Covenant with Abraham and Sarah, Pastor Kinsey
A lake baptism is only possible in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a few short weeks, or, maybe a month or two if you have a really warm summer. The ice stays on the lake until mid-April, sometimes even early May, and so swimming is always on the cool side, even in June. Maybe by the 4th of July it’s getting good, but by August 15, the first leaves of Autumn appear, and the cool nights make the lakes less-than-inviting, pretty quickly!
But for a 7 year old, who doesn’t keep track of all that, it’s different! And the joy of going all in – total immersion – is almost, irresistible. It was our first baptism in Lake Ottawa, and along with Eric, we were probably a little bit nervous too, now that there were so many people on shore watching.
We waded in. Eric in his swimsuit, and Kim and I in our clergy shirts and shorts. We had chosen the last Sunday of July, but it was 11 in the morning, and with a breeze off the lake, it was not exactly hot out yet! The assembled congregation looked on as witnesses. ‘Eric, is baptized in the name of the Father,’ Kim said – and what happened next, we hadn’t planned for. What we had practiced was holding and supporting Eric, as he held his nose, and we’d dunk him in backwards – but, now that the moment had arrived, Eric was so excited, he wanted to dive-in head first, which, after a slight hesitation, he did, a quick in and out… ‘Eric is baptized in the name of the Son’ – this time he dove in a little more eagerly… ‘and in the name of the Holy Spirit,’ and Eric dove in a third time. And this time he stayed under, and we wondered for a second, if he was coming back up! But finally he did, gasping for breath, he had stayed under as long as possible, as if to show us that he was thoroughly made clean, and was ready for his new life!
This is the season of preparing for Baptism, the season of Lent. In the very early church, candidates for baptism prayed, and fasted, and offered acts of love and charity, for 40 days, before descending into the stone baptisteries of the time, at the Great Easter Vigil. And so this year, we’re taking a closer look at the Baptismal theme of ‘Covenant’ as it’s expressed in our First Readings, these 5 Sundays of Lent.
Last Sunday we heard about the covenant God made with Noah, his family, and all humanity: I will never again destroy the earth and all its people like I did in the Flood, God promised. When I see the rainbow it will be a sign of this covenant, and I will remember my promise, said God to Noah. God actually changes God’s mind about retribution, and now covenants with humanity, to suffer with them, reach out from God’s heart, and show us the way of love and grace.
Today, we hear the story of Abraham and Sarah, the father and mother -the parents- of all peoples-of-faith. Earlier, when God first calls Abraham and Sarah, they are living in Chaldea, or what is modern day Iraq, where they are doing just fine, at least financially. For they have a large family and are very prosperous in keeping their flocks and herds, their slaves and tents. There is no worldly reason for them to move. But God calls them out of the blue one day, to go to a new land, a place God will show them – they don’t even know where it is yet – but they go!
The original promise is that God will make a great nation of them, and God will bless them. But why do that? Why go? What’s in it for them? All the promises are future oriented, and may not even happen in their lifetimes. Why pick up and go somewhere else? No doubt, the subtext for Abraham and Sarah was, I’m too tired for this! I’m too old! And I’m comfortable just where I am, thanks!
And, isn’t this the story of our lives too? Until God calls us, and we feel the urge to follow, the itch to seek something deeper and more meaningful for our lives – we might not listen all that carefully to God, we may not even hear it as a call!
What is it that pushes us out the door to answer the call, to try something new? To come to church, or try Food for the Soul? To join an organization working for equality and justice? To speak out against gun violence, and say ‘never again?’ For women to say, ‘times up?!’ Or, to just, settle down and have a family, even in the midst of economic uncertainties and a global climate crisis?!
The great Soren Kierkegaard called it a ‘leap of faith,’ a decision that is not always the most logical, sensible, choice, but is deeply heartfelt, and, in the end, not possible to avoid. It’s the call of the divine that won’t let go, and challenges your gut to step up and be more than you thought you could – a call that seems as if your life depends on it!
So, Abraham and Sarah went. They were elated to find the land of Canaan, and to show their appreciation, they built altars to God, in the north at Shechem, in the hills at Bethel, and in Hebron to the south.
But the journey was long, and the promise to be the father and mother of many peoples and nations was not yet confirmed by a child to Sarah – who in biblical language was “considered barren.” Abraham and Sarah were losing hope when God came to them in our Reading today, once again promising a son. ‘I will make you exceedingly fruitful, I will make nations of you,’ God tells them, and ‘kings shall come from you!’
And yes, King David will be an ancestor in the faith, but right then and there, Abraham is a little bit tired, of hearing this broken record. It’s been 24 years since they left Chaldea, and he’s 99 now. And, Abraham falls to the ground, and laughs! Can a child be born to a 100 year old man, whose wife is 90?!
And, guess what, they’ve already figured out Plan B! Sarah gave her maid, Hagar, to Abraham, according to the custom of the times, who bore a son, Ishmael. So Abraham wonders aloud to God, why Ishmael can’t be good enough for God, as the son of God’s promise?!
But God insists all the more strongly, that Sarah will have a son of her own, going so far this time, as to name this yet to be born one. He will be called, Isaac, a name that means, “he laughs” – you know, after Abraham’s little outburst!
So Abraham and Sarah manage to pick themselves up off the ground, continue to follow and obey God, and, well, you know the rest of the story, right. The next year God finally gives them a son, and they call him Isaac, and the generations of peoples and nations to come, is born at last.
But the journeying, following part, was not smooth, not always easy. Abraham and Sarah were not perfect, not even close. But, God stays true to them – which was, somewhat new for God too. But God kept God’s promise about the rainbow, the covenant God made with Noah, that God would not destroy them when they did wrong, but walk gracefully with them on their journey, no matter what.
The disciples, we know, have a difficult time following Jesus too. They don’t understand the Passion Prediction, that Jesus ‘must suffer, be rejected, and be killed, and after 3 days rise again.’ This is not the normal tradition for the Messiah, the anointed one of God! And Peter goes so far as to rebuke Jesus. To which Jesus immediately rebukes Peter, and tells him he acting like Satan, ‘setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.’
But this doesn’t preclude the disciples from continuing on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, either. The journey is not smooth or straight for them, but filled with difficult learning, twists and turns, mistakes and new insight, along the way.
Taking the plunge of baptism, into the journey of faith, can be as tense, as it is joyful. We can only hope we have the fortitude of little 7 year old Eric, to give it our all. To test the very limits of the breath of life – which after all, comes from God as a gift! The journey of baptism, is a leap of faith, by God’s grace alone.
As we make this Lenten journey, remembering our baptism’s, we trust in God’s promise, and the ‘Covenant’ God makes with us!