Covenant

I see the word “covenant” in today’s Second Reading and “covenant” will be my topic for today.


Covenant is a word that is rarely used in our culture today, but it was a common term and an important concept when our nation was founded. A covenant is a binding agreement between God and a group of faith-filled people.


In the very beginning, our country had a history of functioning within the context of a covenant relationship with God. When the Mayflower brought the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, they did not jump off their boat and head toward the shore. Instead, they took time to create a covenant agreement called the Mayflower Compact before they disembarked. They created rules and regulations for behavior, and they said, “We covenant ourselves to these rules and regulations.” They also said, “We will help anyone who is going through hard times, and we make this covenant in God’s name. God is the witness to our covenant.”


The pilgrims were a religious group that was being persecuted back in England because they had separated themselves from the Church of England. They had left the Church of England because they felt that the Church had strayed away from the teachings of the Bible. When they created the Mayflower Compact, they were creating a covenant agreement based on principles that they saw in the Bible. They created a covenant relationship with God and with each other because that is how things are done in the Bible. The Bible has covenants, not contracts. The practice of making covenants first shows up in the Old Testament.


The prophets told the people that the God of the covenant desires justice. The prophet Amos was from the Southern Kingdom and God called him to go to the Northern Kingdom. When Amos arrived in Bethel he went to the marketplace and watched what was happening. He saw a farmer coming in from the fields with a bushel of wheat. The merchant put the wheat on a scale and said, “That is only 8/10ths of a bushel. I will pay you for only 8/10ths of a bushel.” “Don’t take it.” Amos said. He led the farmer to another merchant with another scale. That scale said that it was a full bushel.


Then Amos led the farmer to the city gate where the judge was seated. He called the first merchant over to the gate and he told the judge what had happened. Then Amos saw the first merchant giving the judge a few coins under the table and the judged ruled in favor of the merchant and against the farmer. That caused Amos to become extremely angry.

He launched into a speech which he gave over and over again at the city gate. He said, “The Northern Kingdom is doomed to destruction. It will be destroyed because it disobeys God’s law - the law of justice - and it tramples upon the rights of the poor.” Amos was angry at the Northern Kingdom because it did not respect God and it did not respect the People of God.


The prophecy of Amos came true in 722 BC. In that year, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom was spared, but the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. That bible story reminds us that God has very definite expectations of those who have a covenant relationship with him. God wants people to be fair and just in their dealings with each other. That is how the prophet Amos understood the Hebrew Covenant.


God becomes very angry when people cheat and tell lies.


Today’s Second Reading began by referring to the Hebrew Covenant that Amos so fiercely defended. The sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that the Hebrew Covenant began at a holy place called Mount Sinai. God gave the terms of the Hebrew Covenant to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments which command people to be fair and just in their dealings with each other. No more lying, nor more cheating, no more name-calling, no more bullying, no more stealing, no more adultery, no more killing ---- but only kindness and fairness and reverence and respect for each other.


Then the sacred author points to a second mountain - namely Mount Zion. Mount Zion contains Jerusalem, and it is the birthplace of the New Covenant. In the Hebrew Covenant God spoke through Moses and in the New Covenant God speaks through Jesus. Jesus says that in Him God is reconciling the world to Himself.


In the New Covenant God is saving the whole world… not just the Hebrew people. God is saving all those who seek Him with a sincere heart. The New Covenant includes the poor, the suffering, the sinners, the handicapped, the lame and the blind as we heard in today’s gospel.


Everyone is invited into the New Covenant because in Christ God is reconciling the whole world to Himself. Second Corinthians 5:19 “In Christ God was reconciling the whole world to Himself, not counting their sins against them.”


In today’s gospel Jesus talks about sinners and beggars. He says that we should invite sinners and beggars into our circle of friendship. Jesus says that we should invite them to our banquets. Before we judge them as unworthy and before we exclude them, we should remember that we too are sinners and beggars.


Every one of us has been proud. Every one of us has been selfish. We have deliberately done things which are prideful and selfish. That means that we are sinners, and it puts us in the position of being beggars. We need to beg Jesus to forgive us.


Have you ever thought about why we hold up our hands like beggars when we come forward to receive communion? Our church has asked us to do this as a symbolic reminder that we are begging Jesus to give us the Bread of Life and the Bread of Life is Holy Communion. Holy Communion will take away the sins that we have committed during the past week.


The result of all this activity is the New Covenant: We come onto the scene as sinners, and we are humble beggars. We beg to be forgiven. Jesus forgives us and blesses us and then He sends us forth to serve those who cannot pay us back.



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