Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Reason for the Season-Part 1

Note: This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. This was a sermon that I was honored to give at Litton Springs United Methodist Church in Litton Springs, Texas during the Lenten Season.

The First United Methodist Church in Brewton, Alabama

When I was a little girl, I attended bible school at the First United Methodist Church in Brewton, Alabama. This is where I learned my first scripture: 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16. 

As I recited this new scripture, the adults smiled these big, toothy smiles as they encouraged me and told me how proud of me that they were that I had memorized this scripture. But the truth was, that I understood very little about what I had learned. I categorized things in my mind as either good or bad. I did not know what a “begotten son” was, but I knew that it must be good because that is what God gave us. I didn’t know what “perish” meant, but that did not sound very good. “Everlasting life” was also a huge mystery to me, but it sounded pretty good. 

Now that I am much older, I understand much more about God and Jesus and these scriptures. But I do have a confession to make: sometimes, when I read scripture, I don’t understand some of them anymore than I understood John 3:16 as a small child. So, when I do receive revelation about one of the scriptures, I get really excited and want to share my new knowledge with others. This is what I want to do today.

I will be focusing on Old Testament scripture today from Genesis, Chapter 15:

6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. 7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. 8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? 9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. 10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. 11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. 12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. 17. And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. 18. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto they seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.
Genesis 15: 6-18

Now I know that whenever some people hear the words “Old Testament,” they automatically shut down and quit listening or reading. It is as if they have visited a hypnotist who has told them that whey they hear the code words “ Old Testament”, they are to fall asleep immediately.

One lady in my bible study group even shared with the group that in her opinion, the Old Testament is no longer relevant in this day and age. After all, we believe in Jesus and Jesus is a New Testament kind of guy! Right?

Well, for me, while I appreciate her sharing her feelings, I believe that our New Testament guy came for a very specific reason. And to understand part of this reason requires knowledge of this story in the Old Testament. 

The story of the life and faith walk of Abraham is a beautiful one that begins in Chapter 12 of Genesis and ends with the death of Abraham in Chapter 25, verse 8. It is a beautiful love story between God and Abraham that I encourage you to read regularly. 

But to fully understand today’s scripture involves knowledge of covenants in the Old Testament times.  A covenant was usually sealed in blood and became known as the blood covenant.

The covenant at that time was similar to our contracts of the present day, with some major differences. One of these difference is that back then, a covenant was made between two unequal parties; when I say unequal, I mean that one may be rich, and one poor; or one could be royalty and one of peasant-type status. Whatever the situation, one of the parties to the covenant would be considered “greater than” the other and the other party was the “lesser than party.” In our present day system of contracts in the United States, a contract can occur between any two or among more than two parties who have the legal authority and capacity to enter into contract.

Back then, it was always the “greater party” of the two who initiated the covenant. In our present day, anyone can make an offer to another party. And the terms of the covenant were set by the “greater party” as well. There were no negotiations back then. The “greater party” made the initial offer and set the terms. The only power that the “lesser party” had was to either accept or reject the offer and terms. So, in a covenant between God and Abraham, the offer would have to be made by God, as the “greater party”, who would also set the terms of the covenant between him and Abraham.

In our present day, we say that a contract is made, or signed or agreed upon. But back then, a covenant was said to be “cut“ between the two parties.

We say that a contract in our present day creates a “business relationship between two or more parties.” But when a covenant was “cut” in Abraham’s day, it was said to create a “personal relationship” between the parties. There were no comments back then like, “Sorry. It’s only business.” 

In our present day, we establish legal remedies for breach of contract, in the event that one of the parties does not fulfill his or her contractual obligations. Back then, there was only one remedy for breach of the blood covenant: death.  The blood covenant was a serious thing. 

So let’s look at an example of a covenant back in the day of Abram. ( By the way, some of the people in some of the tribes in Israel still abide by this system, but not many.)  For our example, we will look at a marriage ceremony between a young man who is from a prominent family, and a  young lady, who is from a more common family. We are doing this because of the requirement that a covenant be cut between two unequal parties.

In our example, imagine that an animal of size has been sacrificed. After the sacrifice or killing, the animal is cut into two halves. One half is positioned across from the other half in such a way that the blood from the animal is drained into the middle. This blood forms a pool of blood. The groom and his family would stand by one of the halves of the animal. The bride and her family would stand by the opposite half of the animal. 

The groom, being the party that is “greater than” would go first. For a marriage ceremony, the head of the groom’s household, which would usually be his father, would remove his sandals, and step into the accumulated pool of blood. He would then make promises to the bride and her family, on behalf of his son. I don’t know what the promises were back then. Maybe something like this: “My son promises to wed your daughter, to be a good husband and provider, to love and cherish her, and to not take more than 1,000 concubines, and he definitely will not hog the remote control.” (Ok, so some of that was silly, I admit it.)

The reason that the groom’s father stands in the pooled blood when he makes this promise is that the blood symbolizes the penalty for breach of contract: death. If his son does not keep the promises of the father, the life of the father can be taken; not the life of the groom, for he is not the person making the promise. That is a stiff penalty.

In this example, the father of the groom steps out of the pool of blood and now it is the turn of the bride’s family to step forward.  The head of her household would step up. This would usually be her father. He would remove his sandals, step into the pooled blood, and make promises to the groom and his family on behalf of his daughter.

Again, I don’t know specifically what the promises were.  Maybe something like this: “My daughter promises to wed your son, to be his lawfully wedded wife, to love him, and be loyal and true to him and only him, to bear his children, cook the meals, keep the house, and not hog the bathroom.” (Again, a little silliness, I know.) As the bride’s father makes these promises he is standing in the blood to symbolize the penalty for breaking the covenant: death. The family of the groom can take his life if his daughter does not keep her promises.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that if I were married and my husband had to make promises on behalf of my son or daughter, and the penalty for him or her not keeping her promises would cause me to be a widow, I would be the most meddlesome mother-in-law that you have ever seen, just to save my own husband. 

(To be continued tomorrow.... To read Part 2, go here.)

Thanksgiving Challenge and Joy Dare:

Today, I am thankful for:

114. Old people.
115. Rest
116. My vegetable garden
117. The United States of America
118. Sabbath.

copyright 2012 by Kathy Robbins

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I believe the whole Bible is current and relevant to believers. Looking forward to the next post.