Children are the model for learning about promises. Where there are kids playing, there are words of promise and trust spoken. Kids are quick to trust others and promise their loyalty freely …that is until you cross that line and all pinky promises are broken. When my daughter was in kindergarten she learned the hard way that friends would break their trusts and their promises as well as lead her right into trouble.
I can still recall my own words of promise as a young girl running around on the playground: Cross my heart and hope to die! Stick a needle in my eye! Promising I would never tell about a crush on a boy. Those were the days of learning when to make a promise and when those words of promise were not wise to utter.
We learn from our parents about promise keeping and trust at an early age. When my kids were young, they would ask to go to the playground and I would always respond with an “if” statement but they would always interpret the response as if I had promised them the moon.
When we read the text today, the words come with a promise. But this promise is not a man made plan that could easily get edited with an “if” statement. It is a promise that will be kept forever – an everlasting promise.
When the prophets spoke, the people regained their sight. When the Spirit of God moved on the chosen people to give utterance, those people walked in the gift of prophecy. When the Spirit of God called chosen people to speak to the nation, we call those people prophets. The writings of the prophets are considered inspired speech. God moved upon the recipient and the recipient willing participated in the spiritual endeavor that God required of that recipient. The Spirit of God moves upon the prophet no unlike the Christian today who is moved in the Spirit of God to evangelize, preach, and offer spontaneous prayer. The prophet did not control the message nor how the utterance was interpreted by the audience the prophet spoke. The prophet is a servant of God who experiences the clothing of power from the Spirit to preach Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, to liberate captives, and declare the Kingdom of God is at hand to the nations. The prophet had the gift to see the future in order to warn and celebrate with the people giving the people vision. People without vision will perish, be destroyed, thus the prophet would aid the people in their continuation of salvation history. The prophet aided the people in finding their future in God.
Across the pages of salvation history, prophets pointed to whole-hearted commitment. God showed Abraham the stars and cast vision for the nation of Israel (Genesis 12-25). God guided Moses down the Nile to become a child in the household of Pharaoh, and to lead the people of God to freedom. In the desert God gave Moses the ability to lead the people with wisdom and the stone tablets of with the Law that we call the 10 Commandments (Exodus 3-4, 20). In fact all through the writing of Deuteronomy the author reminds the hearer/reader to “love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws, and his commands always” (Deut. 11.1) so that the next generation might know God. When Joshua had finished his task of settling the people in the promised land, he guided them to choose whom they would serve. And, with a stone to remember the words of promise by the people, Joshua set up a place of worship to declare their commitment to God himself (Joshua 24). For you see that the commitment we make in the community of faith is never about helping each other out in and of itself, but it is about worshiping God and helping others out as God directs our steps. Across the passages of Scripture God calls out people to point to the need to remain faithful to God because we keep slipping in our commitment. We forget what we were committed to and what we are called to be.
God continues to seek out his creation and bring us into a “right” relationship. God is all about his relationship with his creation. God loves his creation. God desires for a relationship with his creation. And, no matter how many times that relationship is broken God seeks to bring us back. God remains faithful to his creation – to us – even when we wander away. I used the words “right relationship” intentionally. When we use the word “right” what word comes to mind? “Wrong?” If there’s a right way, then there’s usually a wrong way. In our culture there is a strong emphasis on options and choices rather than right and wrong. But we must realize that God has a desired outcome for his relationship with his creation, and God gives his creation the ability to make choices – right and wrong choices. That’s true love – not manipulating or controlling but freely inviting us into receptacle relationship.
God is a promise keeper, and invites us to be promise keepers too! Covenants are like promises that require keeping but some folks these days make promises without ever intending to keep them. God invites his people into Covenant relationship, and that Covenant demands an inward change and an outward response. God’s Covenant is a relationship that all begins with God, and it’s purpose is to deliver us from sin and death. For John Wesley a Methodist was one who had made that leap of faith and now love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. A True Methodist is one who would be a covenant keeper. Covenant keeping is essential to being a Christian, and a Methodist.
A little ‘c’ covenant is considered in our culture as a solemn agreement that is binding on all parties as a legally binding agreement such as a lease contract. I highlight the word binding because it has a sense of captivity or enslavement. Imagine for a moment being handcuffed to someone else until the debt is satisfied, or having someone walking around next to you 24-7-365. Having someone with you to make sure you honor your word describes what it’s like to be in a little ‘c’ covenant. Some synonyms are contract, arrangement, treaty, promise, pact, or settlement. But the big ‘C’ Covenant is something much more!
The big ‘C’ Covenant in the community of believers involves not only the outward practice of fulfilling an agreement, but the inward change required by the agreement. Little ‘c’ covenants are binding to our earthly responsibilities, but the big ‘C’ Covenant are binding in both the physical and the spiritual realms. Sacraments are a good example of big ‘C’ Covenant keeping. There are two sacraments that United Methodist practice – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each sacrament is a form of participating in the Covenant that God has with his people. Sacraments remind us of our Covenant keeping responsibilities that call us to both the inward change and the outward actions.
Discipleship is our response to God’s invitation to Covenant Love. Wesley expected his followers to give thanks in everything, and to have one’s heart lifted up to God at all times. A Methodist would possess a powerful kind of love that fulfilled the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as your very self. A Methodist would be pure in his heart, and his heart would allow only God to reign there. God would not have to compete with issues of work, money, human loves, or power. The true Methodist keeps all the commandments (Exodus 20). The first four commands help us know how to live out our loyalty to God – worship God alone, no idolatry, no misuse of his name, and Sabbath keeping. The final six commandments are focused on right relationships with our neighbors – honoring parents, no murdering, no adultery, no stealing, no lying, and no coveting. It’s really all about expressing love from the inside out. And, that’s Wesley’s next point. Methodist do everything to the glory of God, and in all things accepts the doctrine of God.
Temptations will come in an attempt to destroy our commitment to God. Today we are covenanting to be accountable disciples in our church family. You and I have to ask ourselves from time to time: How is my Christian walk? Am I living out what I believe? From time to time we need to review a checklist of sorts. We need to evaluate if our lives are matching up with the commands and admonitions we profess. The goal of covenant discipleship is that we are transformed into the image of Christ. We are to let the mind of Christ be shaped and formed inside of us (Philippines 2.5). As we submit to the transforming leadership of Christ, we are then able to live in community rightly. As Methodist our discipleship goal is to become holy as Christ is holy. Personal and social holiness depends on how much we allow Christ to transform our thinking. We have to take time to think about God, pray to God, listen for God’s voice, and serve God with our hands and feet. When we think of personal and social holiness, let us turn to a most difficult story in the New Testament about a couple named Sapphira and Annanias (Acts 5). In this story a man and his wife decide to sell a piece of property for the sake of the church, but they conspired together to misrepresent themselves to the church. The couple wanted to appear much more giving than they were and as a result they lost their lives. God required purity in the hearts of his people. God requires inward holiness not outward appearances of goodness. Acts of goodness done to make your self look good to others (without a holy attitude of the heart) is sinful. If you are doing anything especially in the church to make yourself look good… but if you are doing good because you feel that God desires this behavior then your heart has been strangely warmed. God takes us more seriously than we take ourselves.
Our response is challenging to our self-reliance and prideful independence. Because we are vulnerable to temptations, we must keep in each other mutually accountable. When we fail to keep each other accountable for our actions, then we are not functioning as a healthy community of faith. Mutual accountability is not pointing out what we feel are flaws in character but by asking each other how are you doing in your faith journey… are you keeping yourself isolated or open to holy conversations… This is the area of our faith discipleship that gets to be “a little too personal” at times. These are the kind of conversations when it is more blessed to receive than it is to give. But the question remains, would you rather be on God’s naughty or nice list? The invitation to covenant discipleship is ours to behold. Let’s keep in the Word together.