Sermon, Sunday March 6th, 2016.
Lent 4C Showing Promise IV – Covenant Fellowship
Joshua 5:9-12 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[a] to this day. 10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[b] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/20160306_message.mp3
“Covenant”. This is a very big word for us this year as we find a home in 2 Samuel 7. That home text is one of the places of Covenant between the Lord and his people. “Covenant”. This is us too. Everything we are and do together this year comes from being in a Covenant with God.
Covenant is how the Lord “rolls away” shame, guilt, fear and doubt from us.
There are six covenants made by God with his people throughout the long journey of communal faith in the time before the Saviour came.
The first was between God and Noah (Genesis 9:8-17). God promises he will never completely destroy humanity by natural catastrophe. The sign of the covenant (covenants always have a sign with them) is the rainbow acting a ‘string around God’s finger” to remind him of his unconditional promise here.
The second is with Abraham. First (Genesis 12), God promises to give a grant of land to Abraham and his descendants. Second (Genesis 15), God promises to be with Abraham and his descendants, which will be as uncountable as the stars in the sky.
Abraham has a commitment to make here though. It is the first mention of the act of circumcision – THE sign of being God’s child; part of God’s chosen people. This is a conditional covenant because the people are called to do something to respond and stay in the covenant.
Then to Moses and the now freed people of God. This time God pledges to be his peoples’ Protector and Guarantor over their blessed destiny to be his people in the land he has given. Again, they have a part to play here too. They promise to remain faithful to him as they keep his Law and worship him alone in the way the Lord determines (Tabernacle, sacrifices, Passover, circumcision rites and etc…)
Our text from Joshua today is a renewal of God’s Covenant in a special time of change. The Promises of God are renewed by God as they once again celebrate the Passover, and the sign that is given again is circumcision. Circumcision has not been kept in the desert wandering for a whole generation but now on the cusp of a new era, on the very day that the manna ceases to appear, the promise of land, name, place, purpose and God’s presence is renewed.
In Numbers 25, God makes another unconditional promise with a priest named Phinehas, to make sure that his people have faithful priests to attend to the things of God in the community.
Then comes David. Another totally unconditional covenant promise by God to David to establish and maintain his household, not just for his lifetime or anyone’s lifetime – but for all life! This is where our home text is (2 Samuel 7).
From the God of promise who keeps his promises despite the people’s lack of promise keeping, God promises to sustain a faithful shepherd king over his people who will rule God’s people under God’s authority to give them rest in the land he has always promises them (1Kings 4:20-21, 5:3-4).
Are you getting a picture here of our God?
God makes unconditional promises because he loves his people. He wants to be with us as our protector and sponsor in our bright destiny to be his loved people in his world. He desires the best for us; that we live life in his presence with his blessing as we work to manage his world and rest with him regularly for renewal and joy.
But, what’s the problem? What does experience tell you? Joy is often illusive. Relationships fracture. We are often conflicted about many things. God seems like a stranger at times. Injustice rolls on and people get hurt. Death still scares us.
Is the problem God’s promises? Is it God’s calling? We know that Israel failed over and over again holding up their end of the covenant agreements they made with God.
“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law” (Psalm 78:10)
“…. they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’” (Jeremiah 11:8)
People are the problem in God’s gracious promises, not God or his covenant promises.
But friend, in your lack of listening, lack of honouring and responding to God and the pain it causes you and others there is something very good to her today.
There is one more master stroke that totally revolutionises the relationship between the Lord and his wayward people. It is the final covenant, the new covenant, the covenant of all covenants and God speaks it before it comes to be…
“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David”. (Isaiah 55:3)“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
This new covenant is close. It is started and continued not by us keeping outward observance. It is started and continued by the Lord, being closer than he has ever been before.
It happened! Immanuel – God with us. Stable, dusty roads, feeding, healing, water to wine, Good Shepherd, Palm Sunday, fights with Pharisees, gentle invitation to sinners, words of warning, words of acceptance…. Jesus of Nazareth, new David…”Hosanna” we cry. “God save us!”
And to seal this new deal, on the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, Jesus about to suffer dark death and enter evil itself says… “This cup is the new covenant”. This is the covenant that changes the very nature of how we and our Creator relate.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. ….. 23 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-23)
And the sign that accompanies the Covenant? Blood. His blood. Shed in violent circumstances of shame to remove our shame.
Friends, we are a covenant community and our life, our hope, our work, our mission, our possessions, our buildings, our money our very souls centre around and come from the blood – the cup, the new life, the fresh word, the forgiveness promised and delivered by God. We are people of promise. People of the new covenant.
Can you sense the immense promise keeping character of God today? Paul puts it very well;
1 …, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 …. you were separate from Christ, …… foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, ……. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity…. 16 and in one body to reconcile all of us to God through the cross,…. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And how can you know this for sure? What sign has God given you to sure this up, to bring certainty to your heart so you can freely and confidently in his presence and power and promise?
That Easter Day defeat of death clinches it. It is THE sign of God’s covenant promise alive and active and stirring in our world. We live with guilt, shame, fear and doubt rolled away by the resurrection of Jesus and his rolled away empty tomb! This is our “Gilgal”.
And humanly, practically, dependably, what is the sign that we are God’s adopted sons and daughters who have open access to our heavenly Father (Abba) anytime and here together?
11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[a] was put off when you were circumcised by[b] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)
Whatever we do here in this church and whatever we do as a local church in Jesus’ mission here this year, we do together as baptised people of Christ, citizens of the Kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ in this community.
As Paul says,
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
Friend, grace has been given! Gifts have been given. The mission of Jesus goes on and we are very much his instruments to bring his love and hope to this generation in the Barossa as we love, baptises, teach, give, serve and trust his Covenant promise and show his promises.
Share of Reflect on your high and low for the day/week.
PRAY “Our Father in Heaven”…..pray words acknowledging God as your heavenly Father…
“Holy be your name”….. Acknowledge God’s name as very special to you and ask him to help you keep his name holy as you spend time in his word now…
“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”….. Speak words about inviting Christ into your day and letting him do his will today… Read the Joshua 5 text noting its covenant renewal theme. It included the keeping of the Passover and the renewal of circumcision.
Note from the chapters around Joshua 5 when this is happening. Israel is in very substantial change. Reflect on the change from being a wandering/nomadic community to now being a settled agricultural/urban community in this new land they are called to now occupy. What changes would have to be made to how families live? What new pressures/temptations will families now be under? What changes in how they keep their end of the covenant will now be upon them?
Read the 6 covenants as listed in the Sermon and reflect on what God does in them and what the people are called to do in response. Note how God begins Covenants and some are unconditional, and some are conditional upon how the people respond.
We called the 7th covenant THE covenant. It is the “new covenant” signed with the physical sign of Jesus’ own blood shed on that cross. Have you often regarded the cross and empty tomb as God personally renewing his covenant to be your heavenly Father and you to be his loved child managing his world and bearing witness to his grace in Christ? Reflect on Easter as renewal for you in God’s covenant promises of his forgiveness, his presence, his peace, hope and his never-ending love for you.
Reflect on your baptism as the day when all of God’s promises came to you personally within his holy community called the church. Talk about how baptism is the new circumcision, not I the flesh but of the heart. What do you think about that and how does this help you live confidently and freely in God’s grace?
It may be helpful to read one or two of the accounts of the last supper in the gospels to get the full weight of what Jesus did that Maundy Thursday night when he “took the cup” and said, “This is the new covenant in my blood”. How do you understand what he did there and what does this mean for you and for us as a local community of God’s promise?
Read that Colossians 2 text much used in the sermon about how baptism is the new circumcision and how because of Jesus we now have free and open access to our heavenly Father in all of life’s circumstances.
PRAY It might be good to pray the Lord’s prayer in the same way as above but from the line, “Give us today our daily bread…… using the Lord’s Prayer as a series of headings for people to pray in their own words and about the issues that are in their life at the moment.