sarah. This covenant will be with her son, not Hagar’s, although God also promises great things for Ishmael. And Abraham laughs.
In today’s episode of the story, it’s been 25 years since God called them to leave their home, and yet again, God assures Abraham and Sarah of the covenant, promising that Sarah will bear a son in a year’s time. This time, Sarah laughs. How preposterous! She is old, well past child-bearing age. And so is Abraham; in our old age, “Shall I know pleasure?” she asks.
As we shall see, she does, indeed, bear him a son, Isaac which means laughter.
It is through Sarah and Abraham that God’s covenant extends through the generations and is the foundation for today’s gospel story. God promises that their descendants will be the source of blessing for all nations. This same promise is repeated in later covenants when God says, “I will make you a holy people, a nation of priests. All the world will be blessed through you.”
Jesus sends the disciples out to be a blessing. Now this is a first time. It’s sort of like the first time you get behind the wheel of a car; it’s probably in a large empty parking lot, not a crowded city street during rush hour. So, this first time, Jesus sends them only to the lost sheep of Israel. By the end of the gospel, Jesus will send them to all nations; to the ends of the earth.
“Proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons,” he instructs them.
The heart of their mission is healing and liberation. Its source is in the covenant – “I will make you a holy people that you will be a blessing to all nations.”
You will be a blessing.
God always calls people to reach beyond themselves to benefit, to bless, someone else. We find our identity in understanding that our mission is not for ourselves; it is to be a priestly people to bless others.
The heart of the mission of the disciples in today’s gospel is healing and liberation. What would you say is at the heart of our discipleship? Can we articulate it in a couple of Christian principles like that?
How is God calling St. John’s to be a holy congregation that exists for the healing of the nations; that exists to be a blessing to Snohomish?
How will we articulate it and embody it?
We are People of the Covenant.
God has made you holy that the world may be blessed through you.