Covenant

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

 

Exodus 34:1-9, 27-28

Preached by Anna C. Haugen

Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading begins just after the Golden Calf incident.  The people of Israel, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, had promised God to worship only him and follow God’s commandments.  God promised to be their God, and they promised to be God’s people.  This was a solemn promise, called a covenant—it was as binding and important as a marriage vow, or a treaty between nations.  But the people of Israel turned right around and made for themselves an idol, a statue made of gold, to worship, and in the resulting party ended up breaking just about every single one of the commandments they had just promised to obey.  God was understandably angry.  It seemed like there was no way back—the tablets on which the covenant and the commandments were written had been broken, the people had rejected their God and God had responded in kind.

But that is not the end of the story.  In fact, that is where today’s story begins.  God commanded Moses to make two new tablets, to replace the ones that had been broken.  Even though the people rejected God, God did not reject the people.  Even though the people had broken their promises to God, God did not break his promises to them.

And when God renewed his covenant—his commitment to be with the people of Israel—this is how he signed his name: the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty.  Those words resonate through all of Scripture, and they are the most common description of God.  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

We are like the people of Israel.  Like them, we promise to be God’s people, to follow God’s word and to live as God calls us.  Yet we go astray.  We make idols out of our possessions and our leaders and our entertainers.  We choose to focus our lives on other things, and forget our relationship with God and our promises to him. We love ourselves but not our neighbor.  We are a stiff-necked people, unwilling to follow God’s commands, preferring our own way.  We are sinners, however much we like to pretend otherwise.

And yet God still loves us.  No matter how often we break our promises to God, God will never break his promises to us.  When we stray, God goes forth like a shepherd to find us.  When we confess our brokenness and return to the LORD our God, he is always waiting with open arms to embrace us.

That does not mean that our sins, our brokenness, our hurtful ways, don’t matter.  They do matter, and they do have consequences.  How often do our selfish actions come back to haunt us, or worse, to haunt other people?  How often does our stiff-necked insistence on following our own path instead of God’s path separate us from one another and from God?  But God’s faithfulness to us endures no matter how many times we turn away from him.  God is the only one in the world who can hate the sin and still truly, fully love the sinner.  And no matter how many times we turn away from God, God has promised to be faithful to us, and God keeps his promises.

God made a covenant—a deep, mutual promise of relationship—with the people of Israel at Sinai.  God made another covenant with us, in the blood of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, who died for us on the cross.  In Christ’s death, our sinful self dies as well, and Jesus bears the consequences of our sin.  In Christ’s resurrection, we are born to new life in him.  And all God asks is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our strength, and all our mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We won’t always succeed.  Sometimes, we backslide into bad habits, or choose to go astray.  But God has promised to love us and save us no matter what.  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Our God loves us so much that he sent his only son to die for our sake, to save us from our sins.

Amen.

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