God has the first word and the last. As we seek to know more about our covenant God and understand how this God loves and calls us into relationship, it is important to remember that God speaks first.
From the time when God spoke the world into being God has been reaching out to humans to invite us into wholeness, joy, community and justice. For just as long we humans have been misinterpreting the message, allowing fear, guilt, greed or shame to limit our ability to hear and respond. Think about the people asking Moses to speak to God and report back rather than dealing directly with God at Sinai. Think about the long line of kings and religious leaders who rejected God’s message of justice and community. Remember Jesus saying: you tithe mint and dill and cumin but …
It seems that we are always and forever focused on compliance rather than on our freedom as whole persons to express God’s love. And, always and forever, God reaches out, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
One of the descriptions of God’s expectations of how covenant people live is in the beatitudes. These sayings describe how people act in transformed and transforming community. They act as their whole selves. They align with the poor. They show mercy. They invest in the hard work of making peace. These are not gauzy, air brushed depictions of an idealized community—they reflect on hard times of grief and hunger. The work expected of the covenant community is rigorous, countercultural work. It requires that we change our hearts and our lives and that we work to make the world more loving and just.
For instance, God’s directions to the people are quite explicit about the care required for the “widows, the orphans and the strangers within your gates.” Caring for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant and the refugee is not optional for God’s people. This is not just about the hospitality of the desert that was the background for these lessons, but it is about how we live as part of the covenant of grace. This requires hard, practical work in our time and place when economic and political interests would seek to pit us against these brothers and sisters.
Covenant values also call us to address economic inequality, which results from our system, devalues labor and makes it harder and harder for people to benefit from their years of schooling and hard work. The current economic model is sometimes more like “bricks without straw” than the “leave some for the gleaners” economy of the biblical narrative. The covenant community must support the poor and call for retraining and development of new job opportunities at a living wage as industries are changed by technology, trade and changing cultures.
The covenant community is a place of love, of being called to be our best selves and of following God’s love into places we never expected to go. As we reach out to others, and as we speak to business and government leaders about just policies and practices that build up human dignity and protect creation, let us remember that we are expressing God’s call and that God always has the first word, and the last. Love.
Harriett Jane Olson
United Methodist Women