What are we to make of God’s covenant promise to make Abram “exceedingly numerous” and “the ancestor of a multitude of nations?” Is being “exceedingly numerous” God’s blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” as in creation? Some have heard that creation blessing to be God’s blessing to birth many children. Some have heard being “an ancestor to a multitude of nations” to be God’s blessing for empire.
God’s covenant is not a blessing to be dominant people or dominate nations. God has another more life-giving covenant promise and purpose.
God remembers the Covenant and Names and Blesses — Genesis 17
Here in Seattle Mennonite Church we are in the process of naming and blessing what God has and is setting before us. Our congregational restructuring vision and process is naming what God is doing among us in a way that blesses the gifts we are given so the church may be a blessing. It is to know ourselves in the covenant God established long ago with Noah and then with Abraham and Sarah and their offspring forever. We are God’s covenant people named and blessed so that we extend God’s blessing to the ends of the earth and future generations.
This is the sign of the covenant….When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. Genesis 9:12a, 16
God remembers the covenant God has made with all creatures on earth.
After the flood, as we heard last Sunday, God spoke to Noah,
naming a covenant God made with all creatures on earth.
The sign of the covenant is the “bow” — or as we know it, the rainbow.
As Amy said last Sunday, the rainbow is God’s sign so God remembers the covenant.
God spoke to Noah, saying, “This is the sign of the covenant….”
Then God repeats the rainbow covenant sign three times and concludes by repeating,
“This is the sign of the covenant….”
God is doing something significant in giving a sign and a covenant.
I repeat it as a significant sign and precursor for this Sunday’s scriptures.
We enter now into the next step of God’s covenant story in Genesis.
“I am God Almighty,” God said to Abram, “Walk before me and be blameless.”
God continues, “I will make my covenant between me and you,
and will make you exceedingly numerous.” (Gen 17:2).
Abram fell on his face before God and God repeats the covenant blessing:
“This is my covenant with you; you shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.”
What are we to make of God’s covenant promise to make Abram “exceedingly numerous” and “the ancestor of a multitude of nations?”
Is being “exceedingly numerous” God’s blessing to “be fruitful and multiply” as in creation?
Some have heard that creation blessing to be God’s blessing to birth many children.
Some have heard being “an ancestor to a multitude of nations” to be God’s blessing for empire.
God’s covenant is not a blessing to be dominant people or dominate nations.
God has another more life-giving covenant promise and purpose.
God’s covenant is a naming purpose and blessing promise.
Blessing is to “speak well of” and “advocate for” and “transmit goodness” upon another.
As the covenant sign God renames Abram, giving him the new name Abraham.
“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham;
for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:5).
God continues the covenant naming and blessing not only for Abraham but for all generations:
“I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you…” (Gen 17:7).
God also gave Sarai the new name Sarah and promised to bless her with child for the next generation and all future generations to come(17:15-16).
Now they have new names and new blessing still without knowing how all this will come to be. Abraham and Sarah have put their complete trust in God and stepped out in faith with God. They trust God’s naming and blessing without knowing where God will take them.
Abraham lived into God’ covenant without eyes to see the future “children of Abraham.”
Actually Abraham laughs at God here just as Sarah laughs a short time later at the thought of bearing a son and future generations while being old and barren.
Abraham and Sarah discover the truth of God’s answer to their question about how this will be.
God’s answer comes in a question, “Is there anything too extraordinary for God to do?” (18:14).
Abraham and Sarah lived well into that question trusting God’s naming and blessing covenant.
Children of Abraham and Sarah named and blessed
Last Sunday our act of response was to come and sign our name on the wall.
Our Lenten theme is “Where do I sign?
To give you a little time to prepare, I want to identify our act of response which will follow.
In the tradition of Abraham and Sarah having new names, you will be invited to come and sign another name or a blessing or prayer on the wall. I will explain it more fully in a few minutes.
Paul retelling the Abraham and Sarah covenant story – Romans 4:13-25
Other biblical witnesses have signed on with God’s covenant. The Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Romans rehearses Abraham and Sarah’s signing on in faith to God’s covenant.
As Paul says, Abraham and Sarah “grew strong in faith and gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised” (Romans 4:20b-21).
By-the-way, Paul’s name identity changed from Saul to Paul after his conversion.
Paul says that God is fulfilling God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah and all generations.
Paul identified the God of Abraham and Sarah as the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
This God is trustworthy and true as the covenant God of naming and blessing.
Jesus foretells his death and resurrection – Mark 8:31-38
It is to this Jesus whom God raised from the dead that we turn to in Mark’s gospel.
The gospel heard today follows Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God.
For the third time Jesus foretells that he would undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again.
Peter, Jesus’ disciple, vehemently rebuked Jesus for predicting his death and resurrection.
Jesus then rebukes Peter, naming Peter’s refusal listen to Jesus as the choice to listen to Satan.
Then Jesus names the gospel in a nutshell: He will be rejected, killed, and rise from the dead.
Just as Abraham and Sarah live God’s covenant,
so Jesus lives God’s covenant and is God’s covenant.
Jesus calls us, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants, into the covenant.
We are given a choice and not all choose covenant life; some choose to kill the covenant.
Jesus names the heart of the gospel not just to the disciples but to the crowds.
If you want to follow Jesus, you must set aside your own self: false self, ego, self-serving needs; and take up the cross of the covenant journey with Jesus and follow.
If you try to save your own life you will lose it.
But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake you will find true life.
This paradox of faith and following is Abraham and Sarah living God’s covenant.
This paradox of faith and following is Jesus’ call to descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
It is a call to life and death.
It is a call that bids us come and die.
It is a call that we choose to live or not to live.
As Bonhoeffer said, “Those who enter into discipleship enter into Jesus’ death. They turn their living into dying….The cross is not the terrible end of a pious life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads to death.” (Discipleship, 87)
It is death to the way of violence.
It is death to having control.
It is death to knowing the answers and the end.
It is life in God’s reign already inaugurated in Jesus although not yet fulfilled.
It is life in communion with Jesus and Jesus’ community.
It is life in God’s covenant named and blessed as Abraham and Sarah’s descendents forever.
This is the Lenten journey with Jesus.
We go with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross as we will see on the journey ahead.
We cannot know the way just as Abraham and Sarah did not know the way.
We can follow in faith just as Abraham and Sarah did.
We are God’s covenant people named and blessed to be a blessing on the earth.
Our naming and blessing is personal and communal.
As a community of faith we are in a season of naming and blessing a re-visioned church.
As people of faith our Lenten journey with Jesus offers us a new naming and blessing.
Where do I sign? – An Act of worship in movement
If you were here last Sunday you remember being invited to “sign on” the wall.
It was our act of worship to “sign on” and “sign here” as we began Lent.
Today we have a second-signing invitation and act of response to “sign here.”
If you did not sign your name last Sunday because you were not ready or were not here,
you are invited to sign your name on the “Sign here” wall in moment.
If you did sign last Sunday you are invited to sign again.
In the manner of Abram’s name change to Abraham and Sarai’s name change to Sarah,
you are invited to sign a new name on the signing wall.
It may be your middle name or a nick name or your e-mail name or a name you hold dear.
It may be the name of a person you hold in prayer in this Lenten season.
Or it may be a blessing you wish to offer or receive (e.g., beloved, called, welcome, peace, joy, justice, holy one, companion, follower of Jesus).
It may be any name or blessing or prayer on your heart this Sunday or Lenten season.
Since I have had some time to think about it during the week let me share the name I will sign.
It is a name dear to me that I rarely share. My Benedictine Oblate name is Godfrey.
In the Abraham and Sarah tradition, when one takes monastic vows one takes on a new name.
In my Oblate vow a decade ago I took the name Godfrey not because it begins with God but because Godfrey Diekman was a monk whom I met only once when he was in his 90s. He died less than a year later. In his long life Godfrey called the church to radical reform especially in how worship shapes us to follow Jesus in God’s reign seeking God’s justice and the peace of Christ in the world.
In silence of the next few minutes come and “sign here” as we mediate on God’s covenant of naming as a sign of joining our ancestors in faith Abraham and Sarah blessing all generations.