Friday, January 18, 2008

Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Sermon

Scriptures: Isaiah and Matthew
I was thinking the other day about an article I read in the Christian Century a couple years ago. The article was about a poll that was conducted nationwide regarding teenagers and belief. Perhaps surprisingly, Most Teens learn beliefs from parents! But most parents don’t feel competent in transferring beliefs.
Religious traditions understand themselves as presenting a truth revealed by a holy and almighty God who calls human beings from a self-centered focus to a life of serving God and neighbor….but most teens and probably most parents too think
religion is to help them make good life choices and be happy.
This focus of beliefs is what the poll conductors ended up terming “Moralistic Theraputic Deism,” moralistic in terms of being rule and ethic based, therapeutic in the sense that the point is to make you feel good about living life, and Deistic in the sense of the theological worldview that many of our founding fathers had—God created the world, but then kind of stepped back and didn’t do anything to influence the world. God is not active in the world other than in how the natural consequences of his original creative act have panned out throughout space and time.
Why we don’t affirm Moralistic Theraputic Deism:
We have a much richer, more theologically deep religion, and the distintinctive elements of it are the unique parts of the revelation—we could come up with “be happy and feel good about oneself” without a revelation from God. Furthermore, we don’t believe that God is satisfied with “being happy and feeling good about oneself.” It’s not that God wants us to feel worthless and bad about ourselves, but God wants us for us a happiness that sometimes defies our worldly sense of happiness. The old saying goes, “God loves us just as we are, and loves us too much to leave us that way.”
Wesley wrote in the covenant oath that we will take today, “Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both. In some ways we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.”
I believe we are what the book of Revelation calls “lukewarm” if and when we all believe Christ has called all of us to “easy and honorable” service for Christ. When you respond to Christ’s call to “follow me,” and then the path you walk is never among and with the poor or sick or outcast, then perhaps you’ve sleepwalked off the road of discipleship. Perhaps the calling you responded to wasn’t Christ’s, but the prophet of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.”
In our expression of Christianity, we believe there is a moment of being “saved,” but we believe the process of salvation involves a continual outpouring of grace propelling us toward a higher plane of living and loving.
A covenant is an expression of living into a higher plane of trust and commitment. At first glance a covenant looks a lot like a contract because it is an agreement. One way of looking at it would be turning over our own will freely to the will of God. Certainly, later in the covenant service, you will all say the words, “I renounce my own will, and take your will as my law.” However, I believe a better way of thinking about it would be making a formal commitment in the presence of God and our community to consistently strive for the Vision and Goals we find expressed by God in the Scriptures.
At the end of the covenant service, we will also all say together, “O mighty God, you have now become my Covenant Friend, and I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant.”
As Jesus proclaims in the Gospel, by acknowledging our connection to the life giving vine—which is Christ himself, we will bear much fruit. A covenant is this kind of connection, and fruit bearing is the activity of a Christian who is “plugged in” to the radically life changing grace and love that we find in the person of Jesus Christ.
Christ causes us to live outside ourselves. Christ calls us to sacrifice for others, to confess our sins and to turn around on a new course. Christ calls us to live according to a new law—the law of Love. Seperated from this Vine, we shrivel up in the dry depravity of self-centeredness. We whither in the wasteland of want. Covenant making is public declaration—it calls our attention to our own connectedness. We serve God both individually and together as one body. We are fed spiritual food individually and as one body. We bear fruit individually and as one body. We make a covenant both individually and as one body. Making a covenant is an audible, visual, experiential reminder that we are indeed connected to the vine, and therefore SHOULD bear fruit.
As Wesley wrote, “I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke, to carry your burden. All your laws are holy, just, and good. I therefore take them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, prominsing that I will strive to order my whole life according to your direction, and not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.” Keep in mind that Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. This isn’t because Jesus calls us all to “easy and honorable service.” This isn’t because taking on Jesus’ yoke is simply about “making good life choices and being happy.” Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light because God lifts us up and propels us forward with the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God when we give ourselves to him. We aren’t on our own—through covenant, God vows to be on our side. And unlike us, God never abandons this Holy covenant. Thanks be to God!

The Covenant service can be read here

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