So picture the scene if you will.
It is breakfast time on the first day of the Southwark Diocese Mothers Union Retreat. We are sitting at tables of 8 and the meal marks the beginning of a time of silence which is supposed to last the entire day. And there am I – the retreat leader – the only male – in the presence of 24 lovely ladies.
But as the meal progresses – an early problem is emerging. The lid on the jar of marmalade at my table will not budge. Round the table it goes. One lady after another trying to shift it to no avail until, of course the jar is passed to Father who is sure to be able to move it.
And Father fails miserably as well – falling short of expectations before he Has even given his first address of the day. And then they start to titter – those MU ladies – led I am ashamed to say by our own Hilary Richardson. Round the jar goes until the oldest member of our table – hitherto not given a chance to show her prowess – fetches a strong knife to it – she bangs the jar once – she bangs the jar twice – she twists the knife viciously – and it opens with a gentle POP!
And in triumph she hands the jar round for us to enjoy the contents so dearly won – and the now open jar is passed from one hand to the next – and nobody spoons any of it out – for nobody on my table actually wanted marmalade in the first place. They were happy with the Lemon Curd.
And the silence of the day is lost in a gale of ladies laughter.
And the marmalade sits in the centre of the table – untouched by human hands.
And because I am that sort of person I think to myself – that marmalade – like the promises of God – hard fought, dearly won, bright with possibilities – but left on the table – untouched.
Because it is the promises of God that are defined in our two readings this morning.
In Daniel – no matter how terrifying the future looks – God offers a kingdom that will never be overthrown.
In Luke – no matter how difficult times are for you today and tomorrow – God reaches into your life with a blessing that will turn everything on its head.
All through the pages of the bible – God offers a promise to his people. To use the language of the day – he is out to broker a deal.
But this deal is not like any of those we hear about in the news.
God does not deal with his people as if he were Donald Trump trying to sort something out with North Korea.
This is not like getting a deal through Parliament and then the EU about trading relationships or border crossings.
This is not like a used car salesman standing in the street and offering you £250 to take away your beloved old car – which he tells you is little more than a lump of rust.
This is not like a game of Monopoly where you have your opponent on the ropes and they land on your Mayfair or Park Lane – with hotels.
For where there are deals – the two parties involved want to be sure there is something in it for them. Each party is primarily concerned for their own well being rather than the other.
But when God puts a deal on the table – he does three things. He swears an oath to stick by it – and he gives and he blesses.
And only God is bound by it – the other party can walk away whenever they choose.
And the word God uses is – Covenant.
The first Covenant was made when in the story of Noah’s Flood, God set his rainbow in the sky as a sign he would never let the people perish.
Then the promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child in their old age who was going to be the start of a kingdom.
In the years of wilderness and late of exile – I swear I will be with you – I will give and I will bless.
Through the Prophets and the kings – You will be my people and I will be your God.
And through the Old Testament the covenant takes a fresh and exciting shape. It will not be something that is bestowed from on high – at a distance and with a fatherly benevolence. There will be an intimacy about all this – as if someone will be sent – someone will come – to literally flesh out the deal.
And so in hushed whispers of Isaiah – a virgin shall conceive and bare a Son –
The specific call to a young woman in Nazareth – blessed art thou amongst women
And then, and then, the whole sky is filled with angels above the shepherds fields in Bethlehem “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!
He swears an oath to stick by it. he gives and he blesses – and you shall call his name Emmanuel – God is with us.
And in the life of Jesus the covenant took shape and the sign of it is given to the church in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. He swears to stick by it. He gives and he blesses. With his very body. With his very blood.
And all we have to do is turn up, stretch out our hands and believe.
And it seems to me that the complexity and unhappiness of the day is because everything is deals and nothing is covenant.
Everything is for what I can get out of it because I don’t really trust the person on the other side of the table. Not completely.
And the more we become embroiled in deals – the less the people are united and God with his covenantal promise of unconditional love.
The love of God is passed around the table like a jar of marmalade – so sacrificially and dearly opened for us – as if death itself were overcome on a cross – and nobody wants it.
I’m sure no politician realises that they are talking Eucharistic language when they talk about the deal on the table or taken off the table.
What table are they talking about.
It seems to me that in our world the altar of God where his covenant promise was first laid out – has been replaced by the negotiating table where competing interests are hammered out until I get the best deal for myself.
And we quite possibly take this same mentality into our choices about who to vote for, and we need to re examine it.
We have in our outstretched hands the covenantal promise of God. Largely untouched. Frequently passed over. Increasingly ignored, like a jar of rich sweet fruit filled goodness that would bring tang and taste back to our lives.
He swears. He gives. He blesses. Always has done and always will do.
And it’s placed in our hands for us to take spoonfuls and to offer to others without reserve.
This is what characterises church. This is what a disciple starts to look like.
When all around is mistrusted deals – to trust in the covenant promise of God.
And when we take the bread and the wine with our outstretched hands and whisper our Amen – this is the deal… taken off the table and placed into our hands and there it becomes our story and out song.
We swear an oath to stick by it and we join God in giving and blessing.
DANIEL 7: 1-3 & 16-18
LUKE 6: 23-32
So picture the scene if you will.