Sun, Jan 21, 2018

A Covenant Relationship

Genesis 17:1-8 by Doug Gunkelman

Most of you know that most mainline Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant, use a 3 year lectionary so that we cycle through most of the Bible every 3 years. I’ve preached on almost all of the texts from our lectionary over the past 33 years, having been through the lectionary 11 times.

Sometimes the powers that be sneak a change into the lectionary that being old school, I usually don’t like. In preparing for this sermon, I quickly realized that somewhere along the way, verse 8 was dropped from today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis.

In most Bibles, Genesis 17:1-8 is one paragraph and rightly so. This is a very important text that I repeat over and over again every other year in confirmation class when we’re studying the Bible. God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him three things.

  1. In verse 4 – “you shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.”
  2. In verse 7 – “I will be God to you and your offspring after you.”
  3. In verse 8 – “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding, and I will be their God.”

What are the three promises God makes to Abraham that establishes a covenant relationship with him? Many descendents, He will be their God, and the one that was cut out of the lectionary for obvious reasons; the land of Canaan as a “perpetual holding”.

I’m assuming that to achieve political correctness, preachers aren’t suppose to talk about God giving the land of Canaan to the descendents of Abraham as a “perpetual holding”. Why is that?

With today’s DNA testing, it has been proven that today’s Palestinians and Lebanese are direct descendents of the Canaanites. Ancient DNA recovered from five Canaanite skeletons shows that the present day Palestinian and Lebanese populations inherited more than 90% of their genes from this ancient source.

So the Palestinians argue they were there centuries before the Hebrew people and the Hebrews argue that it is their promised land through God’s covenant with Abraham. Then things got really complicated when Christianity and Islam came along and most of the Palestinians converted to Islam while some became Christians. Our ELCA supports a Palestinian Lutheran Hospital on the Mount of Olives as well as Lutheran schools and churches that are Palestinian. It’s complicated!

Fortunately, for us, the Book of Genesis contains reliable and important information about our ancestors in the faith, Abraham and Sarah.

For us, the Bible is a kind of DNA service. It establishes a link between us and this couple, and teaches us who we are as people of faith. In particular, it proves that we are in a covenant relationship with God. Today, as followers of Christ, God adopts us into his family in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and promises us forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life. In return, we promise to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.

A covenant is a two way promise—based relationship like the covenant of marriage in which two people promise to be loving and faithful to each other, for as long as they both shall live. For Bill and Chris Rettig, that’s been a long time.

For those of us who have sat beside Bill during a meal, it is not at all surprising that he met Chris at the “Dog House” at 140th and Lorain where you could order hot dogs 40 different ways. There was a 16 year old brunette working in the back that according to Bill’s waitress would “go crazy” everytime he walked in the door.

Finally, she was able to be Bill’s waitress because Bill was a regular working across the street at the Giant Tiger. It was a done deal when Bill left her a penny for a tip. Bill said, “I should have run”.

Instead, during a later visit to the Dog House, he asked Chris out on a date who then got permission from her mother to go. In the summer of 1966, Bill and Chris went on their first date to the Beach Cliff Show to see the “King and I”.

The following winter, on Valentines Day of 1967, when Chris was a senior at John Marshall High School, Bill made his proposal which Chris affirmed. At least Bill was willing to wait till she graduated from high school before entering into the covenant of marriage.

Bill became a Lutheran, learning that he’s saved by God’s grace through his faith in Jesus Christ. The next step was a candle-light marriage service at Chris’ church, Puritas Lutheran, on January 20, 1968, 50 years ago!

Bill joined John and Judy Jacobson in the Puritas Choir while he moved his new bride into the top of a double at 133rd and Lorain, now in the Dog House forever!

Chris was working at Ohio Bell and Bill at Pic-N-Pay when they were blessed with the birth of Traci in 1970. They bought their first house at 105th and Fortune which had a living room just big enough to hold the Christmas tree.

When Bill and Chris were blessed with the birth of Tami in 1972, they were motivated to buy their present home on Park in 1976 where they could raise their daughters with Chris as a stay-at-home mom, but not for long. Chris graduated form the Parma School of Nursing in 1980 and then served as a nurse at Parma Hospital for the next 35 years. Meanwhile, Bill went to work for Gallo Displays for 21 years.

Bill and Chris’ lives were forever changed when on Bill’s birthday, May 27th, in 1987 at end of Traci’s junior year of high school; she was tragically killed by a drunk driver in an auto accident.

Traci wrote a poem shortly before the accident, mysteriously foretelling her own death. She entitled it “The Pianist”.

Here lies the body of Traci Rettig, piano player;

Like the framing of a 100 year old piano,

Falling apart, coming unattached;

Existing no more to bring joy to others or

A listening, musical pleasure;

The music has been lost; there is no sound existing;

The notes have gone sour, all out of tune,

Never to be played again;

The ivory is yellow, the black keys are missing

And shine no more;

Someday it will be refinished, to new,

And will play the tune again;

Written by the pianist. Born March 30, 1970 Died . . .

If Traci had the spiritual strength to write that before she died, she has the spiritual strength to be present with us now as we celebrate her parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Since then there has been hiking together including Chris’ near death experience when she fell 60 feet down a Smoky Mountain, saved by a small tree that stopped her fall just as we have all been saved by a wooden cross that stopped our fall.

There was a Via de Cristo weekend that Bill credits for giving him the spiritual strength to survive 6 years of communal living with 4 generations of women in their home. Chris’ mom – Ruth, Chris, daughter Tami and granddaughter Ashley. Chris’ response is that Bill was the only boy raised with 4 sisters and has been spoiled by all the women his whole life.

I am very thankful that Bill and Chris became members of Divinity in 1989 and during my 15 years here, have been so faithful in serving in so many ministries of our church. Couples who serve together, stay together.

Tonight (last night), Bill and Chris affirm(ed) the covenant relationship they entered into 50 years ago.

The good news of the Bible is that we are covenant people, with an ancestry that goes back to the everlasting covenant that God made with Abraham. Our promise-based relationship with God is stronger than any human failing. We can build our lives as Bill and Chris have built their lives, on the foundation of the old and new covenants and trust that “neither death nor life, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen