This Sunday or next, many Methodist Churches will hold their annual Covenant Service (though some hold them in September at the beginning of the church and school year). Part of this service is The Covenant Prayer, said together by all who are there:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
These words are serious stuff, but I also find them comforting, liberating and encouraging – because God has always done far more for me, than I can ever do for him. The part about being laid aside for God seem particularly poignant in my life, as I am no longer able to be in active ministry, but it holds me in the reality that at times I was running around for God – and at this time I am sitting still for him. Not cast aside, but called to be in a different way. My inability to be active is not that God has finished with me, but has a different task for me at this time, as he does for us all at different times in our lives.
God’s love, and our usefulness, are not about what we can or cannot do. It is about a love relationship that accepts and keeps on loving. Covenant is about much more than what we are or are not doing – it’s about who we are
God’s promise to us God wants us, every one of us, to be his people – to be in a relationship with him. To be welcomed into relationship with someone is one of the most precious things anyone can give to us. To give us access to the people they are, to share what they are with us, to let us know we are not alone in life, to have someone to share the good times and the bad times with.
God wants all those things with us. He offers all that he is to us. He wants to be our God. We are not tolerated by God, but chosen especially, loved, celebrated, and called back into relationship with him.
He proved his love at Christmas by being born into the world, and he proved it beyond doubt at Easter. For a covenant to be binding it has to have the seal or mark of the person who is going to keep it. The most usual form of covenant we are familiar with is that of marriage. Marriage certificates have to be signed by both the bride and the groom to say that they have made those promises. At that point the verbal promises become legally binding. The Covenant God makes with us is authorised by nothing less than Jesus’ blood. That is the sign that he means what he says when he wants to be our God.
So God’s covenant to us is to be our God – but not a remote God – one we can know, one who knows us, and loves us so much that he sent his son to do what we could not do for ourselves – to give us a new start in life, renewed from within by the one who created us in the first place.
Our covenant to God Our relationship with God needs us to trust and act. To do something about the promises he makes to us. How do we respond to the promises God makes to us?
There is the story of Jack, walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that it fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang onto the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff.
So he began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something. “Help! Help! Is anyone up there? Help!” He yelled for hours, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.
“Jack. Jack. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”
“I can see you, Jack. Are you all right?”
“Yes, but…who are you, and where are you?”
“I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”
“The Lord? You mean, GOD?”
“God, please help me!”
“Here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”
“I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do.”
“Okay. Let go of the branch.”
“I said, let go of the branch. Just trust me. Let go.”
There was a long silence. Finally Jack yelled, “Help! Help! Is anyone else up there?”
God needed Jack to act in response to his promises that he would save him. Jack said he believed God could help – but wouldn’t do anything about it.
If we are to take on board God’s promises in our lives, then there has to be some response.
God’s covenant offers us renewal – that our lives can be focussed on living his ways, because the power comes from his love to us – within us – and not from anything we have to find within ourselves. The covenant promises are a tall order, which is why we recognise that the power to do all these things is given in Christ. He can give us that power.
When we feel we’ve failed, when we get frustrated with ourselves, when we don’t feel we can do it, God’s renewal is there. We need not rely on ourselves – but on him. The one who is wholly reliable and steadfast.
So as we come to make our covenant back to God, we are not just saying that we believe in God and his promises – but that we are also going to do something about it. God promises that we will be his people – and we promise that he will be our God.
Our covenant to one another We are all in this together. It is not a covenant we make at home in private. It is one we come together to make. The original covenant in Deuteronomy was made with all members of the community together. From the leaders, officials, servants – men, women, children – residents and refugees. God wants us all involved. And so in pledging ourselves anew to God, we pledge ourselves also to each other. No one carries the responsibility alone.
We say in all seriousness to God, “Rank me with whom you will.” Who today are the people at this moment that God has put you with. These are your companions for the journey. The ones who can support you in the task, and the ones whom you can support. Being God’s people is not a solitary experience – it is a community one. We are called to do it together. We can encourage and enthuse one another. Together we can carry the weary and weak; we can share in the joy of the happy, the strength of the strong, the prayers of the faithful – that together we are God’s heartbeat wherever and in whatever situation he has placed us.
And so I encourage you – and myself – to hear today afresh God’s promises of love and faithfulness – whatever you need to hear from him, listen to him speak it into your heart and life.
Lets make our covenant to him. Not because we think we should, not even because we think we can, but because we long, in his power to be more truly his people in his world.
And as we do lets remember that we stand together, supporting one another, all one, all equal, under the same promises of God.
God has loved each of us with an everlasting love, let that be the basis of our lives – this new year – and always.