Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Mark 8:31-38
Rev. Estelle Margarones
While walking through Shaw's at the Pearl Plaza the other day, several labels caught my eye. “New and improved” seemed to jump off of boxes and jars and bottles. Many of the labels had bold typeface, often punctuated by exclamation points. These little words were enclosed a circle with jagged edges. So many things were “new and improved”, according to the labels!
What I find interesting about this is that if it's new, how can it be improved? Doesn't the fact that it's “improved” lead you to believe the product has had a previous incarnation?
What's new? Is it the product? The package? The placement? Is it a different size or shape? Does it have a different color, texture, or taste?
Ove the years, I bet we've all tried our share of “new and improved” things.
If you liked the BBQ sauce before, you'll love it now with it's 'richer, bolder taste'. And those paper towels in your kitchen are now 'even stronger'. The tissues are 'softer' so you won't get a red nose to go along with the cold. Your kids will love that there is 'more fruit flavor' in the juice drink you serve.
When it's “new and improved”, something is different about the product. It may be that it's more visually appealing. Perhaps it's tastier. Maybe it's more eco-friendly. It could be a better value. It could simply more useful.
In general, when you read a label for an “improved” product, the manufacturer assumes that you are familiar with the product.
The company assumes that they have a relationship with you, upon which they are making improvement. They believe that by branding their product in such a manner, that you will purchase it and become a repeat consumer. Thus, the assumed ongoing relationship is exponentially expanded.
I want to talk about labels for a minute. Labels differentiate one product from another. They entice you with pictures of the contents as in these 'serving suggestions'. They make you feel like a kid with the characters they use as you see on this this box of M&Ms. Labels give you slogans like “the number one choice of choosy moms”. They may tout the benefits of the product. Who knew that you could get as much calcium as an 8 oz glass of milk in one packet of cocoa mix! Labels may describe the product. This product isn't hand soap. It's actually a “silkening beauty bar”.
You and I wear many lables. We are children, parents, grandparents, working professionals, retirees, volunteers, chief cook and bottlewashers. We are Christians. But, by far, the biggest label each of us wears on a daily basis is our name.
Our name is what differentiates us from others. It's how our mothers called us in for dinner. It's how our teachers called us for attendance. It's how we sign our legal documents.
Relationship is implicit when we consider names. We have no need to call ourselves by our own name. Names are used in relation to others. Even the fact that we have a birth name denotes relationship because as infants, we couldn't speak or choose our own name.
It's very significant that in Scripture we heard this morning, God chose to give Abram and Sarai (pronounced Suh-rye) new names.
In fact, God even has a new name in this passage. For the first time in the Bible, we are introduced to God Almighty (El Shaddai, God of the Mountains). Abram becomes Abraham which means “father of a multitude”. Formerly barren Sarai becomes “Sarah”, a woman who will give birth to nations.
The name change is part of the process in which God affirmed his relationship and established a covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
Today we still change our names when we have events of of ceremonial—and covenental—importance.
In the marriage ceremony, many couples publicly declare their covenental agreement to love, honor, and respect each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in plenty, for as long as they both shall live.
Many women take their husband's last name when they get married.
Some women, and some men, chose to hypenate both names. I know of one man whose new wife was the last person in her family. Had she changed her last name to that of her husband, her family name would have disappeared. In order to keep the family name alive, her husband changed his last name to hers.
Christian baptism is another event of ceremonial and covenental imporance. Oftentimes, a new name is given to the baptized. In this ritual, a person becomes part of the universal church. Baptism involves shared promises, including God’s faithfulness, and the promises of your parents, godparents, or even the church community.
Last week, we talked about following in Jesus footsteps during this Lenten season. Ours is a long walk. We don't go from Ash Wednesday to Easter overnight. Change comes over time. Perhaps that's one reason why Abraham and Sarah are ages 99 and 90, respectively, in the Scripture.
Maybe we catch up with Abraham and Sarah in a time when they're moving at a more leisurely pace. In this time in their lives, they're not running around trying to manage two jobs and little league, and the PTA, and the book club. They're at a reflective period in their lives.
Over the course of their lifetime, they've made mistakes along the way. Yet, still, God Almighty engages them in a covenant. Perhaps this is to show us that you don't have to be “Superman” or “Superwoman” to be showered with God's attention.
Perhaps this show us that change can happen anytime, it's never too late. For what does God Almighty say to them, but something to the effect of, 'I am establishing a covenent with you. You (formerly barren) Sarai are now Sarah, who will bring forth nations.' God may as well have said, your past is over. You have a new future with me. With me, you are 'new & improved!'
You see, new hope is born of this covenant. New hope comes from a relationship with the Divine. We can certainly do things with God that we cannot do alone.
We can be made new in God. We can be improved through our relationship with God. This will mean different things to different people.
For a homeless person, this might mean having a place to live.
For an addict, being made new may mean sobriety.
For the heartbroken, it could mean new love.
For the lonely, it can mean friendship.
For the grieving, it's possible that it means peace.
For the unemployed, it's likely that it means a new job, or new skills, or time to devote elsewhere.
For the hard-hearted skeptics, 'new and improved' might mean a willingness to be open and trusting.
We heard in the Scripture this morning that it's not about worldly things. It's about Godly things. When you see worldly things in the supermarket, may you remember that my words were about God and our relationship with God.
My friends, it's not only supermarket items that can have a “new and improved” label. God made a covenant with us. He will be our God IF we will be his people. Every time we remember and rededicate ourselves to our covenental relationship with God, we, too have the promise of becoming “new and improved”. Blessed be and Amen.