Monday, January 16, 2012

Renewing the Covenant - 2 Kings 23:1-3

“Renewing the Covenant”                2 Kings 23: 1-3                    1/1/2012

I borrowed a book a couple of weeks ago from Joe Hodges.  Its title intrigued me. It is entitled, “Does God Have A Big Toe?  It is a book of stories about stories emerging from the Bible.  It comes from the Jewish teaching tradition called a midrash where a rabbi tells story about a Biblical story to help draw out a specific point or meaning.  This morning I want to share a midrash by the author of the book,  Rabbi Gellman.  It is a story emerging from the story of Enoch, one of the people whose story is told in Genesis 5, as a part of the transition from Adam to Noah.  Enoch is known for one thing.  His faith was so strong that he walked with God, and God loved him so much that he took him into heaven rather than having him face the stark reality of death.   The midrash is entitled, “The Announcing Tool” and I have asked Joe to read it for us:

     A long time ago, when all people lived in one place, getting news was easy. They had
     yellers then who would walk around town and after a few minutes of yelling everyone got    
     the news. But when people began living all over the place, even the yellers could not yell     
     loud enough to get the news around. Mostly people didn’t get the news. But some special
     times just had to be announced. And the arrival of the new year was one of those times.
  So God asked Enoch to go find an announcing tool.
  The next day Enoch returned with tow rocks. “Oh God, listen to my find announcing tool,” said Enoch, who nagged the two rocks together making a lock rock-banging sound.
  God said to Enoch, “What kind of announcing tool is this to tell of the arrival of the new year? Rocks don’t make music.  They only make noise. The new year is a time for music and singing, not banging and yelling.”
  Enoch ran off to find another announcing tool.
  The next day Enouch returned with a gong. “Listen to this one!” shouted Enoch as he gonged the gong, making lots of gonging sounds until God said, “STOP! What kind of announcing tool is this to announce the arrival of the new year? The gong does make a strong sound, but the going is made of iron and iron is used to make swords and spears and arrows and other weapons of war. The new year is a time of peace, not war.”
   So Enoch ran off to find another announcing tool.
   The next day Enoch returned with a harp. “God, this one is a winner!” he said as he strummed some lovely harp sounds that filled the air.  “Close,” Said God. “Very close, but not close enough.  The harp is a lovely instrument. It is not noisy. It is not made of iron. But it is too soft and find for an announcing tool.  The new year is a time of loud rejoicing.  We need an announcing tool that will carry the news from hilltop to hilltop around the world. Try again.”
   The next day Enoch returned with a golden trumpet in his hand and announced to God, “What you see here, God, is the perfect announcing tool! It makes music and not noise; it is not made of iron. And it is loud enough to carry the news of the new year from hilltop to hilltop!” Enoch then blew some fine notes on the golden trumpet. The God said, “The golden trumpet is a good announcing tool.”
   Enoch jumped up and down with joy until God continued. “Good, but not good enough.  The golden trumpet makes loud, beautiful music and is not made of iron. But it is made by somebody who pounded it and rolled it and shaped it. I want a natural announcing tool that is not made of gold. Prices are going up. Nobody could afford such an announcing tool.” Enoch was getting depressed, but he ran off one more time to hunt down another announcing tool.
   The next day Enoch was a little late coming to God.  When he did arrive, he was out of breath. “I am embarrassed, God, to show you my new announcing tool.  It is only this ram’s horn – not nearly as sweet as the harp or as beautiful as the golden trumpet.  But it is not made of iron. And nobody pounded it or shaped it (except for the ram).  I even think it is loud enough to get the news from hilltop to hilltop. But I am not sure if it is a good enough announcing tool.”
   “Why are you not sure?” asked God.
    Enoch replied, “Well, you see, Oh Holy One, Blessed be You, I have been practicing with this thing all morning and it is ever so hard to blow.  Sometime I blow and blow and I get is a peep!  or a pfft! or skeek! and then maybe another pffft!.
    God spoke to Enough with great love: “Enoch, you have done well! The ram’s hone is the perfect announcing tool.  It is natural and loud and can make beautiful sounds.  I know that it is hard to play, but that is just right. The new year is hard too.  It is a time for deciding to do good things and give up bad things.  The new year is a time for apologizing to others for hurting them in any way.  An all that is very very hard to do, even harder than blowing the ram’s horn.”
   The God sat Enoch down and taught him how to blow the ram’s horn for the big celebration of the new year that was soon to begin.  By the end of the lesson from God, Enoch could blow the ram’s horn with a peep! a pffft! or a skeek![i]

I think the reason I liked this midrash so much is I watch as we dive head long into the new year with grand resolutions to lose weight, to change jobs, to get out of debt, or some other profound personal change, only to discover within days or weeks we have fallen back into our old patterns and find ourselves frustrated, aggravated, and somewhat depressed.  This story understands that a choice to truly change at new years is hard and demands the work of God. Rabbi Gellman’s midrash reminds us, “The new year is hard too.  It is a time for deciding to do good things and give up bad things.  The new year is a time for apologizing to others for hurting them in any way.  An all that is very, very, hard to do, even harder than blowing the ram’s horn.” In our hearts we yearn to be more fit, more faithful, more the person God created us to be.  But, we despite our efforts we find ourselves stumbling and falling again and again.

Our story is not a new one. In 2 Kings 2 we hear about a dramatic moment of when the people of God took stock of who they were and what they needed to do to make real change in their lives.  The young king, Josiah, was having the temple cleaned up and renovated when the workers came across the Book of the Covenant, the book that described the nature of God’s relationship with the people and the people’s relationship with God.  This young king realized that they were far from where they were supposed to be in their walk with God and called the people together.  It was a moment that would change the course of the lives of all who were there. The traditional translation of the passage is printed in the worship guide, but hear the telling of the story from Eugene Peterson’s interpretative translation, The Message.  It reads; The king acted immediately, assembling all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. Then the king proceeded to The Temple of God, bringing everyone in his train—priests and prophets and people ranging from the famous to the unknown. Then he read out publicly everything written in the Book of the Covenant that was found in The Temple of God. The king stood by the pillar and before God solemnly committed them all to the covenant: to follow God believingly and obediently; to follow his instructions, heart and soul, on what to believe and do; to put into practice the entire covenant, all that was written in the book. The people stood in affirmation; their commitment was unanimous.

In this moment the king stood before the people and read the book to them.  For him these were more than words held in a scroll.  They were a call to a different way of life and a different standard of living.  Then, in front of everyone, he made a personal choice to renew his covenant relationship with God.  He did not demand they follow him.  The people choose to follow in renewing their covenant relationship with God because they saw how it impacted their king and wanted that same kind of relationship with God. They wanted the kind of life only possible when you walk with God.

Earlier in our service we listened and participated as Paxman shared a new year tradition from his church background.  It was a call to reflect and to pray.  In the midrash we heard a call to choose good, to reject the bad in our lives, and to reconcile broken relationships.  In our passage, we listened as the King Josiah invited to people to seize the moment and renew their right relationship with God and others.  Each of these voices call us to do more than simply make a fresh set of New Year’s resolutions this year. I want to invite you to become an announcing tool, making a bold but wonderful sound of music for the world that you have chosen to renew your covenant relationship with God rather than to simply make New Year’s resolutions.  While traditional resolutions beckon us toward something a quick and/or temporary fix, our choice to renew our covenant relationship with God reminds us who we are in God.  It calls us back to the moment we were redeemed and set free. It calls us to remember, to seek God’s face, and to start again.  Blow your ram’s horn so that from hilltop to hilltop the word will go out that it is a new year – and a new season in your walk with God.  Embrace this moment as a spiritual touchstone verse a pledge of fleeting resolutions.  Our resolutions are not very resolute.  Our covenant relationship with God is.

Now is a time of decision.  How will you respond?  Will you go through and compile our usual list of New Year’s resolutions or will we choose to seize this moment to renew a right relationship with God and with one another?  Will this be a year we choose to do right, to walk away from evil, and to reconcile the places in our lives that our broken?  In minutes, when we come to the table to remember God’s great grace gift, will it call us to God’s presence in a spirit of renewal or will we simply go through the motions one more time?  This is a time of decision – a new year awaits us – how will we respond? 

[i] Marc Gellman, “The Announcing Tool” in Does God Have a Big Toe?, (HarperCollins: New York, 1989), pp. 85-88.

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