God’s Promises

What a weekend! Spaghetti Supper & Dessert Auction last night, worship this morning and Confirmation tonight!

This was the set up for worship this evening – we close our Confirmation classes with worship every month!  We were talking about creation and being unique, beautiful and confident tonight.  We listened to Born This Way. 🙂

Here’s my sermon from this morning – enjoy!

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

God’s Promises

The following story can be filed under the category, “Pastors Are People Too”.

A friend and colleague of mine told me a few months ago that I really should start journaling. He reminded me that not only is it a good spiritual practice, but also that it would be a good way for me to process and sort out some of my thoughts as a new minister. Obviously I never intend to publish what I write, but when I came across this week’s lectionary text from Genesis about the Abrahamic covenant, I thought I needed to share a story.

On December 15th of last year I wrote the following in my journal:

I am just not at peace quite yet with life and death and bad things happening. Intellectually I am, but emotionally I am just not there yet. And that really scares me. I wonder if it has something to do with my grandparents being sick? It is hard to know that naturally things may be coming to an end on earth soon. Very hard. Am I a hypocrite? I’m pretty sure I am not practicing what I preach.

Five days after I wrote this, my grandmother died. Her death was not all that expected; she was 90 years old and had undergone surgery two weeks prior, but was in good shape physically and making a remarkable recovery. The unexpected complications that resulted in my father and his sisters rushing to her bedside to say goodbye reminded me of just how precious life really is.

I have seen a lot of death over the past few years. When I worked as a chaplain I sat with children while they made end of life decisions about their parents, parents while they made end of life decisions about their children. I presided over twelve funerals last year alone. I understand a lot of the medical “stuff” behind some of these decisions that have to be made as our earthly lives are coming to a close. But it was different to be on the other side.

And yet I was able to experience God in a new way from this other side.

My father sent my sister and me a text message on that Tuesday morning that said he and his sisters and their spouses were going to the hospital to say their final goodbyes and remove the oxygen mask that was keeping my grandmother alive. I went into work and just waited; eventually I got a text message that simply said, “She’s gone.” And as much as my heart hurt in that moment, I also felt a new peace about heaven that I did not expect to feel. I knew where my grandmother was; I knew who she was with; and I knew that she was now watching over all of us.

I wish I could explain this peace I felt in a more tangible way, but I cannot. I just knew – in that moment I knew that heaven was real, that my grandmother was there and that one day we would all be together again.

And as much as I grieved her loss in the days and weeks that were to follow, my vision of her in heaven only got clearer as time went on.

Now I am not telling this story because I want to gain sympathy or need to process anything; I am telling this story because I think it is a powerful testimony to the different ways that God works in our lives.

This morning we recounted the covenant that God made with Abraham thousands of years ago. Abram and Sarai were in their nineties and childless. God appeared to Abram and made a covenant with him; Abram would be the ancestor of a multitude of nations; he would be called ‘Abraham’, his wife would be called ‘Sarah’ and together they would have a son. This, God said, was an everlasting covenant that that God was making not just with Abraham, but with all of Abraham’s offspring.

And that means that God made this everlasting covenant with all of us as well.

There are four parts to this covenant, to this promise, that God made with Abraham. First of all, it is linked to creation. The language in these verses is very similar to language that we see at the beginning of Genesis in the creation narratives. This could imply that the covenant that God made with Abraham is simply a continuation of creation and that God created us to be in covenant with him.

Second of all, this promise is a royal promise: “I will make nations of you,” God told Abraham, “and kings shall come from you.” This links Abraham to King David, whose life in many ways foreshadowed the life of Christ (seen in First and Second Samuel). The Abrahamic Covenant is not simply a Jewish covenant that carried over into the Christian faith. Abraham – David – Christ: There is a direct connection between the covenant that God made with Abraham and the new covenant that Christ brought into this world, the covenant that we share as people of a Christian faith.

The third part of this covenant is its eternity: God said that this was an everlasting covenant. It would not, has not and will not run out. “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations,” God said. We are in covenant with God the same way that Abraham was. Our covenants may look different, but they all come from the same place. They come from this promise that mortals would never have to live on earth alone; God would be always, always be there.

The final piece of this covenant is its relational aspect. Because of this covenant, God and Abraham belong to one another; they are connected to one another. God did not promise to make some sort of payment to Abraham from afar; God appeared to Abraham and was in his midst. They were connected to one another. And God is now in our midst. {Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Genesis), by Walter Brueggemann}

This story appears in the lectionary during Lent to make a point. We are a part of something so much bigger than what we see on a day to day basis and every now and then it is important for us to take a step back and see that bigger picture. That is what Lent is all about! We need to see the overwhelming love – the creational love – that God has for all of us. We need to see the eternity of the promises that God makes to us; and know that God will never abandon us. We need to realize that God is not some untouchable deity in some faraway land. God is here with us, in relationship with us. We need to see that there is a direct link between the covenant that God made with Abraham, the new covenant that was made through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the covenants that God makes with each and every one of us. We are connected to God in covenant and to one another in covenant. We are not alone. We will never be alone.

We are part of the story that is still unfolding here on earth. This is God’s promise to us.

Our Lenten journey to the cross is not simply a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made on that day in Golgotha. It is a reminder of the presence of God in our lives every single day.

I have no words to describe the peace that I have been able to come to about my grandmother’s death. Do I still mourn? Yes. But I feel peace. Because God made the same promises to her that God made to Abraham; and God made the same promises to her that God makes to me and to the rest of my family. God is with me, God is with my grandmother and God keeps us all connected. The peace I feel comes from a place that I do not understand – but I think my lack of understanding how I know something much greater is going on in our world.

I would like to close my sermon by reading a creed that we recited as a congregation a few weeks ago. It comes to us from the United Church of Canada. When I thought about this scripture I realized that this creed does an unparalleled job of explaining the covenantal love that God has for us and the indescribable power of the Lenten season.

A New Creed, from the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.


6 thoughts on “God’s Promises

  1. Thank you for sharing that, Sarah. I always love it that Christians of different denominational tags, different ages, different cultural settings and different stages of their walk with Christ, can so touch chords in each others’ lives – because we ARE, as you said, all part of one another, and that is because we are one in Christ. It is He who permeates us all.

    Bless you, dear girl 🙂

  2. Sarah, thank you for talking about heaven, thinking about heaven, imagining heaven. It’s not talked about often from the pulpit, that I can remember…it should be. I imagine heaven to be a place as close as the nose on my face.

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