God’s Word and the Narrative of Covenant


This week – while somewhere in the vicinity of 150 children and 100 volunteers cavort around the jungle that has taken over the CLC for the duration of Vacation Bible School – my awesome wife Rebekah has been offering an adult VBS class titled, “Dysfunctional Families of the Bible.”

The first few chapters of Genesis set the stage with pride, disobedience, deceit, and murder. Pretty soon the family of God is living a long way east of Eden, and dysfunction takes the form of greed, jealousy, sibling rivalry, favoritism, sleeping with the servants, incest, and more.

In short – and we haven’t even made our way halfway through Genesis yet – it’s a mess. The term “Dysfunctional families of the Bible” is not only accurate, it’s pervasive. But the narrative is also one of hope, promise, and more hope; because the big-picture story is also a testimony to redemption, love, forgiveness, salvation, and grace after grace.

imagesNARRATIVE OF COVENANT: The Bible is the story of how God works to redeem the mess, and it is best understood not as a history text, a manual of instructions, a philosophical treatise, a collection of great literature, or even a moral compass – although it certainly contains examples of all those elements – but as The Narrative of Covenant.

A covenant is different to a promise in that it is an agreement with contractual provisions for all parties concerned; a covenant is always a work in progress. And the Bible – I believe – is best understood as a narrative account of the ongoing struggle for humanity to engage God, to understand our part of the agreement, and to live faithfully as a covenant people.

Thus far, after just two lessons (and half of Genesis), we have seen God make a covenant with Adam and Eve, with Noah, with Abraham (several times), with Isaac, with Ishmael, and with Jacob. Covenant is never “one and done.”

LAW: “The Law” evolved as a very human attempt to keep the covenant (Moses came down from the mountain with ten straightforward commandments, the stone tablets got sent out to committee, and before long the people were under the burden of 83,846 – give or take – “clarifications”). Prophets were sent to nudge the Children of Israel back on track. Judges and Kings led the people. There was civil war, exile, conquest, ethnic cleansing, defeat, and persecution; atrocities committed both to and by Israel. In short it’s the story of what happened, not necessarily what God wanted to happen.

God’s word is not always a pretty story, but it’s a true story; it’s the Narrative of Covenant. The Good News of the Gospel is the story of Covenant too, and the invitation of Jesus is to renew that covenant every time we take communion, and to remember that we are a Covenant People.

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” (Matthew 26:27-28)

My words this morning are really an exercise in thinking out loud. You see, I honestly believe that the purpose of The Bible is often lost in these debates about “What the Bible says about this,” and “What the Bible says about that…”

The Bible is the Narrative of Covenant. The Bible tells the story of how the Children of Israel responded to their calling to be a Covenant People, and then it tells the story of how God introduced a New Covenant through Jesus.

As to The Law, and its 83,846 “clarifications”? Well, Jesus put it this way:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

In love, and because of love – DEREK

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