Does anyone ever try to make “deals” with their parents? Like: If I do my homework, I get an hour of time of Facebook or Xbox or Minecraft? Or: If I eat two-thirds of my vegetables, I can have all the ice cream I want? Or: If I go to church, you take me out for breakfast?
When I was a kid, and first learning my negotiating skills, I used to try to make these kinds of deals with my dad. But he was pretty shrewd: If I proposed a deal in which I cleaned my room, in return for some new toy or a trip to McDonald’s he always countered with something like: If you clean your room, I’ll feed you dinner. Or: If you mow the yard, I'll pay the heat bill. It was pretty hard to negotiate a deal with my dad.
But I can say for my dad, whether I lived up to my end of the bargain or not, he, along with my mom, always kept the heat bill paid and dinner on the table. I have been lucky and blessed in my parents. I hope most of us have been, too, because not everyone has been.
I’ve also sometimes made deals with God. Has anyone else ever tried to make a deal with God? Maybe especially when times were hard, or maybe when I had made a mistake, and needed some divine assistance to get out of the mess I was in, I made a deal with God.
I have found my deals with God to be kind of like my deals with my dad: I’ll do what I’m really supposed to do anyway if God will rescue me from whatever mess that at least sometimes was a result of me not doing what I was supposed to do anyway. Fortunately, God always keeps up God’s end of the deal, whether I do or not: always loving me, always forgiving me, always helping me to start over. We are lucky and blessed in the God we have.
And, actually, God is pretty much always offering good deals. Take today’s first reading: God offers Abraham a pretty sweet deal: Leave your homeland and follow me, and live according to my ways, and I will give you a family so large that you can’t count them, even though you are already 99 years old, and so is your wife, and you don’t have any children yet.
I think the reason Abraham fell on his face was because it was such a ridiculously good deal, too good to be true. When Sarah hears about it later, she laughs out loud, too.
Our first readings this Lent are all about God’s good deals; in the Bible they are called covenants: Last week it was Noah, when God promised not to destroy the earth with a flood again, no matter how bad people were. This week, it’s Abraham and Sarah, whom God promises a multitude of nations. Next week, a ragtag bunch of slaves and outcasts from Egypt get the offer of having God as their ruler, and their own country, if they will only live in the ways of fairness and peace God gives them, those “Ten Best Ways” or Ten Commandments. Then, even when that deal gets complicated by the fact the people can never quite live up to the covenant, God promises to renew that deal again and again, over and over.
Which brings us to Jesus, whose deal doesn’t seem quite so good. Jesus offers a deal where, if we follow him as he carries his cross, we will get crosses of our very own. That sounds like a bad deal. Can I get in on that deal God offered Abraham? I think Peter was feeling the same way, which is why he got up in Jesus’ face about having to die.
Jesus is pretty straightforward about the deal he is offering: Here’s what it means to be God’s beloved ones: We get to call God our Abba—just like our dad or mom or the person in our life we can always rely on. That’s how God will be with us.
And we get to be part of God’s household, workers and servants and partners and friends in God’s plan. We get to be part of God’s adventure in creation, to bring about with God what God dreams for the world.
Unfortunately, there are powers in the world opposed to God’s dream, and they will oppose us just as they opposed Jesus. That’s where the cross comes in. As many Christians have learned, and as Jesus learned, those forces can be very powerful, and they can be very mean. The good news is, they can’t stop God’s dream from happening; the bad news is, it won’t be easy. But what adventure is easy?
We Episcopalians have boiled down our side of our deal with God in Jesus into our baptismal covenant, which our confirmation candidates are reflecting on this Lent, and hopefully the rest of us are along with them. We promise in it to keep following Jesus and coming to church, to seek forgiveness and try again when we fail, to live in justice, fairness and peace with all people, and to see Christ in everyone and to serve him in them.
That deal has its own unique shape for each of us: Just like Abraham and Sarah, Noah and his family, the people of Israel, Jesus and Peter and Mary Magdalene and all those who followed Jesus, God is offering us a deal, a real adventure with God: a life that matters, even a death that matters, a dream worth living for, and dying for, and rising again for.
So perhaps we may ask ourselves this Lent: What kind of deal do you want to make with God? Or maybe: What kind of adventure do you want to have with God?