Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, October 21, 2020
Since genetic testing became commercially available, consumers have been pulling back the veil on their ancestry. After collecting a culture, the strands of DNA are sent off to a lab. When the results come back in the mail, ethnicity is broken down into a pie chart of percentages with a world map highlighting your kinfolks’ region of origin. A child of many nations, my background surprisingly included Spain, Mexico, Portugal, North Africa, Columbia, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Italy. For participants, 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 the naked couple tempted by an apple; the sibling rivalry that led to a brother’s murder; the unhinged uncle who built a floating zoo before the forecast called for rain. But if our primary interest, even more than tracing our physical heritage and learning our family secrets, 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 matriarch 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.”
We are people who believe in the impossible, beginning with Sarah’s pregnancy.
Our work with God may make us so unrecognizable, a name change is in order.
We pick the least likely of partners to do God’s work.
Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher, of James City, NC are the longest married couple in the world. Wed on May 13, 1924, 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 couple 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. Initiated by the higher power and mutually agreed upon, it maintains the kind of vulnerability that can get your heartbroken, 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 soul genes.
Still, since the pandemic, our most faithful instinct has been disrupted: to be with one another in togetherness. While forced to isolate at a distance and defy our created intent, especially with COVID infections spiking, let us recommit ourselves to the one side of the covenant we can control. Knowing that partners never say “I do” only once at the altar, but rather every day of our lives, 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, until death binds us in full communion for all eternity… this is my solemn vow.”