Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 2/21/2018
Since genetic testing became commercially available, consumers have begun chasing down their ancestry all over the globe. After spitting into a cup, scrapping a culture of cheek tissue or collecting the gargle after a mouthwash, the strands of DNA are sent off to a lab. When the results return in the mail, the buyer’s ethnicity is broken down into a pie chart of percentages, a world map highlights your kinfolks’ region of origin, and the timeless question, “Who do I come from?” gets answered in scientific detail.
For the people of God, flipping through the book of Genesis is like reading our family tree. There was that young woman tempted by an apple; that sibling rivalry that led to a brother’s murder; that crazy uncle who built a floating zoo before the floods came. But if our primary interest, even more than tracing our physical heritage, is decoding our sacred DNA, the practices of faith passed down through generation after generation, then the taproot leads all the way back to today’s story.
Here in chapter 17, what do we learn about our spiritual inheritance from Father Abraham and Grandmother Sarah?
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 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.”
Trust in the unknown.
Have faith in the ridiculous.
Believe that God chooses us to continue human history.
Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher, of James City, NC, were married on May 13, 1924. In their time together, they rationed food during the Great Depression, watched 15 Presidential administrations come and go, and stayed together long enough to share life with their great-great-grandchild. In 2010, 86 years later, they won the Guinness World Record for the longest marriage on record. To celebrate their love and achievement, they agreed to answer a few questions on Valentine’s Day via their Twitter account. One person asked, “What was the best piece of marriage advice you ever received?” “…communicate with each other.” Another, “At the end of a bad relationship day, what is the most important thing to remember?” It’s “…not a contest, never keep a score.” And finally, “What’s the one thing you have in common that transcends everything else?” “Marriage is a commitment…”
While Guinness recorded the longest commitment between two people, Genesis records the longest covenant between two people, their descendants, and God. A covenant is a bond unlike any other. It’s mutually agreed upon, maintains the kind of vulnerability that can get your heart broken, and commits to nothing less than being together forever.
When God gets down on one knee before Abraham and Sarah, asking for their hand everlasting, their response becomes our spiritual inheritance. By saying yes with their being, their behaviors, and their bodies, they begin a lineage that’s passed down from one generation, to the next, to the next, to the next… to you and to me. Because we all have those 23 chromosomes of community that came from our ancestors of faith, we are, from the cellular level up, covenantal people. It’s in our bloodlines to be in relationship. It’s literally in our genes.
While God never breaks a promise, Lent is the chance to confess our tendencies to be wayward lovers, to offer penitence for the shiny idols we crush on, to spend 40 days recommitting ourselves to this side of the promise. Knowing that covenantal relationship doesn’t require saying “I do” only once in the church, but rather every day of our lives out in the world, let us repeat, I take you to be my God, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish… this is my solemn vow.