Hope , God's covenant with us
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
What do you hope for in 2018? (ask people)
This evening/morning we are going think more deeply about the hope we have and our aspirations
There are different types of hope. Short term hope, like our goals for this year and long term hope.. maybe things we hope for in our lives like a good family or circle of loving friends.
Then there are the kind of hopes that we pin our entire lives on.. our worldview
What are we living for? Is life with meaning and purpose? What happens to us after we leave this world?
We can answer these things in a number of ways.
An atheist would say that we just live for ourselves and that life is without ultimate meaning, purpose and we cease to exist when we die.
But they are just party poopers! Well, they hold the bleakest view of humanity.
Most people express their ultimate hope in a vague or wishy washy kind of way
They talk of there being ‘something more’, people as being ‘something up there in the sky like stars’
And lots of amazing metaphors that can be helpful
You laid them out on the floor with space between them, like an aisle hat indeed hope itself, could be just a pipe dream , a product of us trying to deal with the ‘bigger picture’ of life.
As Christians , none of that applies. The Christian hope is not wishy washy or wishful thinking. It has not been pulled off Google or a well thought out poetry book. It is a carefully articulated and much debated system of belief that dates back thousands of years.
It doesn’t just tell us there is more to life than this, it tells us what it is and why we should be so excited about it !
We can start here, in the first book of the bible. And in the way that God promises to his people what he is all about and what he will do for them.
4000 odd ish years ago
It can be summed up in one word, and something we delved into this morning: Covenant
4000 ish odd years ago, if you wanted to ensure someone else upheld their end of a deal , how would you do it?
There are no lawyers, or legal teams to phone. No 999 to call. Nothing to Google.
Well, you get some animals. Like perhaps a cow / ram / goat / dove
You chopped them in half
You laid them out on the floor with space between them, like an aisle
You would both stand at one side and walk between them stating what you were going to do to keep up your end of the bargain
Saying something like ‘may I become like these animals if I fail to uphold my end of this covenant’
Can you see how this ritual might have been handy thousands of years ago before phones and Google?
By the way, its where our expression ‘cutting a deal’ comes from !
With that in mind, lets turn to the very beginning of the bible
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. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 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, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
So thats the way covenant goes right?
And to anybody reading this they would be nodding their head, thinking ‘yes thats the way its done’.
But - wait - there is a twist at the end.
God (represented by the smoking fire pot and torch) walks between the halved animals- but Abraham doesn't?
So Abraham is not keeping up his end of the deal?
This is very significant, one of the earliest encounters we have with God is stating straight away
That God will commit to both sides of the deal, even if Abraham fails - Abraham is asked to trust God, that God has this no matter what happens.
This is an enormous slice of hope!
God institutes from the very beginning a covenant of love that keeps on renewing itself later on through Moses and eventually of course ultimately through Jesus.
Flip forward a few thousand years and Jesus is sitting in the upper room. He is sharing a very depressing meal with his disciples in which he seems be obsessed with the fact that he is dying, Peter really does get cross about it.
He takes elements of the meal and compares it with himself, ‘this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for the forgiveness of your sins’
Jesus life, death and resurrection are the ultimate symbol of that hope that began to be articulated with Abraham that day
Jesus saying ‘I will uphold my end of the deal, no matter how dirty or stupid you have been, I have got you and you can trust me’
And we dont even need to halve a few doves to symbolise it anymore!!
We have the cross as a reminder
Isn't that the best Hope you can ever have?!
In front of you is the Methodist covenant prayer. It is said every year (and we did it at Coxley this morning). As a way of begining with God again for the coming year. If you like, cutting a new deal! Placing yourself in Gods hands , trusting that he has this and knowing that in this covenant of Love as you move forward this year that it wont all be easy. You will make mistakes. Things will happen outside of your control. But know that whatever happens, God has this and he has you.
(allow silence afterwards)
Ask Sally Ann to lead worship straight after