A man was coming out of church and stopped to greet the pastor. The pastor grabbed the hand of the man and pulled him aside.
The pastor said to the man, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" The man replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor."
The puzzled pastor asked, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" The man replied in a whisper, "Shh, I'm in God's secret service."
In God's plan, none of us are meant for the secret service. We are called to be visible and humble servants of God.
Covenant, what is a covenant? Well strictly defined a covenant is a legally binding obligation or promise. We tend to call them contracts today. And throughout human history God has made covenants with his people.
Since the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when human kind fell to the destruction of sin, God has been working to restore humanity to a right relationship to him, and God has been working to unite us as his people. For thousands of years God has
offered us opportunity to be in covenant relationship with him. Through these covenants God has offered human kind a new beginning. And the seven covenants found in the Bible, are listed and described on your bulletin insert (see end of message for list). I encourage you to take
this list home and read about each covenant in your Bible.
The focus of today's message will be on the last covenant, the new covenant made between God and God's people, which was prophesied by Jeremiah about 2600 years ago.
The prophet Jeremiah states that the new covenant will be made with the House of Israel and that "God will place his law in their mind and write it on their hearts."
Jeremiah is proclaiming that the old covenant, broken by the people, would be replaced by a new covenant. The foundation of this new covenant would be the Messiah, and would not only include Israel and Judah, but also the Gentiles. In other words the new
covenant would include all people of the world.
This new covenant would offer a personal relationship with God himself, with God's laws written on the hearts of individuals rather than on stones. And Jeremiah looked forward to the day when Jesus would come to establish this covenant.
But for us, there's no waiting, the covenant is here. We have the wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start and establish a permanent, personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
The change experienced by beginning again with God is very much like a new birth, with God taking the initiative. Meaning by the power of the Holy Spirit we turn our lives over to God, and in turn God instills within us the desire to obey and follow him.
The new covenant is characterized by the last descendant of David, Jesus, uniting the Mount Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant during the Last Supper. We live today under this covenant. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins through his shed blood,
and by God's grace through faith we are offered eternal life.
Under the previous covenants, God ordained the priests of Israel to stand between him and his people. They brought God's Word to the people and the people's needs and sins to God. Under the new covenant, all believers are priests of the Lord, reading God's
Word and seeking to understand it, confessing their sins directly to God and ministering to others.
But for a covenant to be lived out fully, there are several characteristics that must be exhibited: trust from both parties of the covenant, obedience to the covenant, follow-through, and full commitment to the covenant. And it's the issue of commitment I
want to focus on today.
When our kids join sport teams, dance troops, scouting, singing groups and the like, the one thing the leader of the group wants is commitment from those signing up for the program.
I know when I coached basketball and baseball I expected a commitment from the kids, not one that place sports above family, God or school, but I still expected the kids to show up for practice and do there best. If there's a lack of commitment, or no
commitment at all, chances are you child doesn't get to fully participate in the group they belong to, and they certainly don't get as much out of the relationships with the leaders and other participants.
Last year Susan joined a quilting group to learn how to quilt. The commitment she had to make was to finish a block of a quilt every month. When she returned to the class and her block was finished she received the next one free. If the block wasn't done,
you had to pay for the next one. Those who attended the class either committed themselves to it, or paid the consequences by having to buy the next block.
Well if other organizations have expectations, why wouldn't God or his church?
If we're willing to do what's necessary to remain in favor with the local service club, sports league and the like, why do we so often short-change God with our lack of the same commitment we give these other things in our life?
Why do we seem to think our commitment to God is something less than to the local soccer team?
Our covenant with God consists of receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior; it's turning our life over to him completely and following his direction. In turn we receive from God his saving grace and the promise of eternal life. Now salvation is not so
much an event as it is a journey, a journey requiring commitment, perseverance, and faithfulness. God doesn't simply forgive our sin and say I'm done. And God doesn't just give us new life then ignore us. God forgives our sin, gives us new life and then spends his time shaping us
into the people he has created us to be.
John Wesley wrote that repentance is the "porch of religion," faith is "the door," and holiness is "religion itself." This process of growth in holiness is called sanctification. It's carried out by the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to
make us more like Jesus.
Sanctification, or holiness, is a gift of divine grace, but it also requires human cooperation and commitment. As individuals and as a community of faith, we are to open ourselves increasingly to the divine power, to show us our sin, to rid our lives of its
effects, and to cultivate those qualities of life that make up authentic Christian character.
Holiness involves our personal relationship with God and our social relationships with other people. And God is not finished with us until the command of Christ is fulfilled - that we be "perfectÖas our heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
To fulfill his commands God has chosen the church to continue the work of Christ on earth. It functions as Christ's body, arms, hands, feet and so on, by doing the tasks that God has assigned to it.
And just as the physical body is made up of different members with differing functions, so is the church. The body of Christ is a community of faith, a family of God, composed of people who are in close fellowship with each other and with Christ, all working
together committed to the teachings of Christ.
When you become a member of a church, the expectation is you will commit yourself to God, to the ministry of the church, and to the congregation. When you join a United Methodist Church you are asked the following question: "Will you be loyal to the United
Methodist Church and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?"
With these words we are making a commitment to God, to Christ's Church, and to one another. These are not idol words. They are words of action, promise, and commitment to God and to one another.
When we commit to uphold the Church through intercessory prayer this is not meant to be a simple "religious" exercise. Our commitment to pray for the church is based upon the fundamental reality that we're not simply a human agency seeking to meet human
needs: we pray because we require God's guidance in order to be the church.
When you pray for me, for our teachers, for one another, and for those who may never even enter our doors, you express your dependence on God, so that you might in turn express the will and compassion of Christ.
Our commitment to uphold the Church by our presence is a visible witness of our faith, both in the pew and in the world. Our relationship to Christ is nurtured by our presence in worship where we find spiritual guidance, comfort and strength.
But our relationship to Christ is not confined to Sunday morning alone. We also uphold the Church by our presence at home, at work, at school, and in the community. Wherever we are, our presence should be an expression of our commitment to Christ.
Our commitment to uphold the Church by our gifts is a thankful response from the heart for all that God has given us. Such a commitment serves to remind us of our role as stewards over what God has entrusted to us.
The systematic giving of our money also helps to establish and maintain ministries that no individual or single congregation could fund alone. These worthy causes include hospitals, colleges, rehabilitation centers, food and clothing distribution,
evangelistic and educational work, and emergency relief. Our commitment to be loyal to the Church and uphold it by our service further reflects our commitment to follow the example of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
God has entrusted all of us with certain talents and abilities, and sharing these gifts is a means of sharing ourselves out of love and gratitude toward God and love for one another.
These are the commitments we make as Christians and as members of this congregation. And I want to further challenge us by asking that we each commit ourselves to spend one hour per week in worship, one hour per week in prayer, one hour per week in Bible
Study, and one hour per week in serving others.
This is a 4-hour commitment per week, in a week that has 168 hours. I don't think asking us to spend 4 hours a week focused on God is too much to ask, and is really on the low end of what we ought to be doing, but we have to start somewhere.
When we engage in these activities or disciplines we ought to do so, not out of religious obligation, but because we want to grow in our relationship with God and others. And if we are genuine in our efforts I know in my heart we will be blessed and the
kingdom of God will grow.
Now I suggest we take a long, hard, and honest look at ourselves, and to ask the question, "How am I doing?" "Am I meeting my commitment?" "Am I doing what I told God, and my brothers and sisters in Christ I would do?"
I wonder what would happen if God decided to not hold up his end of the covenant. What if one day God said, "Oops, sorry I couldn't be there during your surgery, I hope all went well, I was busy watching a soccer game." "Please forgive me, while you were
dealing with your relationship issue, I was tied up trying to decide how to decorate my house." What if God decided to be as lax in his commitment to us, as we are with our commitment to him?
People today, and regrettably many Christians, are looking for a fast-food approach for spiritual renewal and grace.
If we can drive up to a restaurant and get a cheeseburger in less than a minute to feed my physical hunger, why can't we simply drive past the church and get a blessing to-go to feed our spiritual hunger as we make our way to mall on Sunday morning?
Why can't we just receive drive-through communion so we can get to our child's field hockey game on time?
We live in a consumer-driven society and this thinking is infecting our lives and the church like an uncontrollable virus. People want their spiritual needs met in the quickest and most time efficient way possible.
So lets be honest, the majority of people today are more committed to the things of this world, than they are to God. We fail to live up to our commitment to the covenant we've made with God; and in turn we suffer the consequences: stress, pressures of a
fast-paced world, keeping up with the Jones', worldly success, stuff-aholism, and so on.
If we're not willing to fully commit ourselves to our relationship with God why should we expect God to? God is ready and willing to commit and uphold his end of the covenant, the question is, are we?
If we're to grow to be "perfectÖas our heavenly Father is perfect" we need to be committed to our relationship with God and to our relationship with his church. We need to make God's divine covenant a priority in life, not as a way to earn salvation, but as
a way to continue to grow in our relationship with God and with others.
We can move on to perfection in this life, meaning we can mature in love, not because we're such good people, but because God is so great. God is both able and willing to transform us, if we will commit ourselves to his authority. God's goal for us is that
love becomes "the sole principle of our action," so that we are motivated by nothing else than the love of God and neighbor.
So yes, covenant with God and Christ's church does have its expectations, and I hope and pray we all will allow God to place his law within us, write it on our hearts, so that we can live up to God's expectations for us.