In for a penny, in for a pound

The Podcast

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

A careful study of the socio/historical context of Hebrew Scripture reveals a lot about the relationship God wanted to have with his Chosen People in Old Testament times: one based on submission and trust in his righteousness. And it invites a question: How might such a relationship between God and the people inform relationships between neighbors…back in the day, and in our own time? How might the world change if we tried a little harder to emulate God’s righteousness in our relationships with others? Isn’t that, after all, one of the things we pray for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

In today’s passage from Genesis, God was speaking to Abram, telling him about all the good things that were in store for him and his children and his children’s children. But Abram (perhaps lulled by the informality of his conversation with the Almighty) was hesitant, unable to believe that God would, or could, do everything that he was promising. Does that ever happen to you? It does to me, sometimes. So, God said to Abram: “OK, I get it. You seem to be having trouble believing what I’m telling you, so we’ll seal the deal in a way you can understand.” 

Four thousand years ago in Canaan, blood rituals known as “suzerainty treaties” between a king and an inferior subject typically involved the sacrifice of a number of animals provided by the latter. The greater the status of the overlord… the greater the value of the animals and the solemnity of the occasion. After the animals were slaughtered, the lesser party to the ritual would process through the midst of the carnage, reciting oaths that spelled out his obligations to his master. Sounds pretty gruesome, huh? But blood was the most precious commodity there was back in the day, and that’s why it was used to formalize the most important relationships. And I suppose that there was some sign value to the lesser party standing amidst the carcasses of dead animals. Maybe it served to remind him of where he ranked in the grand scheme of things. But here’s what made the suzerainty treaty in today’s reading from Hebrew Scripture different from the others: it was not the lesser party passing through the bloody remains of sacrificed animals. It was God. It was the Creator of everything that is… promising Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven, and that they would be given a great land in which they could live and thrive… if they would only be faithful. This was God demonstrating that there was nothing he could not do—and that he was willing to meet his people halfway, and more than halfway—to be in relationship with them.

Sadly, this would not be the last time that God would have to show his power and goodness in this fashion… stooping to redeem his stubborn, stiff-necked people from the consequences of their disbelief. It would happen again and again: through the covenant “set in stone” with Moses, later reaffirmed with David and, finally, through the New Covenant—the Incarnation—the Word made flesh: Jesus, the Christ. Fully divine, yet fully human, God in Christ met us halfway on the road that spans the distance between heaven and earth, so that we could be more-fully in relationship with him… at-one… healed. I find it instructive, as well as poignant, that Jesus uses the implicit analogy of fox and chickens in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 13:31-35) to remind us that God’s arms are always open to us. God wants to gather us to himself as a hen gathers her chicks… to save us from the predations of the Evil One and lead us on the path of righteousness. But we balk! Sometimes, like Jonah (and most toddlers), we run as fast as we can in the opposite direction God is calling us to go… and then watch, with sadness and disbelief, as our protector and sustainer, our Messiah, is torn for our sake… all because we were unwilling to meet the Creator of the Universe halfway. That thought gives me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. How about you? But God never wastes anything. You’ve heard the phrase, “in for a penny, in for a pound?” It means that once you’ve started something worth doing, you don’t give up on it. And despite all our stubbornness and disbelief… despite all of the promises we’ve broken, God won’t give up on us.

During this season of Lent, I challenge you to open your eyes to the goodness and mercy that God shows you every day. And I’m not just talking about “happy stuff.” You know… things that we really want… and then when they work out we say, “It was just a God thing.” No… some of God’s goodness and mercy is hard. It stretches us… and molds us to the limits of our endurance in order that we may become the creatures that God created us to be… so that we can be bringers of the Kingdom. I challenge you to open your heart to the movement and purpose of God in your life and in the world around you, the opportunities that God is giving you to be the Body of Christ to a world in need of hope! And, finally, I challenge you to think… to open your mind… and figure out what it is that is separating you from God. What is it that is preventing you from meeting God halfway? It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. Love awaits… arms open and outstretched. Step into that Almighty embrace… and be healed.

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