Sermon: Renewing The Covenant
Scripture: 2 Chronicles 34
Date: January 7, 2017
The concept of Covenant has always defined the relationship between God and creation. It is the common thread that weaves together the Old Testament writings with the New. It is the impetus behind God giving the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. God saw that the people of the Exodus were beginning to become unraveled and divided in the Wilderness. Some wanted to move forward, but others, noting the continuing hardships they encountered on their journey, called for the people to turn around and return to Egypt where, they said, “at least they had food to eat.” And so God sent the law to unite the people in their covenant with Him. In fact, the 20th through the 23rd chapters of Exodus is where we find the Ten Commandments and many other laws that God shared with the people. Many scholars consider it to be a book within a book, originally intended to be the Book of Law, but more commonly referred to as the Book of the Covenant. In it God describes what it will take for the people of God to live together in Covenant with Him and one another. But as the Old Testament unfolds it is revealed that the Covenant is pretty one sided – that it requires much more of God then it does the people – but still they are unable to remain faithful. And that even though the people fall away from it time and again, God never terminates the Covenant, but instead calls on the people to renew their relationship with Him. In the 34th chapter of 2 Chronicles we find the story of King Josiah calling on the people to renew the Covenant after a period of reverting to the worship of foreign idols. The writer of Chronicles describes it this way. Josiah went up to the Temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites – all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of Covenant, which had (recently) been found in the temple of the Lord. The King stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord. And in the prophecy of Jeremiah, who was the prophet in Israel during the rise of the Assyrians and Babylonians and the siege of Jerusalem, we find this promise from God. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel declares the Lord. I will put my law in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. And this theme of renewing the Covenant carried on into the New Testament. In a sense, God sent Jesus as a renewal of the Covenant. He became the sacrificial lamb which called people back into relationship and in a very real expression of that at the Last Supper, Jesus offered a meal of reconciliation and renewal when He broke the bread and offered the cup. And he instructed them to do this and remember Him, remember the Covenant whenever they gathered. John Wesley made the renewal of the Covenant central to his practice of the faith and much of what we do and say in this service today comes from Wesley’s service of Covenant renewal. In doing so, Wesley said this about how we should periodically revisit and renew our Covenant with God and one another. So first, he said, we should set apart some time every day, more than once a day, to spend alone with the Lord. God’s covenant with us is a covenant based on relationship, and our relationships only survive and thrive when we spend time with one another. Wesley said that, in essence, we should use our time with God, unencumbered by worldly concerns, an opportunity to renew our Covenant with God on a daily basis. So we should spend the time with God, carefully contemplating all of the conditions of the covenant. Which for Wesley meant:
Earnestly seeking God’s special assistance and gracious acceptance of you;
Freely give your life to Christ;
Consider what your sins are and seek forgiveness and grace;
Do not try to lie to God about the condition of your life.
Second, Live your life in a Spirit of Holy Awe and reverence. Just the fact that God has continually sought this covenantal relationship with us throughout human history, no matter how far and how often we have strayed, should open us up to a life of awe and wonder.
Third, claim God’s covenantal relationship for yourself. Every time that God speaks of the covenant, it is never predicated by the worthiness of humanity. God desires to be in covenantal relationship with all of us. We do nothing to earn such consideration. We are included simply because He loves us. And if you think about it, it is a pretty one sided covenant. God offers us strength and comfort and forgiveness and grace and love on an unlimited basis. He even sent His own Son to call us back into relationship with Him. And all we need to do to be included is claim that covenantal relationship for ourselves. To Jeremiah He says “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” But I suspect that a more accurate translation would substitute “if” for “and”. I will be your God, “if” you will have me. Claiming a Covenantal relationship with God is an every day thing, in every circumstance that we are confronted with. You often hear people say that the start of a new year is an opportunity to wipe the sleight clean and begin again. But scripture tells us that for those in covenantal relationship with God, every day is new. Every time we spend time in Prayer, spend time with Him, God makes all things new. At Baptism God wipes the sleight clean and we begin again. And every time we come to this table, God wipes the sleight clean and we can begin again because of Jesus’s sacrifice for us. The writer of Lamentations says it this way: The LORD’S mercies indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, so great is His faithfulness. Think about that statement for a moment. The writer is saying that no matter what, because of His covenant with us, the God of the universe offers us, you and I, his mercies and grace and love, every morning, every new day of our life. Such is the nature of the Covenant we renew today as we claim it for ourselves.
Then fourth, Wesley says, we must resolve to be faithful. Resolve to live faithful lives. I love these words of illumination of this fourth point. You have given to the Lord your hearts, you have opened your mouths to the Lord, and you have dedicated yourself to God in covenant. With God’s power, never go back.
But for all of us there are going to be times when we do choose to go back. And in those times, God does not give up on us. He never has and never will. No, His response is always to call us back into Covenantal relationship. And that is what we are celebrating today. So hear this invitation to renew our Covenant with Our God.
Commit yourselves to Christ as His servants. Give yourself to Him, that you may belong to Him. Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy and honorable, others are more difficult. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. It is necessary therefore, as we renew this Covenant with God that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ, as we pray this prayer of renewal. Let us pray together:
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, lifted up for You or humbled for You. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and use. And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am Yours. So be it now and forevermore. And the covenant you have made with us on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
And now to consecrate and ratify and renew our Covenant with God, let us come to the Lord’s Table and remember His sacrifice for us and feast once again on His Love and Grace as people of the Covenant.