Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is the Minister of First Congregational Church of South Windsor, CT.
Scripture: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (NRSV)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’
Reflection: Remembering Covenant
Covenantal relationship is the basis for our ministry together in the United Church of Christ. Article III of the UCC Constitution reads: “Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the Church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole Church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission…”
I love covenant. I love covenantal relationship. Words from Genesis like, “between me and you” and “with you,” are assuring and sweet with future. Unlike a contract, I love that someone promises to do something not because they have to, or are being paid in a pre-meditated benefit, but in a way that is gift and grace, promise and oath; because they can and will, freely. Covenants are agreements made with boundaries of love and spirituality, unlike other kinds of agreements, such as contracts.
Scripture such as Genesis 17 certainly brings the word ‘covenant’ into focus, ‘Covenant’ is used four times in the first seven verses. Beyond verse 16, ‘covenant’ appears nine more times. Typically, repetition in the Hebrew Bible is a signal to pay close attention to the meaning behind the repeated word or phrase. Ok, Ok, I’m paying attention!
Of course, in this case, the someone initiating covenantal relationship is God, doing nothing short of head-exploding amazing-ness, promising that Abraham will be the father of many nations, kings and generations. Names are changed to mark the new epoch. This “everlasting covenant” includes even more amazing-ness: God shall be the God of Abraham and all of his progeny going forward, forever and ever. Amen!
Following the announcement of God’s circumcision covenant (not included in this lectionary reading) which Abraham ultimately executes, God proclaims that Sarah will bring forth a child at age ninety! God is enacting God’s promise in one fell swoop! God delivers!
Abraham and God covenant to accomplish God’s work on earth based on God’s leadership and Abraham’s trust in his Creator (Trumpets blaring!). They join in covenantal relationship, a two-way street. Though, rightly so, God’s street is on much higher ground. Sweet, sweet, covenant.
Lately, I humbly wonder if covenantal relationship remains prominent in the everyday life of the church, and, if not, why not? This life-giving concept seems a bit lost in these 21st-century days of local church life, with what feels like more emphasis on “What can my church do for me and why isn’t it doing it?” rather than, “What can I do for my church, or, better yet for each other and how is God calling us to be church in the world together?”
Sometimes, it seems like the seminal tenet of the UCC-covenantal relationship with God and being “faithful to God’s mission,” has become buried by the flotsam and jetsam of pre-existing struggle for congregational survival in a secular world. This appears amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is supposed to be a two-way street of spiritual covenantal relationship can feel like a super-highway of non-spiritual gridlock.
Let us re-remember covenant and become re-educated about what it truly means. Let us continue to be brave, like Abraham and Sarah, falling flat on our face, astounded and amazed at God’s promises. Let us renew true covenantal relationship on every level, rather than follow that one-way street which can tear down and destroy. May we remember and re-enact our covenantal relationships with God and each other; as individuals and, as the Body of Christ.
“Between you and me,” as God says in Genesis 17; it’s the only way to go.
Covenanting God, please continue to invite us to those places in between, that we may discover what true relationship means. May we be faithful to Your mission. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 496,000 dead due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the families of the victims of the 62 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the people of Texas where extreme winter weather has left many without heat and power and resulted in several deaths
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the season of Lent
- For the quiet moments that allow us to re-center and connect with that which inspires us
This Week in History:
February 26, 2012 (9 years ago) Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, is killed by George Zimmerman while walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman, a white man volunteering in a neighborhood watch, claimed to have shot Martin out of self-defense. Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman had called authorities when he spotted Martin but ignored the dispatcher's advice not to follow the teen. Martin was dead when police arrived, but did not make any arrest, sparking protests and rallies across the nation. Zimmerman was eventually arrested and charged in April, but a jury found him not guilty in June 2013, despite Zimmerman never taking the stand in his trial and several inconsistencies in his story.
Celebrating Black History: The famous orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born on February 14, 1817 and died on February 20, 1895. He was born into slavery in Maryland and was separated from his mother in infancy. He escaped from slavery in 1838 and made his way to New York City, to the home of David Ruggles, a Black abolitionist who had grown up in CT. He moved to New Bedford from 1838-41 and then to Lynn MA, 1841-48. There he published his first autobiography (eventually there would be three volumes). There he was also thrown off a train for refusing to sit in the segregated car. From 1845-47 he engaged in a speaking tour in Ireland and England (as well as 1853). (See Colin McCann's novel “Transatlantic Voyage” for a perspective on this tour.) While there he was able to raise funds to buy his freedom. In October 1847 He attended the National Convention for Colored People and Their Friends, along with James Pennington and Amos Beman from CT. In 1848 he was the only African American delegate to the women's rights convention in Seneca Falls NY, as he was also a strong advocate for women's suffrage. He supported black soldiers in the Union army and the Emancipation Proclamation, although he was disappointed by Lincoln's ambivalence on black suffrage and equal rights. Douglass was nominated for Vice President, without his permission, in the 1872 campaign of the Equal Rights Party. He also received one vote at the Republican National Convention in 1888, both firsts for an African American. He opposed black only settlements in Kansas and also the back-to-Africa movement. He moved to Washington DC in 1877, where he died in 1895. (Contributed by Rev. John Van Epps, Archivist for the SNEUCC).
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is the Designated Pastor for First Congregational Church of South Windsor.