(2 Chronicles 34:29-33)
For the past several months I've been
in prayer about where God may be leading us in the New Year.
What is God calling us to be and do? And in part, the Spirit
of God has answered.
My understanding from God is we are to
be more faithful to the covenant we've made with him as
members of the Body of Christ. So my task is to help lead us
in that direction this coming New Year; and as a result I'm
confident we will experience blessings, as well as challenges,
as we seek to be more faithful to our covenant with God. And
it will be a fruitful journey, of this I'm sure.
It used to be, people would make a
promise to one another and they'd keep it no matter what;
their word was there bond. We used to make deals and seal it
with a hand shake, a written contract wasn't necessary.
It used to be when we promised
ourselves to one another in marriage we'd take seriously the
covenant we made, and wouldn't violate the promises we made in
our vows to one another and before God. And it used to be when
we'd promise our lives to God and to following his Son Jesus,
we would abide by that promise no matter our circumstance.
It seems promises or covenants have
become to mean very little to too many people these days. We
spend more time and money trying to get out of the promises
and contracts we've made, then we do in keeping them. And this
includes the covenant we make with God.
So what is a covenant? Well a covenant
is defined as a formal agreement or treaty between two parties
that establishes a relationship. A covenant includes
obligations and mutual responsibilities that must be adhered
to by all parties of the covenant.
A covenant relationship is a
relationship between God and an individual or a group of
people marked by God's unilateral promises or mutual
agreements, between parties, especially humanity's promise for
obedience to God's will.
Throughout history, as recorded in the
Bible, God has made a number of covenants between himself and
the world, between himself and individuals or groups, and God
made covenants as declarations concerning his expectations for
us as his people. And what we've seen throughout history is
that in all cases God keeps his end of the covenant; its
humanity that always falls short of keeping the promises we've
In our scripture reading from 2
Chronicles this morning it seems that the kingdom of Judah had
fallen away from the covenant they made with God and were
violating God's will on a daily basis. Under several rulers
the people of God began drifting in a sea of spiritual and
moral disorder and decay. The clear call of God was no longer
But when Josiah came on the scene as
king, at the ripe old age of eight, spiritual renewal began.
Josiah became God's agent for renewal in a land that had
fallen far from the Word of God.
Now during the early years of his
reign, Josiah began a series of reforms. He tore down idols
and altars to pagan Gods. He worked hard to reform the
practices and the pagan influences of the false Gods the
people had become accustomed to worshipping and following.
One day during a stop at the Temple of
the Lord when Josiah was about 26 years old, the Book of the
Covenant was found, which was probably the book of
Deuteronomy, by Hilkiah the high priest. The book was brought
to Josiah and was read.
As he heard the words of the book he
realized that Judah had drastically moved away from God's
purpose and plan for them. So Josiah had his people gather at
the Temple in Jerusalem to hear the words of the book that had
been hidden away.
And then the king, on behalf of the
entire kingdom, renewed the covenant with the Lord,
specifically to follow the Lord and keep his commands with all
his heart and soul, and to obey the words of the covenant
written in this book. The people of Judah recommitted their
lives to God and committed to make God the absolute Lord of
As with Josiah many years ago, it's my
conviction that God is now calling us, this congregation, to
be agents of renewal right here in Emmitsburg and Fairfield.
In our baptism and confirmation
covenants we're asked a series of questions about our faith,
about our willingness to remain faithful to Christ's church,
and if we will faithfully serve as Christ's representatives in
Everyone I've baptized, who can answer
for themselves and those I've confirmed have said, "I will" to
these questions. After the questions to those being baptized
or confirmed, I then ask you the congregation if you will
nurture one another in the Christian faith and life. And the
response is, "with God's help we will…"
These are not just ceremonial
questions of historical and ecclesiastical significance. These
are serious commitments we make to God, and to others, in the
presence of God.
Did you know that baptized means dead,
buried, and out of the way, so that God can inhabit our body
and do as he pleases? Martin Luther says that when Christians
wake up every morning the first words out of their mouths
ought to be, "I am baptized" as a reminder of who's we are,
and what our purpose is. This is how significant our baptism
When people are baptized and are
received into membership of this local church, it's a whole
lot different than being received into the local VFW, or the
community pool. For those seeking membership into the local
church I ask, "will you be loyal to the United Methodist
Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its
I also ask if "you will faithfully
participate in the church's ministries by your prayers, your
presence, your gifts, and your service." Again the answer I
receive is "I will." So why is it we can be more loyal to the
communities social clubs, pools, etc. then we can to a
promises we make to God?
We often say that God is first in our
lives, but in reality, God comes after careers, relationships,
clubs, sleep, band, sports, and yard work. This is why I am
more convinced than ever, that many people in our community,
including some in our local churches are following a God of
their imagination rather than the risen Lord, the Son of God,
the Savior of the world.
I wonder what would happen if one
Sunday I tore up the membership book to this church, declared
we had no members, and we're starting all over again. Would
anyone really care? Has membership simply come to be a name on
a piece of paper that only historians one day will ever care
What if I said, "if you want to be a
member of this local church you must keep to the promises you
make in your vows, and that there would be accountability like
there was in the early church."
How many of us here today would make
that commitment and would want to become members? Or how many
of us would decide to go elsewhere, where the commitment might
not be so great?
How many of us are really willing to
turn complete control of our lives over to God to follow him
always as we say we will when we answer "I do" to the question
"do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole
trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union
with the church which Christ has opened to all people?" You
see the church is suppose to be different from clubs or
institutions, however, the problem is we've been brought up
and raised with an institutional mind-set. But the church is
not an institution; it's a living and breathing organism. The
church has far too long promoted membership in the church over
faith in Jesus Christ and as a result being a member of a
church is no different than holding membership in a local club
Regrettably, the church has become
just another organization we belong to that we try to support
along with all the other organizations that want our time,
money, and presence. And often times as we're going through
this balancing act our commitment to Christ and his church
becomes part of the lower tier of our priorities.
But what we need to realize is that
Jesus Christ didn't give his life for this institutional
concept of membership. The truth is, it's far more costly to
belong to the Body of Christ than to any human organization.
Like marriage, membership in Christ's Body is a covenant
commitment, which is different than an institutional
membership. And unlike any other commitment we make throughout
our lives, membership in Christ's body is an eternal
John Wesley and the other pioneers of
our faith were committed to covenant, and as it turns out,
keeping their covenant with God was crucial to the birth and
vitality of the Methodist movement.
Covenant membership was not taken
lightly. There was no concept of life-long institutional
membership. In reality ongoing membership was based on
accountability, discipline, maturity in love, and involvement
with the poor. And membership in the days of the early
Methodist movement was reviewed and renewed quarterly. If you
weren't faithful to the covenant vows your membership was
Wesley instituted a process of
disciplined-accountability. He wasn't interested in playing
church any more. People were either committed to Jesus being
Lord of their life, or not. The expectation was that people
would be growing as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And a
member of the church was one who was fully committed to Jesus
Christ as Savior and Lord, and lived that way. Membership
meant something, and it was something people sought and
Jeff has recently joined a fraternity
at Shepherd University. He had to memorize a bunch of
different things and do some crazy things like guard a pile of
rocks through the night. And now that he has become a member
there are certain things he must do to retain his membership.
If he fails to do them his membership is revoked.
Well God's fraternity deserves even
more respect because God's fraternity, the church, the Body of
Christ, has eternal implications.
Now we talk about Jesus as our Savior
and Lord, and Jesus as Savior is good news for us, because
Jesus as our Savior offers us the grace of God, which is the
underserved favor of God.
The more challenging news for us is
recognizing Jesus as Lord of our lives. And it's in
understanding what Lord means and living with Jesus as Lord
that leads to a life as a faithful disciple. So as we continue
on our journey of faith we need to hear the good news of Jesus
as Savior, but we also need to live a life with Jesus as Lord.
To be a member of the Body of Christ means we recognize Jesus
Now Lord has its challenges because
Lord means having absolute authority over. What this means to
us is that we recognize that Jesus has absolute authority over
our lives and in affect owns our lives. As our Lord we are
agreeing to be his servants.
Now I know the word servant can leave
a bad taste in our mouth in our culture because of what
servant has meant in the past, and unfortunately continues to
mean in some places today. But the word servant is the best
word I can think of when describing how we are no longer in
charge of our own destiny, Jesus is.
To allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives
means to turn everything over to him and to be completely
obedient to his will. To this end we must empty ourselves of
everything, so that we can truly reflect the mind of Christ.
And when we truly reflect the mind of Christ the world will
begin to look at us differently, and look at the Church
differently seeing a movement which mirrors the kingdom of
God, rather than a fossilizing, irrelevant institution.
Now if you answer I do to the
question, "Is Jesus your Savior and Lord?" then this means you
have no higher allegiance in your life then following Christ.
And our allegiance to Christ and his kingdom must far exceed
our allegiance to our country, family, or job.
The Bibles teaches: " Whoever comes to
me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children,
brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my
disciple. (Luke 14:26) " If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and
follow me. (Luke 9:23) " Foxes have holes, and birds of the
air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his
head. (Luke 9:58)
To follow Jesus and enter into a
covenant relationship with his Body means that he is our
highest authority. So are we ready to buy into this kind of
lifestyle? This is the question we need to answer this coming
year, and I'm persuaded if we are faithful, God will be
faithful, and the kingdom of God will grow in Emmitsburg and
Again the church, the Body of Christ,
is a living organism, not an institution. We cannot be
connected to the Head, meaning Christ, if we're disconnected
from the Body, and we cannot be connected to the Body if we're
not connected to the head. If we are not receiving instruction
from the head and passing it on, then we're not a Body member.
If we're not receiving nourishment and passing nourishment on,
then we're not functioning as a member of the Body of Christ.
So a member of the body of Christ
accepts all these responsibilities and the liabilities that go
with membership because membership means we are now part of
Christ's earthly mission.
I'm convinced that in order to grow
the kingdom of God and to grow as faithful Body members one of
the things we need to do is elevate the standards for
membership into the Body of Christ.
This coming year one of things we will
do is explore more fully what covenant membership is and what
standards ought to be in place to be a member of Trinity. Now
this doesn't mean that those who don't wish to be members will
be excluded from the life of Trinity; it means membership will
have its expectations and will actually mean something. It
also means we will no longer carry a role of inactive members.
Those who have not been active in the life of this
congregation for a couple years or more, or don't plan to be,
will be removed from membership.
When we accepted Jesus as Lord of our
lives we were born into his Body the Church, therefore, we
can't be committed fully to Jesus and not become an active
part of the Body. The Church is the living presence of Christ
in the world; therefore Trinity will be the vital, living, and
active presence of Christ in Emmitsburg and Fairfield. As
members of the Body of Christ, we are the only hands, feet,
and voice that Jesus has on earth. So we must be fully
committed to changing lives for Jesus.
We are called to be servants not
volunteers, disciples not club members. We are God's people,
we are a covenant people.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the
Colossians, "So if you're serious about living life with
Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ
presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed
with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert
to what is going on around Christ - that's where the actions
is. See things from Christ's perspective. Your old life is
dead." (Colossians 3:1-3 The Message) Your new life, which is
your real life, is in Christ our Lord.
Resources used in
the preparation of this sermon in addition to the Holy Bible:
Spiritual Entrepreneurs by Michael Slaughter
Read other messages by Pastor Wade