God gives us a heritage to receive and to share

Sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA

by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, March 13, 2022

The Second Sunday of Lent (year C), Luke 13:31-35; Philippians 3:17-4:1;

Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 (NRSV): After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him…

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,…”

 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows himself unhindered by politics or challenges or fears. Rather, Jesus is focused on his mission. He is willing to go to Jerusalem and suffer and sacrifice in order to gather his children. His children, of course, include you and me. Jesus gives of himself to give us a heritage—a heritage to receive and to share.

 

These days there is a lot of uncertainty. We have uncertainty about our future and what lies beyond school or beyond career. We have uncertainty about our kids or the next generation. We search for wisdom about how to face the challenges before us, and how to help the ones we love to face it with us. In the midst of pandemic and war and economic and social upheaval, what does the future look like, and how do we step into it?

 

Jesus stepped boldly into his future, with all the sacrifice and promise that entailed. But for us, this is not always that easy, and we seek the same confidence and faith that Jesus shows us. Stepping forward in faith is the call for all of us, isn’t it? This was the call to Abram repeatedly in his life.

 

At a later time, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham—the father of the Hebrew people. Our Old Testament reading today is a story from before that name change happened. God called Abram to leave his land and to settle in the land of Canaan, with the promise of a heritage of children and family. But after many years, Abram and Sarai were still childless. So, when God again says to Abram that his reward will be great, Abram points out to God how his circumstances don’t line up with that promise at all. Unless something changes, his inheritance will go to his chief servant, Eliezer. But God repeats his promise, and in a vision takes this promise further. God makes a covenant with Abram.

 

Now a covenant is kind of like a contract, only more significant. A covenant is a whole person, whole life commitment that binds people together. When people made a covenant with each other in the ancient world, they would take an animal and cut it in two and lay the halves on the ground. Then the two people making the covenant would walk between the two halves together as if to say “so may it happen to me if I don’t keep this covenant.” For this reason, the Hebrew verb to make a covenant is not “to make,” it is “to cut”—you cut a covenant with someone.

 

In Abram’s vision, he sees symbols of God’s presence: remember my sermon from a couple of weeks ago about the fire and smoke symbolizing the glory of the Lord—the presence and power of God? Here the smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between these animals. God cuts a covenant with Abram.

 

And what is interesting about this covenant is that nothing seems to be said about Abram’s responsibility in this covenant. God makes his promises, but we don’t hear Abram’s promise. The only thing we hear is that Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned his belief as righteousness. Abram responded to God with his faith, and with a life that (mostly) reflected that faith.

 

The issue for Abram was his uncertainty and worry about the future and the future of his heritage. What would happen to him? What would happen after him? But God tells him “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land” and your descendants shall number like the stars of the heavens. Of course, we can see the heritage of Abram expand throughout the world in the next few thousand years, a heritage that we share. God told Abram in his first encounters “…I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:2-3). God gave Abram a heritage—a heritage to receive and to share.

 

This is God’s commitment to Abram, and God’s commitment to us as well. God calls us to himself not just as individuals, but as people in a vast community that spreads throughout the world and throughout time. God’s covenant with Abram is God’s covenant with us as well. God calls us into relationship with God and God calls us as a community. God gives us a heritage not just as individuals but as his people. Paul writes about this in today’s lesson—we are not citizens of this earth, but rather citizens of heaven.

 

This heritage of Christian community is a key part of how God transforms us. And a renewed community can transform the world around us as well, until all the families of the earth are blessed. Notice this is part of the ten Commandments that we remember in our Liturgy every other Sunday in Lent. We have commandments to love and honor of God and commandments to love and honor neighbor. And part of the hinge between these two sets of commandments is the command to honor father and mother. And in the Biblical passage where these commandments appear, they are followed by commandments to keep these words and to teach them to our children and our children’s children. God gives us a heritage—a heritage to receive and to share.

 

We have some practice sustaining this heritage at home and sharing this heritage across generations. But I think our culture is starting to forget how to pass on that heritage, especially the heritage of following Jesus. What we do at home, however, should be supported in the Christian Community. God calls us to be a people together, to receive and sustain and share that heritage he gives us.

 

Think about how valuable are relationships of meaning and purpose. For all the superficial friendships we have, we truly value those precious few relationships that give meaning to our lives, that reinforce common values and pursue common goals. These are friendships that provide the kind of accountability that we welcome, helping to bring out the best in us, and to redeem the worst in us through love.

 

Not only do we thrive in relationships with common meaning and values, but as Christians, we know this meaning and these values are true and right. These values are revealed to us by the God of the universe who made us and loves us and wants good for us, even when we don’t see the good clearly. And God calls us to chare these values, pass them on and support them in others.

 

Our culture leaves us disconnected from each other in so many ways. For instance, living in East Cobb, we see so few people in their 20s, and people in their 20s are often disconnected from younger and older friends and family. We often collect with friends in similar situations and similar age cohorts, which is natural and helpful. But think of the heritage we could receive and share when we are in relationship across generations. We have so much to give each other, so much to learn from each other. We can share relationships of depth where we talk about the things that really matter, and about our failings and fears and the questions we still wrestle with.

 

Older adults have so much to offer in wisdom and experience for younger adults and for youth. Maybe our experiences are not the same. But sometimes the most valuable gift is just the confidence that hardships can be endured and that blessings can be found—confidence that comes from someone who has been through hardship and grief and has found God’s power and presence in the middle of it.

 

When I was a teenager, I learned to know several adults in the church nearby my high school. I really valued their advice and support and encouragement. They told me about life, they told me about God. They prayed for me and had confidence in the good that God was giving me, whether I could see it or not. They blessed me. And I later learned that my presence blessed them without my knowing it. For instance, the priest of that church[1] was going through a hard time, and he told me once of God’s assurance that he found simply from seeing a high schooler like me show up and smile at him.

 

God gives us a heritage to receive and to share. We are so often tied up in the struggles of this world, but we are citizens of heaven, and the community of Christ is a place where we can receive and give this heritage. Here, we can find God’s wisdom for us, God’s guidance for us, God walking with us through our ups and downs. We only have anything to offer each other in as much as we have received from God. And God gives to us in abundance, if only we will receive it.

 

This Lent, share the journey. Share the journey of a covenant with God that we have inherited. If you are looking for something to give up or take on this Lent, give up your isolation, whether from COVID, or discouragement or grief. Give up your isolation and take on the discipline of walking together. Reach out to build relationships across generations so that you also may receive and share God’s heritage. Pass this heritage on to your family. Take it home to your parents. Your roots will grow deeper in God, and you and your community will flourish.

 

God gives us a heritage to receive and to share. May God bless us as we walk this road of Lent together.

[1] Not my dad; rather a different church and a different priest. It’s quite a story if you want to hear it sometime.