For Those Who Keep the Covenant
(Lectionary Starters)

First Sunday in Lent, Year B
March 9, 2003
Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22
Jim Killen, A minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, TX

Do you ever wish that you could get rid of all of the tensions and conflicts in your life and live in harmony with life and everything in it? Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Tensions and conflicts are part of what makes life work. We cannot escape them without withdrawing from life. But it is possible to come into a kind of relationship with that greater reality that meets us in all of our experiences of life that will put us in harmony with everything that counts and that will help us to deal effectively with everything else. How can we do that? By finding our way into a right relationship with God. Psalms 25:10 says, “The paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”

How do we get into that kind of relationship with God? We understand that a covenant is a contractual agreement. How do we get God to sign a contract with us? The answer will surprise you. God has taken the initiative. God offers us the contract and invites us to sign it. One of the big themes that runs through the whole Bible is the story of how God makes a covenant with His people. During this season of Lent, we are going to be talking a lot about living in covenant with God. If we can find our way into a right relationship with God, our lives will be made new and good.

I. The Bible tells us that God created us to live in covenant with Him.

The first mention of the word, “covenant” in the Bible appears in the story of Noah that we just read from the book of Genesis. But the earlier story of Adam and Eve makes it clear that we were created to live in a certain relationship with God. God reached out to our earliest representatives in the biblical drama and made provision for them and promises to them and taught them to live in a certain relationship with God, trusting God, working with God to maintain the earth, staying within certain limitations but living up to certain high expectations. Our first representatives in the story showed how we usually respond. We rebel against the covenant, insist on having things our own way – and mess things up.

As the story of Noah begins, humanity has wandered so far from life lived in harmony with God and God’s purpose that they had filled the world with violence. They brought destruction upon the whole world. But God chose to work through Noah and his family to save a remnant of all that lives so that the creation could start over. You know the story about how God told Noah to build a great ship in which his family and a flock of birds and animals could be saved from the flood that wiped out all of the rest of the living things in the world. God’s first act in this story was to save his creatures. His second act was to make a covenant with them in the hope that the covenant would shape their lives. God said, “As for me, I am establishing My covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you . . . that never again will all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood” (Genesis 9:9-11). God promised the ongoingness of life, and He required of us a reverence and respect for life (Genesis 9:1-7).

We will see that the covenant between God and God’s creatures passed through many stages of development. In the part of the Bible called “The New Testament” – it is sometimes called “The New Covenant” – we learn that God reached out to us through Jesus of Nazareth, again, to save us from our sins and their results and to lead us into a new kind of life in relationship with God. The death of Jesus shows us that God has absorbed the cost of our sins to give our lives back to us. Then God has called us into a new covenant with God. Just as moving through the waters of the flood initiate the family of Noah into a covenant with God, so the water of baptism is the symbol of our entering into relationship with God. But our lives are to be shaped, not by something past, but by something present, an ongoing relationship with the risen Christ who is now an aspect of that reality that is God.

II. How do we begin to enter into this covenant that God is trying to make with us?

Begin by getting in touch with God. Look out beyond all of the little things that crowd into your life daily and visualize a greater reality that is behind them all, holding them all together, and giving life to you one day at a time. Try not to visualize God floating somewhere on a cloud far away from life where you live it. Instead, think of God being there in life, interacting with you through your interactions with life. It is important to think of God in that way. If you see God as separate from life, your relationship with God may become something that doesn’t have anything to do with your daily life. If you see God present and at work in life, then your relationship with God can actually shape your relationship with life.

Now understand this. You are not trying to imagine that you are in relationship with God. You are simply trying to realize that you are in relationship with God. You really are, you know. You do live in daily interaction with some great something out there, don’t you? You are dancing with some great other in life, aren’t you. There is someone on the other end of your see-saw and what you each do makes a difference in what the other can do. That great someone is God.

But here is the part where we have to stretch out and risk believing something. The Bible tells us that the great other who is on the other end of that awfully important relationship that shapes your life is someone who loves you, someone who wants to live in a loving relationship with you, someone who wants to live in covenant with you.

There is a lot more to be learned about living in covenant with God. You will learn it as you keep on reading the Bible’s story of God’s covenant interactions with humankind and as you try to live out your daily life in the light of what the Bible tells you. You will never learn all there is to learn. The story of the covenant is one that is always still being written. But for starters, learn to step out your door each day believing that there is someone out there waiting for you in life and that someone wants to live in a special kind of a relationship, a special kind of a covenant with you.

Share This On: