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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Covenant Community

Exodus 19:2-8a

The people spoke to Moses as one – Everything the Lord has spoken we will do.

We haven’t heard from the Hebrew bible in a long time. In the unchartered frontier of regular online worship – trying to follow rubrics and with the reality of attention individuals can give an online service – our Morning Prayer is greatly abridged. So we haven’t heard the stories from books like Exodus, not mention any of the epistles, or letters – we’ve focused, for good reason, on the appointed gospel texts.

If you’re curious about the gospel – its Jesus sending the disciples out – the end of Matthew chapter 9 – sending his disciples forth beca

use the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few – therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest – go, he says. But don’t go just anywhere he says – I want you to go specifically to the lost sheep of the house of Israel to say – the kingdom of heaven has come near.

In other words – go to the people who well over a thousand years ago spoke with one voice. With one voice they promised to live into the covenant God was giving them. A covenant to embody the kingdom of heaven is near. As Moses said – it is as near to you, as the words on written on your hearts.

At this point in Exodus we’re at the end and the beginning of a journey. Just like all truth is a paradox – endings are always simultaneously beginnings.

The Israelites have finally arrived – after their exodus from Egypt – their 40 year journey in the wilderness they are here – Mt. Sinai. And this arrival marks the fulfillment of the promise God made to Moses at the burning bush, ““I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

And now, here they are.

Note – God does not say, congratulations. God does not celebrate the achievement or their survival. God does not actually give Moses – or the people – one iota of credit for a decades long journey

Instead God reminds them – this is God’s doing (marvelous in their eyes, the psalmist adds) God tells Moses to tell the people – You have seen what I did for you. You have seen how I liberated you from slavery – bore you on eagle’s wings (can you hear the strains of that hymn?) – and brought you to myself.

Now that you have arrived - I offer you this – God continues – if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant – you shall be a treasured possession. And with one voice – the people say – Yes. Yes. Yes. Because that truly is what we want. We want to know that we are worthy – we are treasured, we are not lost, we are found – we are loved, seen and known. We all want to be treasured in God’s sight.

The community responds with one voice and one heart – Yes. Yes – we accept your covenant. Yes – we too promise to work at staying in relationship with you and with one another. Yes – we promise to be a people who emulate God’s ways of relating. Ways that liberate – reconcile – heal and restore – that which is broken.

The context for the commandments that follow is covenantal – not contractual. As St. Paul would later remind his communities as they struggled to live thy kingdom come – do not argue over the letter of the law – embody the spirit. Commandments separated from covenant are burdensome. Our hearts aren’t moved to obey commandments. Our hearts are moved to live into promises – because we know, even when that’s hard to do – we will gain something by fulfilling what we vowed.

God makes a covenant with a community – because God promises a kingdom. The stories of the Hebrew bible and the stories of the gospel and the stories within the epistles and the revelations – share many themes, but one is consistent. The prophets, including Jesus reminding the people to remember their side of the covenant – as a community.

As a community how are we called to listen to the voice of God and embody the promises we have made? The truths we confess to believe?

One person of this community shared – right now, in our time and place – we are called to listen.

And another person of this community shared – Arianne, I feel like I’ve been listening all my life what am I supposed to do?

And another person shared – listening and being dialogue is doing something – it is taking action.

Maybe you, like me, resonate with the truths of all three statements.

As a white person, who pastors a predominantly white congregation, in a predominantly white, affluent, suburb and who enjoys more benefits and privileges than I am consciously aware of – I believe our community is indeed called to listen – and to listen within the context of the covenant we have made with God. The covenant that is always seeking to embody – liberation – restoration – reconciliation – and healing.

How is this community called to listen? My prayer is that we answer that question together, in uncomfortable and courageous conversations, in reflecting on what we are hearing, reading, watching – and learning – about the systemic racism that is embedded in our society.

How is this community called to listen? My prayer and invitation is that we deepen our commitment to SLYC. This week Bishop Sutton sent a letter to the congregation of St. Luke’s church – a remnant of 10-12 people – that their ministry has concluded. In working with St. Luke’s congregation, along with SLYC, trying to reimagine ministry in their building – this is not a surprise. And certainly – the pandemic hastened this inevitability.

The truth is – there is mission and ministry in that building, born in the undercroft – the literal womb – of that massive and decaying church. A mission and a ministry to support a community of teens and their families who are living in a community that deserves more.

Real community – covenant community – is when you cannot see the difference between you and your neighbor. Real community – covenant community – is when everyone in that community knows they are treasured. Not just because it’s a feeling – but because systemically - that is how the community is structured.

Metaphorically, this morning I see our community as the Israelites. I hear God saying – remember what I have done for you – how I have borne you up and brought you to myself. It seems to me as though we have arrived – we have arrived at another awakening – a new beginning – an opportunity to be born again.

I hear God asking all of us what us as a community – to listen to God’s voice, to let our hearts be led to liberate – reconcile – heal and restore our communities – to honor our part of the promise.

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