I am a few weeks behind in posting sermons here, I had an issue getting into my blog last week. I will get caught up sometime this week!
In the meantime, here is this morning’s sermon and the video from worship.
Peace be with you. <3
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 28, 2021
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Named, Claimed and Changed
Last Sunday, after worship, I logged onto a New Members Zoom Coffee Chat. It was amazing; we have over 20 people interested in joining our church right now. Dan Cogar said it best afterwards in our Deacons group text: “Still can’t get over the fact that during a time where churches, businesses, organizations etc. are justifiably struggling, we have the biggest group of potential new members that I can remember since we joined.”
God is good, friends. Even though it is hard right now, God is still good.
It is weird, though, how we are currently living in this in-between time. The crisis is not over, and yet we do see a light at the end of the tunnel. We are still very much nurturing and putting our energy towards worship and programs that are either online or in some sort of drive-thru, socially-distanced format and yet we are starting to think about – and plan for – what it is going to look like when we re-gather in person again. Yes, we have settled into what we are doing right now, but I do have a feeling that, similarly to the way things shut down last march, we are going to quickly find ourselves in a position where we can (with proper planning and protocols in place) gather in person again.
And so it is fun to celebrate what we are doing now and what we have done throughout this time of covid, but also to think about the things that we so desperately miss and look forward to getting back to them.
During our conversation at the New Members Zoom Coffee Chat, Jodi Durette talked about one of the things that she is most looking forward to when we get back to in-person and that is the children’s sermon. And the thing is, I do not know what they are going to look like at first, obviously covid has changed a lot about how we gather children together to learn (we know this from watching the challenges schools have faced this year), but there was something about reading this scripture and reflecting on it throughout the week that made me long to be in worship in person with you all and call the children to gather around me up front and talk about this story in the bible.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of Genesis; we were here last week when we were talking about Noah’s Ark and we have moved ahead a little bit in the narrative to the story of Abraham and Sarah.
I do not know about the rest of you, but I think that there are few stories in the bible that have catchier or livelier songs from our childhood Vacation Bible School days to go with them.
Who remembers the song? Father Abraham, had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you; so let’s all praise the Lord! And then, of course, there is a dance; right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around, sit down.
I have always loved preaching on the Abraham and Sarah narrative because it just lends itself to a really fun and boisterous children’s sermon where we sing and dance and then the kids run down to Church School while the adults spend the rest of the day with that song stuck in their head.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is another story about a covenant; a covenant that God made with Abraham, but also one that was intended to be passed throughout the generations. In other words, similar to the covenant God made with Noah, this covenant God is making, here in this morning’s scripture, with Abraham, is one God also makes with us, today.
God says to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7, NRSV)
And while this covenant does not have nearly the beautiful imagery that the Noahic Covenant has (that rainbow was really something last week!), there is something really special about this covenant that I think actually makes it stand apart.
Before we go on, let, us really quickly, review the story of Abraham and Sarah. We are first introduced to Abraham in the 11th chapter of Genesis; his father’s name was Terah and he was a descendent in the line of Noah. Abram was married to a woman named Sarai; before we even get to this point in the story, there is actually a pretty long narrative detailing Abram and Sarai’s time in Egypt, where they fled when there was a famine in their own land. We learn in this narrative that Sarai was barren and that she told Abram to conceive a child with their slave, Hagar; he did this, the slave bore a child, whose name was Ishmael.
While it would take much longer than the amount of time y’all want to sit in front of your devices and listen to me talk to go over the entire story of Abram and Sarai in detail, I do think it is important to point out that there is a lot of history with them leading up to this moment where God makes a covenant with them; they walked through some valleys before arriving at this point (and, of course – spoiler alert! – there are still challenging times ahead).
And yet, this is when God shows up and names them and claims them as God’s children.
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. I will make you exceedingly fruitful. (Genesis 17:5-6)
‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her. (Genesis 17:15-16)
There are two parts os this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful.
First of all, God calls them by name:
Your name shall be Abraham. (Genesis 17:5, NRSV)
Sarah shall be her name. (Genesis 17:15, NRSV)
Remember that, like the Noahic Covenant, this covenant is not just one that was made with Abraham, it is a covenant made with us, as well. When God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations,” this means that these words are as much for as, as they were for Abraham.
Which means when God calls Abraham and Sarah by name and claims them as God’s own children, God is doing the same for us. God is calling us by name. God is claiming us as God’s own children. I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: Even though we are walking through some dark moments right now, God has not abandoned us. God is calling us by name, claiming us as children. God is calling us by name, upholding a covenant made thousands of years ago with us, today. God is calling us by name, calling us to proclaim God’s message of light, love and grace to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.
Beloved, know that God is calling you by name; God is claiming you as a child. You are loved, you are cherished and you are worthy of this call.
This is what is promised to us in this covenant.
The second part of this covenant that I find to be exceptionally meaningful is the fact that Abraham and Sarah were changed as a result of this covenant. God said, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham … as for Sarai your wife … Sarah shall be her name.” This covenant was so powerful and transformative and life-changing that they took on new names to live into it.
This is what it means to believe in God and follow God – to let your lives be changed, truly and powerfully changed, by God. To make a commitment that is so strong and so resilient that you are willing to be changed, to give up part of your life that might be comfortable and easy and take on something that you might not yet know or understand.
How many of us are willing to make that commitment?
As I was reflecting on our gathering of new members on Zoom last week, one of things that really stood out to me was (and is) the way we were kind of forced to strip away a lot of the stuff that we thought was the fun and meaningful part of church – we cannot physically be together, watch the carnage unfold during the children’s sermon, eat together, sing together, enjoy activities together and so on, and so forth. And yet, I think, in some ways (certainly not all), we have been changed for the better throughout this time. Our faith is stronger. Our relationship with God is more personal.
But the thing is, when we took away “the fun stuff,” we were left with the most basic, but foundational elements of our faith – we were left with scripture and prayer.
What a gift it has been for us to quiet the noise of the rest of it and to see and hear and know that God is naming us and claiming us.
And changing us.
Like I said last week, the season of Lent is a time of repentance; it is a time when we journey to the cross and remember the part of the story that grounds our faith in hope and resurrection. It is a time where many of us give things up or take things on with the intended purpose of trying to draw closer to God.
One of the things I have been doing during Lent (although, full disclosure, I did start a few weeks ago) is to go through each room in my house and pay attention to the different spaces throughout the rooms. I have been slowly clearing out clutter and putting together systems of organization that are simple and easy for young families to maintain. The reason I started is because I felt like there was a lot of noise in my life (and not just the audible kind that a 3.5 year old and a 10 month old bring). I am trying to try to quiet some of that noise and create a calmer space where there is room for God.
Where I can see and hear and know that God is naming me and claiming me.
And changing me.
It is my hope and my prayer that you are finding something this Lenten season – that is not too overwhelming nearly a year into a pandemic (remember to be gentle on yourself!) – that will help you create a space where there is room for God, where you can see and hear and know that God is naming you and claiming you and changing you.
So – this covenant does not come with a beautiful rainbow; but I think we have something just as special, just as powerful and just as promising.
Remember that Abram and Sarai walked through some valleys before arriving at a point where God showed up and named them and claimed them as God’s children.
May God do the same for us in this moment as we continue to walk through the valley of this season of life.
Friends, hear this Good News: You are a child of God. God wants to be in relationship with you. God want to name you and claim you and change you. God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years ago and this promise has remained steadfast. Nothing can, nothing will, break its bounds. This is who we are, pandemic or not.
We are children of God.
Thanks be to God!