Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Does anyone use the psalms frequently in their prayer lives? It might be a more common practice among those who pray the hours, using these texts over and over again throughout life to shape your prayer. Maybe some of you have memorized a psalm or two? Perhaps Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
The Psalms were written as songs for worship, words that would be sung on everyone’s lips and form their picture of who God is and what God has done, is doing, and will do for them. If you were a person who prayed these songs regularly, you’d find that they become a part of your heart’s song. When something big happened in your life, you’d find a ready response from God in this prayer language.
As we continue to explore covenant this Lent, one line from our psalm expresses what we’re discovering: “God’s mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1b ELW). Or, put another way, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (NRSV).
The whole point of using these six weeks of Lent to explore covenant is to discover how God starts and keeps covenant. God makes promises to specific groups of people. These promises form a relationship between promise giver and promise receiver, and they give an identity to the people so that they become God’s people. We’re spending these weeks trying to figure out if God’s steadfast love really does last forever, and how that steadfastness is expressed to us.
In the covenant to Noah and all creation, God promises to remember creation, and never again destroy it. In the covenant to Abraham, God promises to make a nation out of Abraham’s descendants, giving them a land and a new relationship as God’s people. In the Sinai Covenant, given to Moses and the Israelites freed from slavery in Egypt, God affirms the promise to be their God, giving them God’s vision of a freed, life-affirming society through the law.
Today we read from Second Samuel the Davidic Covenant. God promises David, in verse 16, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” God says that King David’s descendants will continue to be the kings and their kingdom will always be.
I’ve been using the word promise a lot as I describe God’s work in these covenants. I’m not sure if promise quite captures it. Remember, God’s speech has declarative power- what God says, is. Genesis 1 is God creating through speech. So when God speaks these covenants, it’s not a weak promise of “I’ll do my best to do this or that for you… if I can… if you’re really good.” What God promises, is.
As we’ve looked through the covenants, we’ve discovered that the person receiving God’s promises doesn’t always get to see them fully in place. Abraham had to trust God’s promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and would be a great nation. He waited a long time before he experienced the beginning of God’s work on the promise through the birth of Isaac.
The Davidic Covenant is so specific- one family- one kingship- forever- that its failure becomes glaringly obvious. There’s a big problem with God’s following through on this promise. The problem for the people of God in the generations after King David is that the kingdom is conquered. There is no unending line of kings ruling God’s people in peace, in their land. Rather, the people of God are conquered, some are taken into exile, later to return. Even then, they are still a conquered nation, without an independent king of their own. They remain under the authority of one or another foreign nation even through the time of Jesus and the early Christian church.
Imagine how it would be, if you were one of God’s people, living in exile, or living back in Jerusalem but with Roman forces in your streets. What would it mean to you to remember this covenant with David and also sing the psalm, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Would that prayer catch in your throat as you wondered what it means for God to be steadfast and faithful in God’s promises?
It’s one thing to wake up to a beautiful sunrise and have your heart sing, “God’s love endures forever.”
It’s a similar feeling when you hear from a good friend and your spirit is raised, “God’s love endures forever.”
Even at the close of a funeral of a beloved elder, after acknowledging all the ways God provided for and through her, setting her in the eternal embrace of God, “God’s love endures forever.”
But when everything is falling apart- from the news on TV to your job to the kids to the house and the bills and your heath, and maybe even the church— “God’s love endures forever?”
If this was a refrain to your life, some days it might be comforting, others joyous, and at others might be the cause for anger- where is God’s power and love for me right now, in the midst of my life?
What does it mean for God’s promises to be steadfast when it sure looks like God’s long forgotten that promise?
We have a unique vantage point in the Bible. We get to hear the stories of people who ask the hard questions of faith. Over the course of scripture, God remembers, God is faithful.
God’s fulfills the Davidic Covenant in Jesus. Jesus is the king in David’s line, but his kingdom is different than expected. Jesus is not the victorious king, returning from war or convening councils in great rooms. Jesus is the king who suffers with and dies for his people.
God’s faithfulness looks like Jesus: God enfleshed, God in the midst of our real junk, mocked as king, crowned with thorns, clothed in a royally colored rag, reigning from above the crowd, his throne a cross.
The encouraging witness of the exiles, of the conquered, is the sustained hope that keeps “God’s steadfast love endures forever” on their lips, even when God’s answer to this promise is so far away.
Maybe you’re in a place in which it’s easy to rejoice in God’s faithfulness. But if you’re not- if you’re having a difficult time seeing God’s faithfulness for you- you’re not alone. Other faithful people have been there and are there today. Jesus knows what it is to be left questioning God’s faithfulness, to find yourself deep in shame, grief, and abandonment. Jesus experienced all despair so that he could be with you in compassionate, steadfast love.
We gather together in this place because we need to know that God’s love and faithfulness is for us. God’s steadfast love is for us, individually and corporately. It is for you- for those who gather alongside you at this church- and as John reminds us- for the whole world. Today you are not left to wonder if God has made real the promise of relationship, forgiveness, and life for you.
Be assured. Come and touch and taste and smell the elements that carry God’s promise and Jesus’ presence to you. In water, God washes the baptized and claims you in relationship for life forever.
In bread and wine, Jesus gives himself to you. God’s mercy and love are yours forever.
Jesus’ crowning on the cross is the antithesis of all we might image as God’s blessed king. Yet it is through the cross that Jesus opens the kingdom to all nations and breaks the power of all other rulers to oppress us. Jesus is raised from the dead so that we might glimpse the way in which God will fulfill all promises. God’s faithfulness gives us reason to hope for the future.
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