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Synod School worship looks at agreements big and small, from pinky promises to biblical covenants

God made covenants with Abram, Moses and David, and God seeks something similar for us today

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo via Unsplash

STORM LAKE, Iowa — A time for children during worship Wednesday at Synod School saw about two dozen children make pinky promises before God and the 500 or so people assembled.

“My sister and I would enter these covenants on different things,” said the Rev. DeEtte Decker, the Synod School preacher and communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Raise your pinkies in the air and wave them,” she told the children. “Agreed?” Then Decker sent the children back to their seats alongside family members who brought them to the 69th Synod School, which began Sunday and ends Friday at Buena Vista College.

During her sermon, based on Genesis 12:1-4 and Exodus 19:4-6, Decker explored covenants, sort of the Hebrew Bible’s equivalent of the pinky promise. What strikes Decker about Abram and his covenant with God “is his unwavering faith and obedience. It’s an important lesson,” since a covenant with God “often requires us to step out in faith, leaving the familiar and the comfortable behind. Abram’s faith sets for us an example to trust God even when the path seems uncertain.”

It’s an “extraordinary promise” God makes with Abram, telling him, “I will make you into an extraordinary nation. All people on Earth will be blessed through you,” Decker said. The promised blessing extends “far beyond Abram’s immediate family, through Abram’s lineage and ultimately to the birth of Christ.”

Beyond Abram’s covenant is one God made with Moses, a conditional covenant that can be broken if a party fails to live up to its obligations.

Israel’s response “was to say, ‘Everything the Lord has spoken, we will do,’” Decker said. But when Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai with God, the people get restless, “and they waver in their trust and obedience,” she said. They ask Aaron for an idol, and Aaron gives it to them. The people build an altar and begin to worship it.

We might think today, “Are you kidding me?” Decker said. “It’s easy for us to be armchair quarterbacks. After everything God has done, this is what you do?”

But we fall into similar patterns today, according to Decker. “Aren’t we still taking control of situations and choices when God seems distant or is moving too slowly for our taste? We too break covenants. We build altars to our jobs and our families. We worship our money, our toys, power, prestige and even our privilege. The disconnect continues, keeping us in crisis.”

With David, God make a covenant to establish his throne forever, “and it wasn’t anything that David did that qualified him,” Decker said. Instead, it was David’s understanding of God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love.

“In Jesus, God again reaches out to humanity, calling out to us, ‘Where are you?’” Decker said. “God wants to be in relationship and create a covenant with us, a covenant to bless us and bring us out of crisis.”

Decker asked those gathered to consider two questions:

  • I wonder tonight what altars might you be building in your life?
  • What might our family story of covenant-making and covenant-breaking reveal to us about God?

“Let us be mindful of our role as ambassadors of the covenant,” she suggested. “By doing this, we become part of God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity.”

“God’s promises endure throughout time for all people. May we always remember God’s offering of hope, salvation and peace to all who believe. Thanks be to God.”

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