Covenanted People

7 Aug

Jeremiah 31:27-34, 2 Timothy 3:10-45, Luke 18:1-4, Psalm 119:97-40

In the 1991 comedy “City Slickers”, weathered trail boss Curly (Jack Palance) offers 39 year old city slicker Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) some sage prairie advice. Holding up his index finger, Curly poses the ultimate cowboy question: “Do you know what the secret of life is? This.” Mitch quips, “Your finger?” With real cowboy authority Curly responds, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean anything.” The city slicker asks, “But what is the ‘one thing’ The trail boss leaves Mitch hanging with a smile: “That’s what you have to find out.”

And the truth is we spend a lifetime finding out, forgetting and rediscovering what that one thing is. When we think we have found it, it seems to disappear from sight, get lost in the stuff of life and we have to go in search of it all over again.

For the Hebrews that is the story of the Old Testament. A story of searching, discovering, losing their way and starting all over again. It is the human story we all play a part in. Man, as a species, was created in the image of God and we all have, like sheep, gone astray from that image, individually and collectively within our own story.

I was interested to hear that a family got them selves lost following their GPS when it was visibly obvious there was something wrong. How far will travelers blindly follow a GPS device? According to The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian family of four (and their poor pup) followed directions given by their GPS onto a road closed by heavy rainfall and became stranded for three nights in a ute. The family, believe it or not, ignored posted warning signs and turned onto the Darling River Road while traveling between Brisbane and Perth in the northwest part of the continent. The truck promptly became bogged down in the thick mud, leaving the family stuck in the middle of the bush, far from civilization. They called police immediately, but since conditions were so poor, it took authorities three nights to finally reach the foolish travelers on Sunday. Ignoring a closed city street sign is one thing, but driving right past a warning sign in the middle of Australia’s wilderness just because your GPS device tells you to is another thing all together.

The common theme of today’s readings is that despite our inability to stay on track, God does not go missing. He is steadfast and faithful – that is his promise, his covenant with humanity wherever they encounter him. God does not get lost even though we may feel he is sometimes missing.

This covenant was the one thing the Hebrew people clung to and is the focus of services such as the Shabbat or Sabbath service. They are constantly reminded of and constantly remind God that he has a responsibility to care for them, that is the deal and they will remind him whenever they perceive that may not be the case.

Yet this covenant is not simply a one-sided agreement. There are two sides to this agreement. God’s people have a responsibility as well. And that is to worship, praise or recognise whom God is and to bring about his kingdom in their daily lives – to hallow his name as Jesus taught his disciples.

The Psalms speak to us clearly of this relationship. The general structure of the Psalms involves recognition of the circumstances people find themselves in, a recognition of and reminder to God of his past faithfulness to his people and a commitment to praise and worship God, not if he saves them, but because there is no doubt that he will.

And in essence that is the law, which is spoken of in the readings of today, the undeniable relationship between God and his people that allows a sure and confident future for all. It is interesting that the interaction between the Hebrews and God in the Psalms speaks clearly of a full and frank discussion, simply because the foundation of that relationship was unshakeable.

Yet that relationship between God and man was to change and to take on a deeper and more significant meaning. Jeremiah points clearly to a new covenant that would not rely on external practices but be written in the heart, the spirit, the soul of man. It would be indelibly apart of us.

Paul encourages remembering the acts and promises of God so that we are not lead astray by the wicked, those who desire to take us away from or to doubt the covenant God has made for us through the obedient love of Jesus. Jesus trusted implicitly in the hesed or steadfastness of God all the way to the Cross and did so that we may have the opportunity to put it to the test for ourselves.

Jesus reveals the proper understanding essential to the fulfilment of the covenant in the parable of the Pharisee and publican. Here are two people who separate themselves from those praying in the temple. One, because he saw himself as better than the others, and the other who saw himself as unworthy.

Yet the prayer of the second is significant – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” A similar prayer to the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. A prayer that recognises who God is and who the individual is, yet reminds God clearly of his promised steadfast faithfulness or mercy – his hesed. It is not a desperate plea but a statement of faith reminding God of the covenant.

The challenge for us as we come to participate in the Eucharist where we clearly remember and remind God of the story of his mercy is to find ways to live out our covenant with him. To praise God, not curse God when we find life not to our liking; to remember God’s goodness for the holy ordinariness of life, and not to forget God’s past and ongoing faithfulness to us; to recognise the importance not only of acknowledging God, but of praising God for everything from the simple fact of life to the more obvious and dramatic intervention in our lives.

At this table we hear the story of God’s steadfast faithfulness and pledge ourselves to live our lives so that they are our perpetual praise to God, every day.

As the Buddhist would say, “Before the enlightenment, the laundry; after enlightenment, the laundry” yet we live in that covenanted place which makes all ordinary tasks and therefore this ordinary life enlightened, for God is steadfastly faithful in the midst of our lives, contrary to what our circumstances maybe.

To answer Curly’s question, ‘That is the one thing.’

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