The Songs of Israel: A People of the Covenant
Psalm 89: 1-6; 28-30; 34-37
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 24, 2011
One of the words that is used in the Bible is the word covenant.
In form, a covenant is an agreement between two people and involves promises on the part of each to the other. The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible. In the Biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties. The Biblical notion of covenant is amazingly profound.
Psalm 89, the Psalm we look at today is very long. One of it’s most common themes, however, is celebrating the concept of covenant, a covenant that exists between God and people, and people to people.
The first thing I want to look at is the covenant between God and people. In terms of covenant, in the Bible, there are numerous ‘little’ covenants made between God and people. There are, however, three really large, over-arching covenants.
The first is a covenant of identity. It is made between God and Abraham and is quite simply, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It is a simple identification that there is the God of Israel and a people who are committed to God.
The second covenant is a covenant of law. It is made between God and Moses and builds on the first covenant. It embraces the identity of God and people, but now adds the Law. As a people of God, living within the parameters of the Law is the way of showing faithfulness unto God.
The third covenant is a covenant of grace that came in the person of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is the new and everlasting covenant and one we live in right now.
The Psalmist reminds us, over and over again, about the steadfastness of God. God keeps the covenant. God is our God and we are God’s people. God has given us parameters that not only demonstrate not only an obedience with God, but an ability to live in harmony with one another; and God has sent Jesus to save us because we fall short of God’s glory.
The covenant reminds us that living out covenant keeps us connected to God in special ways.
The second thing is the covenant we have with one another and I want to specifically talk about us as a church within the United Church of Christ.
As a church within the United Church of Christ, we are a church that has a special connection to the word and concept of covenant. The United Church of Christ is not a denomination built on being theologically doctrinaire ideals, but on a mutual covenant to walk together in faith not fighting over diversity and differences, but embracing them.
We are a very unusual denomination.
I was thinking the other day about the United Church of Christ, a denomination I serve as a minister and love deeply and something struck me. Before I tell you what struck me, please know you may need to stretch your theological imagination to keep up with me on this one. It is a stretch, but please hang in there with me because you hopefully will see the connection.
In 1978 a classic movie was released and it remains a classic movie. The movie was Animal House, and at its core, it was a movie that spoke of an intense rivalry between two fraternities and the mind set of the two groups. The conflict was between Omega House and Delta House.
It really, to me, in my admittedly strange view of the world, speaks of differing theological world views, one that is rigid and unbending, and one that speaks of connection to others as paramount.
The United Church of Christ is often the Delta House of denominations. I say this with a huge asterisk attached. We are not a place of drunken parties or of decadence and depravity not do we promote that in the least, though, in all honesty, the toga party idea sounds good...
But there are a couple of underlying things that were actually very interesting that were pointed out in the movie.
The first was the initiation process. Omega House had an ultra formal, rigid, and even painful and humiliating initiation that demanded the complete submission of its new members with an acknowledgment that there were people in charge, and others had little to no voice. At Delta House, they welcome their new people into their family, warts and all.
The second was, to me, something that very much describes us. One of the people in Delta House referred to his ancestors and the people in the room and said, “Our ancestors were thrown out of some of the finest nations in Europe.” Many of you have heard my semi-joke when I say, “Our members have been thrown out of some of the finest churches in town.”
We, in many ways, demonstrate there is more than a little truth to this. Many of us were raised in other traditions and many of us really could not go back into those traditions with great ease and or acceptance. Many of the traditions were grand and good in so many ways----but life has brought us to different places and we may or may not be welcomed back.
Except we are welcome here.
I was struck last week reading and seeing things about Holy Communion. I recognize that the average person does not read article on the Internet about such subjects, but I do. I found a contrast.
One denomination was concerned that reverence was being lost with how people participated in Holy Communion and who was welcome at the table. Clergy were being encouraged to vigorously defend the Table of the Lord so that people would not treat the Table of the Lord casually and the wrong people did not come.
On the other hand, the United Church of Christ has a video online that was called Flash Mob Eucharist. Flash mobs are those groups we see sing or dance or perform a scene from a play in the middle of malls, train stations, or what have you. In this, at the recent General Synod, there was a flash mob that celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion and assured EVERYONE they were welcome.
And it reminded me of the initiation in Animal House, living by rules, or by love and an embrace of one another.
To me, this is what covenant is all about, for us. It is an embrace of one another, everyone of God’s people as brothers and sisters.
I read a lot of religious blogs all written by Christians. The vast majority of them are about how to be stricter, harsher, and, frankly, more exclusive as Christians. I doubt the desire is to intentionally drive people away as much as it is to get people to conform, but the result us usually the same. We, as Christians, do have the ability to drive people away and it’s often because we want them to conform.
What struck me is that the problem is never God in covenant with God that is the problem. Sometimes it’s our ability to covenant with God that is the problem; but the biggest problem we have is our covenant with one another. So let us strive to be faithful not only to God and each other; let us strive to not only be steadfast to God, but to one another. And let us embrace one another and every single one of God’s people as our brothers and sisters.
Toga parties are optional.