This Sunday is our annual Covenant Service
I am going to be applying the lectionary readings (Deut and Mark) to what it means to covenant with God, in particular what it means to say "I am no longer my own but Yours" and to apply our covenantto our Vision statement which was formerly adopted at our Annual Society Meeting 2 weeks ago.
From this vision we can lift 4 themes:
Kingdom of God
As the covenant service is meant to be an opportunity for personal recommitment to our LORD, I want to encourage you to consider how the LORD might be calling you in the area of Community is He calling you to express our oneness in some new way, calling you to a group, or perhaps just reminding you that there is no such thing as solitary Christianity. In terms of Discipleship we are constantly reminded in the gospels of Jesus call to discipleship, which means to become like Him...how's that going and is there Growth? Since our covenant service a year ago, have you grown in the image of God in which you were created and in which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you, if you are born again, are busy being recreated? And is the Kingdom of God, which was my theme last week (read my sermon here) growing in you and through you into the world around us?
Our Old Testament reading is Deuteronomy 31:9 –13
So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. Then Moses commanded them: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for cancelling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns – so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.’
Notice that as covenant people, God speaks and we listen....in fact, God commands and we obey. Does listening/hearing lead to obedience in your life. Are you a, do you want to be a, "no longer my will, but your will" person. Without that desire, your and my covenant is built on sand and will not withstand the storms which covenanted life brings in 2015.
As an aside, but in keeping with our vision, notice how important community is in this reading:
when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord
Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns
Notice a key element of discipleship which comes up twice in this short reading, namely the fear of the Lord...the number of people who do not understand what this means is frightening:
assemble the people – men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns – so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God
Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God
Now, there isn't time to go into this key element of the covenanted and discipled life, so just one New Testament quote will do, from Acts 9:31
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
So, our OT Covenant Sunday reading calls us to community (hear that call), calls us to discipleship (hear that call), which in turn grow us and grow God's Kingdom.
And what does God's Kingdom look like in a place, in a community, where covenanted disciples are growing?
Our Gospel reading from Matthew 25:31 –46 describes how growing, covenanted disciples live:
The words of Jesus:
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’
When we are a people who say and live "I am no longer my own but Yours", when we are a people who say and live "no longer my will but your will" we are a people who care for others...we don't pay others to care for others on our behalf, all that happens when we pay others to care for others on our behalf is that hungry people get fed, cold people get clothed, etc, which is wonderful for the cold and the hungry and the poor and the lonely....but when you do these things, then, God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done, which brings us back to listening leading to obeying, which is so key to covenanted discipleship. God wants us to have the same friends Jesus had, and they were usually the people that no one else wanted as friends.
God the Father has covenanted with us to accept us as His sons and daughters. God the Son has shown us what children of God look like here on earth. God the Holy Spirit invites us to surrender to His transforming power and become like Jesus and to continue growing into His likeness. Our covenant prayer invites us to that response.