Monday, November 14, 2016

Looking Forward to November 20, 2016 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-26
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Sermon title is On Our Hearts?

Early Thoughts: A new covenant, a new way of directing how we live with each other and with God.

The story of Scripture in inextricably bound with the idea of covenant. After the flood God makes a covenant with Noah. Later God makes a covenant with Abram/Abraham. In the Exodus and at Sinai God makes a covenant with the people of Israel. Each covenant involves promises and expectations from both sides.

The life of faith is full of covenant imagery. We not only tell the story of faith and the covenants within that, we make covenants. When we are baptized, and when we re-affirm our baptism, we enter into and renew a covenant. When we dedicate our lives to one special partner we enter into a covenant. When we call a new minister to serve with a faith community we have a service of covenanting to begin that relationship. And again there are promises and expectations between all parties.

God is always faithful to the covenants. God's people on the other hand....

Within Israel and Judah, the work of the prophets was to call people back to living out the covenant. They are less than successful. Near the end of his career Jeremiah takes time to get the words he has spoken on behalf of God written down into a scroll (plausibly showing that the people are starting to transition from a primarily oral culture to a more literate culture). The king listens to the scroll read aloud and then systematically destroys it.

What is a God to do?

Oral reminders have not worked. The written reminder is subject to destruction. What if the covenant is written in the very beings of the people? Will that work?

For many years Christians have looked at those verses in chapter 31 and seen Christ. Jesus is said to have instituted the (or at least a) new covenant, the one that would be written on our hearts. And so we are people of the New Covenant (there are churches that have chosen that as their name).

God is still faithful to the covenants. God's people....well sometimes (often?) we struggle, we miss the mark [sometimes our aim seems 180 degrees off]. Thankfully the God who calls us into the covenant also pledges "for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more".

About 240 years ago John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (and so one of the Spiritual ancestors of the United Church of Canada), developed a service of covenanting. The idea of Wesley's covenanting service is that it is a chance to rededicate ourselves to live as people of the covenant, to live as people who seek to follow the Way of Christ, to live as citizens of God's Kingdom. Over time it became common in Methodism to mark the beginning of the New Year with the Covenanting Service.

Reign of Christ Sunday is a day when we remind ourselves that we are citizens of a different Kingdom, when we remind ourselves that we follow a different law. It is also a time of transition, the end of one liturgical year with Advent 1 (which is next Sunday) marking the beginning of a New Year. And so it seems appropriate that this Sunday when we talk about the covenant that is written on our hearts we will take time to join in the tradition of our Methodist forebears (and current sisters and brothers) and re-affirm our commitment to live as people of the covenant.

Is it really written on our hearts? How can we tell?

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