(This year in the season of Lent, with our children we are focusing upon the covenants we hear of in the Old Testament between God and the people. And in Sunday and Wednesday worship we are using Faith 5 Lenten resources which break down the lessons into three themes- the first two weeks focusing upon Jesus coming to challenge. This week, the Old Testament reading from Genesis lifted up the covenant God communicated to Abram, now Abraham- the promise of generations to come through him even as he was 99 years old. An idea that makes young and old laugh even today. But we talked about how earlier God has told Abraham this would be so and took him out to look up at the night sky at the stars- and especially here in the country where there is less light pollution, the sky on a clear night is chock full of stars. We can truly get that they are impossible to count. Just like it’s hard for us to get just how much God loves us and wants to bring forth blessing. The kids took sticky metallic stars and handed them out amongst themselves and the whole congregation. And we encouraged people put them on clothing not the bulletin and to see how long that star would stay on that day even after worship. Later in worship, what a delight it was to see people of all ages coming up with stars on their shirts and sweaters- on the pin a lady was wearing, or the suspenders of a gentleman. As they came forward for communion, most tried to catch my eye to see if I saw their star. And what a joy to see the delight and life in the people as each week I call the kids forward and some run to get to the front of the church (gasp!) for our time together. It’s amazing what God makes possible!)
So today, all of our lessons are about challenging what we think is possible. Surely the covenant God was making with Abraham seemed impossible. After all, if I ask the man who today we acknowledged for celebrating a 90th birthday what he would think if tonight he was told he’s fathering a child, we can see his laugh and head shake “no!” God told Abraham this but then time passed before the conversation we see today and it had be even more improbable. How astounding to have God already have told you that your descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the night sky. The verses we skip today would tell us not only that Abraham fell face down at this, but he laughed. He and Sarah laughed! Now God comes to make this covenant- a promise to be fulfilled. And many of us know that a baby at any age brings a whole new life- both joyous and sometimes frightening. But here in this covenant with Abraham we see a whole new identity, and a new name ( father of nations) and something sacred- that life together with God is much more connected- God is not distant, but one with the people. It challenges what seems possible. And even though it seemed to be impossible, there was life beyond imagining.
As we look at the apostle Paul, and his writings, we see one who was a persecutor of Christians, who handed over, and imprisoned and oversaw the death of others. Until that dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus where his whole life changed. But at first Paul thought he knew what his mission was- to speak to his people, to the Jewish people, after all he had been one of them. But they rejected him. And he seemed stuck, but instead he learned that his true ministry was to proclaim the gospel to a whole other group of people- the Gentiles. People he thought beyond God’s plan for salvation. But with a new name, and a new identity his message began the work of the church still today- making people one. It challenges what seems possible. And even though it seemed like an impossible thing, there was ministry beyond limitations.
Today we hear Jesus has been astounding flocks of people with teaching, and healings and feeding thousands of people from what seems like nothing. And the disciples are amazed and in response to his question of “who do you say I am?” Peter has blurted out ahead of the pack- you are the Messiah! And it seems like this will usher in the age of power and glory and political might. And yet it here that Jesus responds in a way that shocked them- I will be killed and I will die and yet rise. No! Death cannot be possible! It cannot be the way this goes! It challenges what seems possible. And though it seemed impossible, there was life and salvation beyond belief.And yet, there it is in all the lessons really- that in order for God’s possibility to be brought forth, there is a death. A death to what we are sure we know, when God’s plan seems backwards. If we use the lens of power and possibility we will fail to grasp it- we will fail to get there.
Because God is challenging what is “possible” and it is radically different- life altering. And rooted in love. A radically different love that looks at people no one is looking at, and goes places no one is thinking about and dares the impossible- Life for all.
One life for all
That is gospel for us and yet there is sacrifice. Here's why:
Recently I saw a picture that on one side shows three distinct circles for work, play and rest and then there is a line drawn from top to bottom on the one side. On the other side is a picture of a church. And it says “2 Lives.” It depicts that way sometimes we all can view things- there is my work, and my play and my rest time that takes up about 6 days and 22 hours. And then there is my other life- the hour or two I spend being “churchy.”
Then there is a second picture where the circles of work and play and rest are interconnected like a Venn diagram (you now know the extent of my math knowledge)- but there in the middle of the connection is that cross. And the caption says “one life.” Not two lives. One. God in the midst of it, creating it and active in it. God in it all, not just the official churchy part. And us in God’s world living out God’s vision.
Here’s where the stars come in. They represent what is possible in God’s eyes. Beyond our imagining for ourselves and our world. Perhaps it seems like we are sacrificing to live a “one life” existence as opposed to just compartmentalizing God. And yet there is such blessing amidst yes, challenge, in one life. Imagine the possibilities for life, ministry and mission. Imaging the scope of God’s love.
Perhaps our Lenten challenge is challenging what we think is possible.
And then taking steps closer to living One Life with the God who is inviting us into what is possible- that everything we are and do really are one life in Christ. When you look at that star, may you be reminded of God’s calling.