Dear Friend,

Have you had a covenantal conversation with God lately? Your neighbour may need that from you.

A few years ago, someone loaned me a book called Fierce Conversations. From what I recall, the author advises creative honesty over conflict avoidance for people wanting their organizations to succeed. Someone else told me that her company operates with the term “courageous conversations.” Others speak of difficult or even crucial conversations.

I bring up the term “covenantal conversations” because on the second Sunday in Lent I will preach from Genesis 17, in which the Lord makes a covenantal promise to Abraham that his wife Sarah will give him a son. With joy and perhaps also disbelief, Abraham laughs at God’s birth announcement; he asks, in effect: “Will a geriatric couple bear a child?” The Lord blesses that response by naming the child Isaac, meaning laughter.

Abraham continues the conversation by inquiring about his beloved son, Ishmael. The Lord hears a father’s plea and promises to bless Ishmael with royal dignity, even as he works in a specifically covenantal way with Isaac. Strengthened by his covenantal conversation with God, Abraham obeys and continues in his vocation to bless all the families of the earth. (Gen. 12:3)

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that the most important practice in our lives is to love God, which means to listen to God in Scripture-saturated conversation. (Mark 12:29-30) Jesus implies that only by obeying this first commandment can we have any hope of loving our neighbour as ourselves. (Mark 12:31) We need covenantal conversations with God in order to build up rather than tear down the people in our lives. We need daily prayer to persevere in everyday and extraordinary responsibilities.

In an essay about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Marilynne Robinson notes that some people miss the source of his sacrificial love for a suffering humanity. Because Bonhoeffer critiqued escapist religion by speculating about “religionless Christianity,” some have seen him as promoting only activism while dismissing devotion. According to Robinson, “There can be no doubt that his clarity of purpose, his steadfastness, his serenity, were owed to his very devout habits of mind, and of life as well… He prayed and meditated and read and studied Scripture hours every day, looked forward joyfully to the events of the liturgical year, and, in prison, joyfully remembered them. He preached a sermon on the day he died.” (The Death of Adam, p. 112)

In an era that includes school shootings, cultural contempt, polarized politics, and a seductive secularism, I sometimes wonder what a pastor in Toronto should do. The Lord, Abraham, and Bonhoeffer call me to make peace by mediating knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:9) That entails ongoing covenantal conversations, and the Lord and the saints have a version of that covenantal conversation for you as well.