Week 10: Covenant

There is an important difference in the way the Bible talks about the Law and how it describes the covenant.

As you read this week, remember earlier covenants we have seen throughout our Genesis readings.

  • First the Noahic Covenant after the great flood—a covenant with all creation; the sign of the covenant is a rainbow.
  • Then the Abrahamic Covenant—a covenant with one man and his descendants; the sign of that covenant is circumcision.
  • Now in the Exodus readings, we experience the Mosaic Covenant—a covenant with the whole people of Israel; the sign of this covenant is Sabbath.

Covenant making and Law giving are closely related in the Exodus story.

As you read this week, you will see Moses return from the mountaintop with the Ten Commandments, but then he encounters the people breaking the Law by building a golden calf. The back and forth conversation between Yahweh and Moses shows their remarkable intimacy, but it also demonstrates the fragility of this new people of God. This obstinate, double-minded, too-often-faithless people are brought into relationship with the God who is jealous for their fidelity, single minded in commitment, and faithful to covenant love, no matter the heart and acts of God’s people . . .

The rules and regulations, the do’s and don’ts of the Law were set in place to help form Israel into the people God had created and called them to be. The goal of law is not to hold us back or to keep us as small-minded rule followers. Rather the purpose of law is to lead us forward into maturity and freedom, bringing God’s people into larger, deeper relationship with the Creator of love who yearns for the responsive love of us human creatures.

But the Law is not the covenant; there is an important difference in the way the Bible talks about the Law and how it describes the covenant. There is a crucial difference in meaning and function . . .

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 136-137). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 10

Exodus 25-34

Psalm 81

Psalm 106

Psalm 114

1 Corinthians 10-16

Matthew 8-13

Week 9: Law

In the remarkable story of exodus and deliverance in the second book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the people emerge from the confining womb of slavery through the birth waters of the Red Sea. They emerge into a wide, new world where there is bread (manna), water, and even fresh meat. But again and again, like all us self-centered humans, they test the patience of Moses; they also test the faithfulness of the God who calls, saves, and provides.

As the story unfolds, God calls Moses to the mountaintop where he is immersed in fire and cloud and sapphired glory for forty days and forty nights. When he returns to the camp in the valley, Moses comes with the Ten Commandments, a summary of the larger Law that teaches Israel how to live in relationship with God and with one another.

The two tablets represent the two aspects of this living in relationship. The first four commandments (traditionally pictured on the first tablet) address Israel’s proper worshipful attention to the one who rescued them from Egypt. The last six of the Ten Words summarize what it looks like to live together in honorable community.

Then numerous laws, commandments, and precepts offer great detail about nearly every aspect of their life together in community. This includes very clear warning about the treatment of foreigners, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt . . .” (Ex 23:9) . . .

Of course there is other law in the Torah as well, not just the moral code. Much of the Mosaic Law is ceremonial law that details the particulars of worship, rules for the priesthood, and rules for the sacrificial system. (We will see more of this in Leviticus.)

Fundamentally, the Law from Sinai teaches the covenant people of Israel how to be in relationship with Yahweh through ceremonial worship and also with one another in fairness and justice. Some of the laws are grounded in a specific culture, time, and place; law contingent on the particular circumstances of a particular people in a particular age.

But as people and events changed throughout history, portions of the Law are now understood to have been temporary. For example, Jewish communities in 2021 do not stone rebellious children or maintain slaves, and Jews since the devastation of the Second Temple have not practiced the commandments of the ancient sacrificial system.

However, faithful Jews throughout the centuries have continued to be faithful to the Law’s eternal decrees of love and justice. All religions evolve. All viewpoints change. Healthy faith grows and always is “seeking understanding” . . .

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 131-132). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 9

Exodus 16-25

Psalm 19

Psalm 37

Psalm 91

Psalm 101

1 Corinthians 1-9

Matthew 1-7

Week 8: Exodus

The Exodus . . . lies at the very heart of Jewish identity.

The Exodus . . . lies at the very heart of Jewish identity. Throughout the centuries, as the Jews have endured persecution, pogrom, and holocaust, the remembrance of God’s deliverance has sustained them.

This story of Exodus also shaped the telling of the Christian story from the very beginning. Matthew’s gospel sees Jesus as the new Moses. Mark’s gospel characterizes the work of Jesus as deliverance.

The Exodus story creates hope for any number of communities that have experienced oppression; for example, the Liberation Theology of our own time is a direct descendant of this Exodus tradition and continues to spark a hopeful fire within oppressed peoples across the globe . . .

Whether the liberation from Egypt is a story set in time or one of those deeply true stories that transcends time, the power of the story continues to give life and hope to oppressed people in every age. Oppression of any kind (the story suggests) is never God’s will. Rather God’s way is liberation, freedom, wholeness, life—and God is ever at work in the world bringing life.

The call to “remember rightly” includes the call to remember the wrongs done by and to the human family and to stand in opposition (as Moses did) to any abusive power, to stand against all the pharaohs of the earth.

The call to “remember rightly” includes the memory of the Passover lamb, a meal with a strong tradition of community and covenant that weaves throughout the biblical texts. Abraham killed the fatted calf to welcome his angelic guests. The father killed the fatted calf to welcome home his prodigal son. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, signifying them as part of his kinship community.

The Passover lamb represented the covenant God initiated with an unlikely people.

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 120-121). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.


Readings for Living in The Story Week 8

Exodus 1-15

Psalm 24

Psalm 90

Psalm 105

Ephesians

Mark 11-16

Week 7: Joseph

You have heard the old saw “forgive and forget,” but I will argue that not only is it impossible, forgetting also is unwise. God may be able to forgive and forget, but that’s not usually how it works for us humans.

Experiences that have been seared into our souls leave indelible marks that change us in deep ways, and because we are human, those events stay with us. Some things we just cannot forget.

Besides, I think there is something biblical and wise about remembering—remembering who we are, what we have been through, and what we’ve learned along the way.

I believe a key part of faithful and wise living is our remembering, remembering even past hurts. For one thing, remembering honors the pain we have borne. We shouldn’t dismiss and downplay our pain because betrayal hurts deeply and the remembering of it acknowledges how damaging and deadly sin can be.

In remembering we do not stuff our feelings or dismiss the hurt, rather we honor the significance of the wrong that has been done. We grieve the damage done to relationship: we grieve the loss of trust. We don’t say it’s okay, that it doesn’t matter, because it does matter. It matters to us. It matters to the health and to the witness of the entire community. It matters to God.

For another thing, in our remembering we hold each other accountable to right behavior and Christ-like living. We don’t make excuses for people who have hurt or harmed someone else or let them off the hook.

Destructive behaviors need to be exposed and confronted. Healing happens in the light while toxic festering is what happens in the darkness of denial . . .

Right remembering not only recollects the wrongs done to me, it also remembers how easy it is for me to inflict hurt on others. Right remembering makes us wise and keeps us humble . . .

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 106-107). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.


Living in The Story readings Week 7

Genesis 37-50

Psalm 55

Psalm 75

Psalm 107

Galatians

Mark 8-10

Week 6: Jacob

I dislocated my shoulder during the week I was preparing to preach the Genesis story about Jacob’s encounter with God by the river Jabbok. That entire week, I was moving slowly with a fair amount of pain; all that week I was living with my own limp, so now I have much more sympathy for Jacob than I had ever had before.

As I studied Genesis 32, I kept thinking about the ways we all wrestle with God—at least the ways I know I wrestle with God.

  • I struggled mightily with my call to ministry. It took me years to be able even to hear a call; then more years to know how to say “yes” to that call; then even more years to lean in wholeheartedly to God’s call to ministry.
  • I struggle to understand why cancer, dementia, and hopelessness continue to be epidemic; why some babies are born much too early and some people die much too soon; why violence and arrogance and divisiveness seem to be valued in our society while compassion, cooperation, and humility are scorned.
  • Sometimes I struggle to forgive; I struggle with insecurity; I struggle with discouragement.

It seems like I am always living my life with a limp and I imagine you have your own list. I’ve come to believe that if we are human then there will always be ways we wrestle with life; ways we wrestle with God.


Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 93-94). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 6

Genesis 27-36

Psalm 46

Psalm 47

Psalm 117

Romans 14-16

Mark 1-7

Week 5: Isaac

We’ve considered the faithfulness of father Abraham on his journey of faith and we’ve been impressed by his commitment to follow God; to trust and obey. But this? This story of the binding of Isaac stretches me beyond my comfort zone.

Who is this God who would ask such a thing? Who is this father who would do such a thing? Who is this beloved son who would give himself willingly—and why? . . .

The Living in The Story readings for this week juxtapose the Binding of Isaac with the Passion of Christ because this way of reading provides an important and intentional theological perspective. Consider Jesus as the beloved son, but for Jesus there was no ram in the bush; he truly died on that cross. He died as a human knowing that when people die, they stay dead.

Even so, Jesus died holding onto a tenacious, stubborn, absurd resurrection faith, a faith so grounded in the faithfulness of God he believed God’s promise could never be annulled.

Ever since, followers of Jesus still grapple with the mystery: What does this mean?

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle, Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (p. 85). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition

Readings for Living in The Story Week 5

Genesis 21-26

Psalm 22

Psalm 34

Psalm 116

Romans 9-13

John 18-21

Week 4: Abraham

Journey is and has always been a primary paradigm for the way of the people of God. Journey is an important metaphor that stands in opposition to seeing ourselves as a settled people. Because settled faith can be comfortable, safe, and predictable, we too easily can become set in our ways; we become stuck.

That’s why an intentional and disciplined faith journey is crucial. Even when we journey in fits and starts as Abraham did, even when we don’t know where we’re going or exactly what we’re doing, even when we make mistakes or refuse what God is unfolding before us—even so we, like Abraham, can “hope against hope” that all this is going somewhere, somewhere good and right.

Like Abraham, who saw the fulfillment of God’s promise not with human eyes but with the eyes of hope and confidence, we too entrust ourselves to the one who is our Eternal Center, the one who generates all hope.

That faith reminds us why we need each other, why we need spiritual community: to encourage each other and to embody hope for one another throughout life’s journey.

Whenever we see ourselves journeying with Abraham, on the move with Paul, following Christ as the Way, then we can live with confidence that in this journey of understanding, of thought, of theology, of practice, of life, then we are on the way with God.

Even though we may feel sometimes like we’re going around in circles, maybe what we really are doing is progressing through the spiraling path of a cosmic labyrinth God is unfolding before us.


Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 75-76). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 4

Genesis 12-20

Psalm 23

Psalm 25

Romans 4-8

John 13-17

Week 3: Sin

We humans are naturals at self-righteousness and we have excellent skills at self-deception. Martin Luther (and Augustine before him) talked about sin as “the self curving in on itself,” Homo incurvatus in se.

This “curving” I think is part of what it means to be human, each of us individually and all of us together. The nations we build, the societies we form, even the churches that are supposed to offer a radical alternative to this universal human tendency—even the church all too often is a “self curving in on itself.”

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, his description of human sinfulness was stark and startling. Something like the Genesis description of the downward spiral of humanity in the days of Noah. Something like the heart breaking cries of the psalmist. Something like the systemic brokenness of the world of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. Something like the ugly realities of ovens of Auschwitz, or killing fields of Cambodia, or slave ships in the Middle Passage. Something like the gut wrenching stories we keep hearing every time we open the newspaper or turn on our TV.

The human condition is shot through with a sense of separation from God, with a reality of estrangement from one another, and with a deep awareness of fragmentation within our own souls. Our bending in upon ourselves is an embedded pattern that perpetuates itself from generation to generation.

Awareness of these realities can spiral us down into despair.

Or this awareness can be the soil within which grace grows roots and redemption bears fruit.

Surely Paul wrote Romans in conversation with the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 3: “Where are you?” the Creator calls, walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. “Where are you? I miss you.”

This sad story says the humans were hiding, their eyes opened to the estrangement that had now come into existence. Their eyes opened to their new independence that felt a lot like isolation. The humans were now untethered and set adrift from the Source of their life. That’s what broken relationship looks like and feels like. These broken relationships are everywhere we turn, and they break our hearts. Or at least, I hope this breaks our heart; I daresay it breaks God’s heart . . .

This God of Justice and Grace is the one upon whom we are called to bend ourselves so that our lives will align with that which is true and good and right and just; so that we may be the body of Christ working God’s work in the world.

Like the priest who offered radical grace to Jean Valjean, we are called to be God’s partners, offering new possibilities in life’s impossible circumstances; called to do God’s work in our broken communities, created to shine God’s light into this stubborn darkness, challenged to inject grace into the vicious cycles of whatever Jean Valjeans may show up on our doorsteps.

And we don’t stop. We don’t stop entrusting ourselves and our families and our communities to the Creator who is still creating and recreating goodness out of our every chaos . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 61-63). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 3

Genesis 3-11

Psalm 5

Psalm 10

Psalm 53

Romans 1–3

John 9-12

Week 2: Creation

In the first creation story of chapter 1, we see Israel’s testimony that God is the Transcendent One, outside of creation, speaking and willing everything into existence, while in the second creation story in chapter 2, God is the Immanent One, intimately bound to creation.

God is both/and, unsearchable and yet, at the same time, known. Unreachable and also near like a friend in a garden.

In this conception of a purposely-crafted creation, the biblical authors claim that we humans are God’s creatures, God’s desire, God’s beloved—and ultimately God’s responsibility.

These stories remember the one who is Source, Sustainer, and Goal; they remind who we are and why we exist. They remind us whose we are—creatures of the creation intimately bound to the Creator. The stories remind us who we are and they remind us whose we are.

The stories teach us that God is God and we are not.

This re-writing, re-telling, re-imagining became Israel’s Scripture, and these creation stories continue to be foundational stories for Jews and Christians alike because they affirm that our very existence is gift and grace . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 51-52). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.


Readings for Living in The Story Week 2

(Follow the links to read in BibleGateway)

Genesis 1 and 2

Psalm 29

Psalm 33

Psalm 104

Psalm 148

Proverbs 8

John 1-8

Colossians

Week 1: We Begin with Faith

Our first week of reading the Bible with Living in The Story begins by considering the nature of Scripture. Together we will ponder the question, “what kind of book is the Bible?” as we read this week.

A popular aphorism says: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” I absolutely believe this. We all interpret. We all interpret everything. There is no such thing as un-interpreted awareness. We all have some lens or another through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning. This was as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us Bible readers.

The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning.

The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists, arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess and explore their faith within a community of faith . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 32-33). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 1

Deuteronomy 6-8

Psalm 119

2 Timothy 3

John 5

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