The Covenant with Abraham
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
19 March 2000
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." Abram fell face down, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you." God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."Genesis 17.1-7,15-16
In the OT reading of today we hear about god's covenant with Abraham. The covenant is a common theme through much of the OT, - beginning with God's covenant with Noah in Genesis 9, sealed with the Rainbow - moving on through Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17 - through to the renewal with Moses in Exodus 19 - and on to King David, described in Ps 89. Each of the descriptions and the covenants themselves builds on the previous ones, expanding them and making them more complete. But in each of them we see some common characteristics. The one with Abraham in the OT reading is no exception. In v 2 we read - 'bear yourself blameless in my presence and (then) I will make a covenant between myself and you' - it's a conditional covenant, God will make His covenant with Abram if he bears himself blameless - if we think back to the covenant with Noah, God spared Noah and his family because he was a good man, a man if integrity In v 5 and 6 we read - 'I will make you a father of many nations', so much so that Abram's name is changed from Abram (high father) to Abraham (father of many). - it's an inclusive covenant, God will make His covenant with Abraham who will then become the father of many nations, not just his own And in v 7 we read - 'I will establish my covenant with you, an your descendants, in perpetuity' - its an eternal, or everlasting, covenant - its not something which will disappear overnight, it will last forever.
So we see the covenant that is a relationship between God and His people which is conditional, inclusive and eternal. Moreover, in each of the covenants whilst there is an agreement or a relationship between God and the people of the earth, that agreement is always initiated by God, its on His terms. The covenant was placed before Abraham by God, and Abraham had to respond, which we know he did and his response was counted as righteousness.
And as we look towards Easter in this time of Lent, and as we look to the Eucharist in this service we recall that the covenant did not finish with the covenant of the OT. In Christ the New Covenant was initiated. In the gospels and Paul's epistle to the Corinthians (Ch 11) we read that we are to drink the wine in remembrance of Christ's blood and the sacrifice He would make for us all on the cross. We read those same words in the communion service. And just as with the OT covenant, the covenant with Abraham Christ's new covenant has the same characteristics. Its a covenant which underpins a relationship between God and His people and a covenant which is conditional, inclusive and eternal. Christ died for all, but its up to each one of us to accept Him and acknowledge that for ourselves. The relationship with God which was broken though the sin of Adam can be restored for each one of us by our acceptance of Christ and all that He has done for us.
That restoration is conditional on us appropriating it for ourselves. Just like Abraham, we need to respond, and when we do, it will be counted as righteousness. Similarly, the new covenant in Christ is an inclusive covenant. Christ died for all. Christ wants everyone to have a relationship with God through His own death and resurrection. No one is excluded. Christ died for all (2 Cor 5 v 15). No one in excluded, not even the Gentiles. just as God wanted to include Abraham in the old covenant he wants to include us in the new.
The letter to the Hebrews (13 v 20) also tells us that the New Covenant in Christ is an eternal covenant. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect… Its never too late to respond, and perhaps to respond afresh. In this period of Lent, a period of reflection and contemplation, a period when we look to the death and resurrection of Jesus which inaugurated and brought in the new covenant, it's a good time to reconsider how we respond to the new covenant of Christ.
Perhaps we can use Abraham as our example, use him as our example and be encouraged! When we consider Abraham many connotations come to mind. - a great man of God - a great spiritual leader - a man chosen by God All of which are true. But consider when we first hear of the covenant with Abraham. Its at the very end of Genesis 16, when Abraham in 86 years old. In the beginning of Genesis 17 (one verse later) he's now 99 years old. 13 years have passed. We don't know what he got up to in those 13 years. But what we do know is that no mighty spiritual works were recorded. He was probably living an ordinary life. We know that he was the type of person that sometimes got a bit stuck. He set off to go to Canaan from Ur in the Chaldes but never quite got to the promised land the in the way or manner he intended. He got stuck in Haran. When he did get to Canaan there was a famine and he went on to Egypt, where he asked Sarai, his wife to lie for him and say she was his sister… It sounds like he was the sort of person who did things and said things which he later regretted. But he was also a man who was chosen by God. He was a man of prayer, a man who cared and a man who wanted to follow God. He wanted to respond. But he also got things wrong from time to time.
God used him because Abraham was open to Him and responded to Him. God will use us too as we are open to Him and respond to Him. Abraham was part of the old, incomplete covenant. We are children of the new and living covenant in Christ which we look forward to at Easter and celebrate in the Eucharist. Just like Abraham, we'll probably make a mess every so often - but that doesn't change things. The more we enter into the covenant with God through Christ, the closer we are to Him, and the more we become like Him. And in so doing we are more able to take up our cross and follow him, wherever he leads.