Message: Our Covenantal Faith Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20 John 21: 15-17 Date: November 9, 2014 This morning we are concluding our Church Wide Study and our series of messages concerning a Faith that matters, as drawn from our Wesleyan roots and heritage. One of the things that I will take away from this study and my preparation for the messages that I’ve shared is a renewed appreciation for what a truly remarkable man of God John Wesley was. God placed on his heart in the early 1700’s a desire to experience God in a very personal, life changing, transforming way which was not the emphasis of the church in his day, and so Wesley kept seeking and seeking until really GOD FOUND HIM – most unexpectedly – at a prayer meeting that he didn’t really want to attend. I think that is often how faith works. God finds us in most unexpected places. And then once Wesley found that personal relationship with God, that assurance that Christ had died for him, he felt compelled to share that in all the world. Not just with those whom the church found acceptable. But really with those the church found unacceptable. Jesus had said “Go into all the world, and make disciples.” And taking that burden on his heart, Wesley proclaimed that “the whole world was his parish – his ministry.” And it was out of that personal relationship and personal burden, that the Methodist movement was born in England from out of the more worldly elements of society. Those who barely scraped by to make a living off the land, or deep in the mines. The impoverished. The least and the last and the lost. Those were the early Methodists to whom Wesley felt called. You see, in a very real sense, the Methodists became a people of two great commissions that came from Jesus Himself before He went back to be with His Father. The first was the commission to go into all the world making disciples of Jesus. And the second was that we are to feed His lambs. Those two callings on the lives of disciples became the foundation of a faith that matters. And the Methodist movement spread like wildfire. Many credit the Methodist movement with helping England avoid social revolution because it reached out to those that the government and the church were ignoring. And, of course, it was these very same people who saw the American colonies as their opportunity for a new start and in the 1700’s boat load after boat load of immigrants landed on the American shore, many of whom had found their faith in a Methodist Class meeting. And they began to implore Mr. Wesley to send them preachers who would transplant the Methodist Societies to the new world. And so men like Francis Asbury were sent to plant societies in America and ride the circuits from one society to the next. And when they came to a place where there was not a Methodist Society they started one and they added that place to the circuits which they rode. These circuit riders carried the church of Jesus Christ into the American west and are credited with an important role in the settlement of places like Kentucky and Ohio and Tennessee. And as the movement grew, there was a need for more lay preachers like Asbury. Numerous churches in this area trace their origin to Francis Asbury. But as more and more societies were formed, the people started to write asking Wesley to send them priests instead of lay preachers who could administer the sacraments. And when the church refused Wesley’s request that more priests be sent to the colonies, he took it upon himself to ordain priests and he sent them to the new world. His brother, Charles, took exception to Wesley taking the authority upon himself to ordain, but Wesley knew that if the church was going to be faithful to the Great Commission, it had to be. When those newly ordained priests arrived in America, they discovered that the Methodist Movement had already grown beyond their ability to oversee, and so using the same logic that Wesley had used, they ordained Francis Asbury and several of the circuit riders. And the Methodist Movement became a church in America. The Methodist Faith was a faith that mattered in the midst of the social upheaval of England in the 1700’s and it was a faith that mattered in the expansion of America. The Methodists were the fastest growing religious group in America in the mid and late 1700’s. And the United Methodist Church remains one of the largest Protestant movements world wide today – with about 8 million members in America and 20 million world wide. Plus there are several smaller churches that trace their beliefs back to John Wesley. Wesley’s emphasis on Grace and Sanctification has touched countless numbers of lives in the nearly 300 years since Wesley first experienced a “heart strangely warmed” on Aldersgate Street in London. There were two strong components of those first Methodist Class meetings that Wesley insisted upon that contributed to their explosive growth in both England and the United States. The first was Covenant. For those who Wesley was reaching who were essentially on the outside of the faith and the church looking in, it was important for them to have a sense of belonging and unity, an understanding that they were a part of God’s community. And so Wesley insisted that those societies or class meetings become a covenantal community. Committed to God and one another. And from time to time, they would participate in a Service of Covenant which spelled out the requirements of covenantal faith and gave each person an opportunity to affirm their place in the covenant. That sense of covenant has been preserved in the membership vows that we take when we become a member of the church, as we covenant to support the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. All of those elements were a part of Wesley’s understanding of Covenant. But Wesley also believed that being in Covenant with God and one another also meant that we are willing to be held accountable for our place in the community. And so when the societies gathered there was a time of accountability built into the meetings. They held one another accountable as people of covenantal faith. How are you doing in your prayer life? How are you and your family doing in attending to the worship of God and the study of his word? And what are you giving back to God? Are you tithing? Are you returning God’s blessings for His use and to His glory? And are you serving others? Are you feeding God’s lambs? Visiting the prisoners? Caring for the homeless? And what about your witness? Are you witnessing to God’s presence through the way you are living your life? Are you sharing what God has done for you? Are you living out the great commission and doing all that you can to make disciples of all people? You see, I think it is in the area of accountability that today’s church often falls down. I think in some ways we have watered down the meaning of covenant by making membership in the church too easy. Because though Wesley believed that the church ought to be reaching out to everyone, and we should, he also believed that being a part of the church requires a deep commitment on our part, to God and to the community of God. There’s a fine line between welcoming all into membership and having our membership be covenantal relationship. We say that we will support Christ’s Church by our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, but we don’t always take the time to understand what those really require of us, and we don’t really hold one another accountable for the covenant that we make. Because our faith truly becomes a faith that matters when we practice our faith as the expression of our covenant with God and with one another. One writer says: To decide to follow God is a choice to serve the least and the last. God’s call to us, as it was to the Israelites, is simple: To serve the Lord is to serve one another, and to obey God’s will is to live a life of care and attention to God’s word and others. A covenant with God is always a covenant with the people of God. So as we have moved through this study in the last several weeks, I have shared with you what I believe that covenant relationship requires of us. We’ve talked about how our faith is shaped through prayer and presence and gifts and service and last week witness. They have not always been easy messages for me to deliver because they have exposed in me some areas where I need to be held accountable for my lukewarm commitment to God. And I suspect they have had the same effect for some of you. But that’s ok. Because this covenantal relationship between God and His people has always been central to our faith. Beginning with Adam and Eve and His creation of humanity in His image. He expressed the covenantal relationship by giving them dominion over all that he created. But they fell away. With Noah he reestablished the covenant and placed the rainbow in the sky as a reminder to Him and us that we are in covenantal relationship with one another. He established the Covenant with Abraham and promised to make of Him a great community, a great nation. The prophets spoke of Covenant. The law was developed in order to preserve that covenantal relationship. It was out of Covenant that God sent Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. “I have heard the cries of MY people.” And it was to reestablish the Covenant that God sent Jesus, His Son, to call all of us back into relationship with Him. And when Jesus gathered His disciples at the head waters of the Jordan River, the river of life, in the region of Caesarea Phillipi, and asked them who they thought He was, Peter expressed the words of Covenant. “You are God.” And Jesus gave them the church, as the expression of their faith which would matter for generations to come, which would turn the world upside down, and then He set his path for Jerusalem and the cross where He would become the atonement for generations who had and would deny their covenant with God, so that even the gates of Hell would never again be able to break the relationship between God and His people. And so when we are Baptized and become a part of God’s covenant community, we take our place beside Adam and Eve, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jeremiah, and Jesus, and Peter. We say that we want to be a part of God’s covenant community. And that our part of the covenant is to be people of prayer and presence and giving and service and witness. And so what we are about today is to reaffirm our place in God’s covenant community. And so let me call us into a moment of silent reflection. Where are you right now in God’s covenant community? Are you doing your best to reflect God’s image through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness? Is your faith truly making a difference? In a few moments, using many of Wesley’s own words, I will lead us in a time of reaffirmation of our covenantal relationship and a remembrance of our baptism as a sign of covenant.