The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing. For sermon video only: https://vimeo.com/512227518
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859
Order of Worship | Repent. Repair. | Lent 2
We acknowledge we are gathering on land where Miami, Osage, Shawnee, and other Indigenous peoples have lived and labored, fought, and loved. We continue to work and pray for justice and conciliation.
Call to Worship
VT 30 | Jesus Calls Us | Phil Yoder: vocals, guitar
Reparations: An ongoing conversation
Offering/Dedication Prayer https://www.columbusmennonite.org/donateget-involved/donate
VT 802 | Draw The Circle | Phil Yoder: vocals, guitar, cello
Scripture | Genesis 17:1-8
Words of Repair.
VT 651 | Lord Have Mercy | Conrad Grebel University Choir
Scripture | Mark 8:27-37
Sermon | Land and covenant Manuscript Below
VT 581 Lord Jesus, you shall be my song | Phil and Chaska Yoder, vocals
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Passing the Peace
Extinguishing the Peace Candle
Christian Education | 11:00 am
Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service
Sermon: Joel Miller
Worship Leader: Robin Walton
Music coordination: Phil Yoder, Chaska Yoder
Children’s Time: Elisa Leahy
Reparations Reflection: Bethany Davey
Peace Candle: Zwickle family
Scripture Reading: Samantha Allen
Zoom Host: Sarah Werner
Land and covenant.
When Abram was 99 years old, he was old. I remember the first time Al Bauman had a birthday when I was in Columbus and I asked him how old he was. His response: “Almost 100,” after which he went off somewhere to climb a ladder and fix something. Merely in his early 80’s, Al was joking. But for Abram, this is getting very serious. He was almost 100, the end more in sight than ever before.
You learn to let go of a lot of things by that age, I suppose. A lot of friends and family you’ve outlived. A lot of unfulfilled hopes. If you don’t learn to let go, you likely don’t reach that age. But Abram still hung on to one haunting concern, unresolved and now all but impossible to be fulfilled. At a time when children, and sons specifically, were how you lived on after death - not just in perpetuating your own DNA but in whether or not your name was remembered and honored and carried forward – Abram and his wife Sarai were childless. The entire story of the Jewish people, the foundation of the Christian narrative, is initiated by an impossible promise made to an aging couple. This is established through a covenant between Yahweh and Abram and Sarai. They will have a son. And not only that, but they will have land on which to grow. God Almighty says, “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now a migrant, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).
Land and covenant.
In January of 1865 General William Sherman met with about 20 Black leaders in Savannah, Georgia, most of them ministers. The Civil War was grinding on, emancipation for enslaved Blacks was on the horizon, and Sherman’s question to these leaders was direct: What do you need? The response was just as direct: Land. Four days later Sherman issued Field Order 15. The order confiscated a strip of land along the coastline, from Charleston, South Carolina down into Florida. Formerly owned by southern planters, the land would be designated for Black settlement, with a system in place for police protections and ensuring legal title. The numbers involved make it handy to remember. It was about 400,000 acres in total, divided into 40 acre plots, providing for about 40,000 newly freed Blacks.
This was not a purely selfless act by the Union. It served both to punish southerners who had fought against the United States, and relieve the massive burden of caring for Black refugees, especially those past military age. President Lincoln and congressional leaders soon created the Freedmen’s Bureau which would oversee this plan.
A field order and a bureau is about as close our nation came to a covenant with descendants of slaves regarding land. Land is independence and the ability to provide for oneself. Land gives place for future generations. Land is wealth. Land is power. Land is reparation for generations of being bought and sold like land.
But this promise was short-lived. That same year President Andrew Johnson overturned the order and returned the land to the planters. To those newly freed Blacks, just barely finding their footing in this new world, it must have felt like a broken covenant.
Fast forward 100 years and a different kind of covenant had shaped cities across the North. As Blacks migrated up from the South, restrictive covenants were written into deeds of properties to maintain majority white neighborhoods. A 2018 Columbus Alive article details some of this history:
In the 1923 deed of one Clintonville home, among language that forbids the operation of a slaughterhouse and the sale of “intoxicating liquors,” the owner is also forbidden to “sell or lease said premises to a person of African descent.” Nearly 30 years later, a 1950 Upper Arlington deed is even more restrictive, forbidding the owner to sell, lease or rent “to a person or persons of any race other than Caucasian.”
It’s like a twisted version of the covenant given to Abram and Sarai. This land is our land, for us and our offspring, for a perpetual holding.
Land and covenant.
Our gospel text for this second week of Lent jumps from Mark’s opening of water and wilderness, right into the middle of the gospel. Jesus is with his pod of loyal companions, the disciples, in Caesarea Philippi. It was territory under the rule of Philip, son of Herod the Great. Philip had named this city state after himself, and the one to whom he was loyal, Caesar, the emperor. Caesarea Philippi.
The conversation begins with Jesus doing a check-in with the disciples regarding what the people are saying about him. “Who do people say I am?” shifting quickly to a much more personal question: “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter responds. To this theologically correct answer, Jesus gives a rebuke, essentially telling Peter to shut his mouth.
Then, more surprise.
Jesus tells those around him that if they want to be his followers, they would have to deny themselves and take up their cross. This must have been a startling thing to hear. Crucifixion was a common - and public – spectacle in the Roman world. Various ancient historians record incidents of mass crucifixions before and after the time of Jesus around Rome and Jerusalem. It was so common and widespread that the vertical part of the crosses, the posts, were almost certainly permanent fixtures planted in the ground at highly visible intersections. The one carrying their cross on their way to that site would have carried the horizontal beam.
The purpose of the practice wasn’t just about the one on the cross, but for those who witnessed it. It was explicitly designed as a public deterrent against anyone who might be entertaining thoughts of following the actions of the one up there. Its message was clear. “Don’t let this happen to you.” Rome had amazing accomplishments in architecture and culture and connecting disparate parts of the world through its roads, but it maintained control of the land by this reign of terror. Those vertical posts in the ground were signs of a covenant between Rome and the people under its rule. Stay in line, and all shall be well. Get out of line, and, well, you see what happens to people who get out of line.
In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus invites his followers to break this covenant with Rome. To be disloyal to its terms and conditions. To be on the land in such a way that’s one’s loyalty is directed to a power even higher than Caesar.
One wonders if Jesus were to speak to present day followers to whom it applies, he would urge them, us, to break our covenant with white supremacy. To become a traitor to its underlying myths. To expose its violence and live under a higher authority.
Land and covenant
As if this isn’t getting personal enough, Jesus seemingly ignores the title of Messiah bestowed by Peter and instead refers to himself as the Human One, the Son of Man. The Aramaic Jesus would have spoken retains the Hebrew connection of man, with earth. Human, with humus. In Genesis 2 it is the ground, the Adamah in Hebrew, that is the raw material out of which the Creator forms the human, the Adam. Adam, comes from, is inseparable from, the Adamah. Lest we humans ever think too highly of ourselves, including overthrowing empires and such, this reminds us that we are nothing more than a Hebrew pun. And we’re not the only dust creatures. Animals of the field and birds of the air are also formed out of the same ground. This isn’t new information, and this is perhaps the 10th or 100th time you’ve heard that little Hebrew language lesson. But we still forget. Our Ash Wednesday liturgy is an annual reminder to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” The mythologist Joseph Campbell has said, “If we think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, rather than having been thrown in here from somewhere else, we see that we are the earth; we are the consciousness of the earth. These are the eyes of the earth. And this is the voice of the earth.”
Humans have an ancient covenant with the land. To reject this covenant would be to reject ourselves. To reject the Human One.
Land and covenant
The human experience seems to be one of holy covenants and unholy covenants. Marriages, contracts, treaties, pledges of allegiance, commitments to and from our God. Our inseparable relationship with land. Our ties to one another and the Divine that can both bind us together, and destroy community. Covenants can create crosses, or Beloved Community.
This Lent, let’s ponder the covenants that have shaped our own history. Perhaps especially in regards to our relationship with land. More than just an intellectual exercise, let’s approach this as an adventure in self-discovery. An invitation to repent of unholy covenants, even ones we didn’t know we signed up for. To repair the harm they’ve caused, perhaps especially to our own souls.
Old Abram and Sarai knew they were about to return to the dust, and so were free to be utterly dependent on the promises of the Holy One. Miraculously, there will be a future. Life and generations will go on, even if it’s in a way they can’t envision or imagine.
Jesus welcomes his followers into a new covenant, just as miraculous. To paraphrase: those who wish to preserve their life at all costs will find there’s nothing worth preserving. And those who lose that small thing they thought was their life, will find abundant life.
That sounds like covenantal language. A promise whose fulfillment we can barely imagine.