Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are You Willing? - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Several weeks ago we discussed the idea of what a covenant is, both historically and presently. Today we going to spend just a moment exploring the relationship between God's New Covenant for us and Wesley's Covenant Service as we prepare to participate in Wesley's Covenant Service.

The Need for the New Covenant
Covenants are important. They help to keep us focused. They tell us what we can expect for our energy and our commitment. Covenants are also our creation and for our benefit. And God loves us so much that God uses them to relate to us. God uses them to connect with us. When we enter into a covenant with God there is no worry on our end that God's word will be kept. But there is always the issue of humanity keeping theirs.

Our Scripture lesson this morning speaks of the creation of a new covenant that God will make with humanity. It speaks of a wonderful bond where people will no longer need to be taught about God because they will know God inherently, instinctively. It will be a covenant that will not be written merely on paper but in the hearts and minds of all people.

This portion of Scripture from Jeremiah is as important as any there is in the Bible. It is foundational, transcendent, and vital to our faith in God. Jeremiah was a prophet in the time of Judah's decline. Judah was weakening and was close to being captured and overthrown by Babylon. Jeremiah's entire ministry was about warning the people of what was to come if they did not repent. Jeremiah was grieving over the current state of his homeland. But no one listened. His family abandoned him, his friends rejected him. In fact as Jeremiah was writing this particular piece of Scripture he was in jail.

But was so important that Jeremiah would risk humiliation, imprisonment, and abandonment of his family and friends? God was preparing the way for a new covenant, a new way to reconcile God's people. Our ancestors had broken the old covenant, even though God was faithful. Even though God did everything that was promised as they were led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, the Israelites still broke the covenant.

But this new and glorious covenant was going to be different. It was not going to be written on stone but on the hearts and minds of believers. It not going to be a set of laws but a new way of life. It would be internal, part of our nature, permanent. We would no longer require human intervention to interact with God. God was going to be accessible to all people, directly, personally, intimately. God's existence was not going to be something to be taught, but made known by the infusion of the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of sins. The birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was going to make all of this possible not out of requirement or obligation, but out of love. A love so deep and broad that we can barely take it in. A love that would foster such gratitude that this new covenant would create spontaneous obedience. This New Covenant is not dependent on us or our constructs. As one theologian put it, “The new covenant, which differs so much form the old, focuses on its permanence and its sustaining principle that evokes gratitude for the forgiveness of sin. The overarching emotion is love, not fear.”

This covenant is here. And our response to that devotion from God is to do the best we can to live a life that glorifies God and works to establish God's reign here on Earth. One way to accomplish that is through persistence. Wesley firmly believed that we need to be persistent in our faith so he created a covenant that we can all enter into in order to help us foster that persistence.

What is Wesley's Covenant Service?
“Wesley believed that the most widely neglected means of "increasing serious religion" was the joining of believers in a covenant "to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. He urged his converts to renew, "at every point, [their] Covenant, that the Lord should be [their] God." [27]

On August 11, 1755, John Wesley's Journal refers to an occasion when he conducted a service that provided opportunity for making or renewing individual covenants with God. At the close of a 6:00 PM meeting, he writes, "All the people stood up, in testimony of assent, to the number of about 1,800 persons." The entry closes with "such a night I scarce ever saw before. Surely the fruit of it shall remain for ever." [28]

The success of this Covenant Renewal Service encouraged Wesley to have it published as a pamphlet in 1780. He urged each of his societies to conduct such a service once a year, most often on New Year's Eve.” (George Lyons Address 1997).

Wesley was extremely moved by the crowd's reaction and acceptance of this service that he did repeat it annually. Can you imagine 1800 people standing up to renew their covenant with God. What a sight it must have been.

Today we have that opportunity to renew our covenant with God. For us to come together as one voice, one body, and express to God that we are rededicating ourselves to the Kingdom. As we gather for the last time this year we are going to participate in John Wesley's Covenant Service together. Found in your bulletin is the litany that we will use to profess our bond before God and one another as we publicly, spiritually, and corporately come together and resolve to make our Triune God our ruler and leader, and lives our lives accordingly.

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