Sermon Text: Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 and Mark 8:31–38
Have you ever received an invitation in the mail? What do they look like? Well, I’ve received many an invitation from cards that look like over-blown red balloons—you flip open the card and inside with cutesy curly lettering you’re told that there’s a birthday with lots of cake and tasty things and you’re invited to come celebrate.
Woo hoo cake! Oh boy! Erik and I are in the exciting new territory of baby birthdays… and with that come fun invitations and cake. Occasionally we’re still invited to adult birthdays…which take on a different theme, but still have promise of some goodies of one kind or another. Sometimes the invitation is a little bit less formal—a general invitation made on Facebook by one of your friends. Like this one from our friend who’s church is having a chili cookoff. A little less personal, but still yummy…and here’s hoping that they bring the hot sauce. And then there’s really general announcements like the Lancaster weeusables . (I feel like half of this group is taking note of the time and place of that last invitation). That’s right invitations come in all shapes and sizes—and when they include cake and ice cream I get pretty excited about them. So with that in mind we hear Jesus’ words:
“Take up your cross and follow me.” What an invitation. There doesn’t seem to be any promise of cake, n’er a promise of cream—iced or not. Yikes.
Well, these words weren’t offered in some void or grasped in the memorable quote section of your local bookstore. There’s a story. Like there always is. Jesus’ words (Take up your cross and follow me) remembered by his followers and faithfully placed in what we call our holy scripture point to an event that will take place. We know that Jesus will face the cross and be crucified. And we know that the story continues in triumph where he is raised to new life. But there’s a back story. A story of long relationship. A story that travels through time thousands of years and touches many many people. And it all boils down to the word “covenant.” which is an agreement, a promise.
And the story of this promise has taken different forms and followed different people through the story of humanity’s twists and turns. And so sometimes we can lose sight of where the covenant began and what it looks like. So to help me tell the story, I’m employing the use of one of my favorite tools. Pastor Craig may have his puppets, but I have legos.
And the story of our covenant with God begins way back with Abraham who we heard about this morning.
There was a time long before now where God sought a man out by the name of Abram and promised that if he just trusted the Lord Almighty, he would be blessed. Not only him, but all his descendants would be blessed. So many that they would be like stars in the sky or sand on the beach. And Abram, like anyone I guess wondered what worth words really had.But God’s promise was serious. So serious that God was willing to cut a covenant with Abram. You see covenants weren’t just made with paper or promises. They were cut with flesh and blood.
They were that serious. And after cutting this covenant God promised Abram that though his descendants would know hardship, they would also know blessing. And that in this covenant Abram would be transformed into a new person becoming known as Abraham-and that from him there would be a never-ending covenant with God and God’s people. And his wife Sarai, who was once barren and alone would be transformed into the mother of nations and kings.
And so this covenant was made and passed on from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild down through the ages. Until an unlikely leader lead God’s people from slavery to freedom, and reintroduced them to the God of the covenant. And God reminded Moses of the covenant,that the people would be blessed and become a holy nation for all people to be blessed by.
And even more so, this time God wanted to not be in some lofty place apart from the people he so loved, but be among them. So he told Moses to make a holy dwelling place that would go wherever the people would go. He would be their God and they would be their people. And again one may ask about the weight and worth of words, so an ark would be built to place the covenant , the promise of what it meant to be in relationship with God. And the covenant went beyond one person now. It wasn’t simply between God and Abraham or God and Moses, it was for all God’s people. This time the promise of relationship was chiseled onto stone detailing how we live in relationship with God and each other. But it seems that even as this covenant was being renewed the people almost ruined it. They went against God, they worshiped other gods and made idols. It seemed like this was going to be an end to a relationship..but Moses reminded God of the covenant long before made with Abraham…that God’s people would be blessed and fruitful. That they would indeed (with some nudging and teaching) be a light to other nations, a city on a hill, a path for others to find the Lord almighty. And God’s persistence to keep the covenant remained. And God indeed dwelled with the people as they journeyed to the Promised land.
And way back even before the time of history…way back before Moses ever saw a burning bush or Abram’s name was changed, way back in our stories of faith we hear about God cutting a covenant with the whole earth. And that covenant wasn’t cut through flesh and bone, but through cloud and water and a man named Noah…
So covenants are cut in skies, cut in stone and cut using animal sacrifices. And with them came relationship and promise. A give and take. Blessings and woes. You do this and you’ll be blessed. You do that..and woe–you won’t! And with the covenant people often felt cut off if they failed to follow. Even the words from Jesus that we heard today had some threat that sounded like that, right?
And yet fast forward to the night before Jesus faces that cross that we’re called to bear. He gathers all of his disciples… even the one who will deny ever knowing him, even the ones who run away and cower at the word of cross and suffering, even the one who will betray him and lead him to his death..he gathers them there. And what does he sayhe says to these poor wandering fools, “take and eat,”, this is my body. And he passes the cup around and says “drink from this, all of you,” “for this is my blood of the new covenant.”
A new covenant not made in skies and rain, or stone and tablets or even the flesh of animal sacrifices, but a covenant cut in the very body and blood of Jesus, Son of God. So dedicated is God to this covenant that he would use his very Son to make it, for our forgiveness. And cutting this covenant God pulls us into relationship. And when we screw up…like God’s children have done on numerous occasions…we’re given a new start at this covenant-each time we gather here and receive Christ’s body and blood.
And we begin anew carrying God’s covenant in our hearts and our minds and our very beings. And this covenant can look like a cross. What is the cross for us today?
The cross is present in the actions of men and women and children who make choices that lead to self-giving actions. The cross is present with the spouse who each day spends hours upon hours tending to their loved one, knowing that God is using them to offer care and comfort.
The cross is present when a victim of assault faces the darkness of humiliation, shame and remorse—and in spite of pressures to stay silent about their experience—shine the light of truth on abuse that is occurring—that God may use them and advocates to reform what had been distorted.
The cross is there when a little boy goes to school, sits down for lunch and prays before eating—and when one of his classmates sitting right next to him in the cafeteria looks at him and laughs and curses God —the cross is there when that little boy has the strength to include that bully in his prayers and pray that a bullying heart may be changed by God’s love.
The cross is present in all our stories of shame, and guilt, where the powers of sin in the world seem to distort all that is good—yet God through and in spite of it all promises to bring life out of death, liberty out of guilt and a new spirit out of the depths of shame..
That’s the covenant in the shape of a cross. And that’s our lives shaped by Christ our savior. Friends, being partners in the covenant isn’t always easy, it rarely something that we toy with…but it’s who we are, the cross is in us, the covenant is in our very beings, it’s what we strive to do, and God is always ready to renew his promise. Amen