Grow established in the Lord (by little things)

The readings are here (NRSV).
The most annoying things in the multiverse are the small things. The most comforting things in the multiverse are the small things. A grain of sand in one’s eye, for instance. Or that grain of sand (together with its many, many relatives) on an icy pavement. Or the sound of the chalk screeching on the blackboard. Or the happy spattering of oil when potato chips are cooking. The big things in the world are made of small things.

Abraham encounters not a small thing in our reading. Abraham encounters, let’s say, one of the Big Things. A life-changing event indeed: he talks to God in the nighttime. He is offered a covenant. He experiences God’s presence in a new way.

Abraham’s conversation arises from a most human condition — he feels alone and uncontinued. ‘It’s fine to talk of all those riches, God,’ he says. ‘But who will continue after me?’ (15. 3-4) Maybe at that time Abraham does not see a bright future ahead of him, and would answer ‘Dead,’ if someone asked him the popular job interview question ‘where do you see yourself in 10 years?’.

And God surprises Abraham. He shows him infinity in the galaxies and stars, and the dark. And says, ‘I will make you this many’ (15.5). Miraculously.

And Abraham trusted God to make good on his word. And that trust, that faith was accepted as righteousness (15.6). Abraham was made right with God. Did he encounter danger and temptations after that? Yes. Did he get to places of fear and tribulation? Yes, indeed. But in that night when he saw the fire pass between the animal sacrifices, he was offered something that was worth more than all the fear and death of the world. He was offered a covenant, a union with God the like of which will never be made.  (Moses is a different story).

Except for another covenant, the new covenant, of a new and different order. An agreement of hitherto unprecedented trust between God and humans, this time sealed not with dead animals, but with the sacrificial death of God’s one son.

Jesus is close to Jerusalem. He can see its walls, the gates, the people coming in and out fo the city, the city of Peace, as the name translates.
The people enter the city of Peace, and they leave it, not so peaceful.

In a different place, later, upon His triumphal entry into the city, Jesus says also — ‘if only you knew what you need to have peace’. By those words he means himself. If only you knew what would be your healing, you’d run (or hasten) to obtain that one thing. But, Jerusalem, you do not. You run, and get busy, and kill your prophets, and behave like a stupid baby avian.
Here Jesus cries for his people, their silly, busy hearts, their small minds. And in his tears, there is more quiet wisdom than in the loud slogans and great teachings. ‘Like a hen gathers chicks,’ he says (and pity the NT culture did not know the noble turkeys who carry their chicks regally on their backs), ‘I have wanted to gather you under my wings. But you did not want it’ (13.34). There. The goodwill of God made visible in a simple simile.

This is the new covenant then — to gather the chicks under the wings of God. And Jesus is ready to die doing it. He trusts his father to do his part of the covenant of rescuing the little lost baby avians, also encouraging those who follow him to allow being rescued.

The contract with God, the trust in God to make it true, as it can be seen from Psalm 27, becomes a source of strength and confidence. In the desert culture, the metaphors and images here are military. The Lord is, first of all, a shield. Protection against all sorts of fear. Defence against the enemy. The Lord is a fortress, a place to hide. He also is a strong wall one can trust to defend oneself against the arrows of those who attack. And the Lord is the source of confidence. By trusting him, through faith, the believer can go out into the world, and shine forth. Entering God in faith enables the ones who love him, to become visible for the right reasons.

The believer, the lover of God, imitates Christ. There are books about it, like The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, or The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But no book about the imitation of Christ is better than the living library made of His followers, the current practitioners of the faith.
Christian is defined by Christ in themselves, not by the church, or denomination, by Christ alone. The Christian watches Christ work in others, and waits on the Lord, ready for action.
And the Lord comes — in the Holy Spirit, in Word, in community and fellowship of the believers. He becomes part of the believer in the Eucharist in faith. God’s grace allows that faith to grow and become manifest to others and a fortress and shield both to the believer and those around them.

Just like Abraham, we enter the covenant, maybe initially with dead animals and smoke and torches, dimly, cut in half. But by meeting Him in that darkness, fear and pain, we obtain another covenant — that of life, light and gladness. The covenant that enables us to go outward, and shine as the proverbial city on a hilltop.
And our heart gets oriented the right way: heavenward. And heavenward points us in the right direction — service to others, a walk with God that repairs a broken world.

Having been gathered under His protective wings, we become established in the Lord:
the eyes that see, the hearts that listen, the ears that hear, the compassion that acts, the love that witnesses to the source of all faith and life and caring. In the small things toward the infinite, we become the torches that light a covenant of love. Our witness is by small things, by kindness and attention, and care, and a mug of tea at the right moment. By being vulnerable to the wounded world, so by our prayer it be healed.

So… do a small thing that makes the world a kinder place every day this week.

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