On Sunday I preached on that often-neglected passage from Luke 2 about the time the boy Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem. It reminded me of the time my dad left my brother Scott behind at the library in Charleston, West Virginia—a 45-minute drive from our house. But Scott didn’t seem to mind. He loved books, and the library was his favorite place in the world. If he had run away from home in those days we would have known just where to find him.
So I asked the congregation at the end of the sermon: “If you turned up missing in the next 24 hours, where would people begin to look for you? And when they found you, and you asked them, “Where else would I be?” where would you be? And is there any chance you would be here, in church, thinking the things of God? And if not, then why not? What has become more important to you than that?
It sounds kind of pushy when I see it in print, but in context it was mostly about what we love most in the world, followed by the question: if God is not at the top of that list then why not? What has taken his place? So I ended the sermon with the litany of renewal from John Wesley’s covenant service, in which he urged his congregations at the beginning of each new year to “wholly give themselves up to God, and to renew at every point their covenant that the Lord should be their God.” The litany can be found in its entirety in my post from this time last year (“Those Methodists Mean Business!”), but I want to reprint the closing paragraph here. Let me challenge you in the way I challenged the congregation on Sunday: if you can say “Amen” to these words then say it, and if you can’t then don’t. But if you can say it, say it with all your heart, and let this new year be one in which you live out the terms of this covenant.
I give myself completely to you, God.
Assign me to my place in your creation.
Let me suffer for you.
Give me the work you would have me do.
Give me many tasks
Or have me step aside while you call others.
Put me forward or humble me.
Give me riches or let me live in poverty.
I freely give all that I am and all that I have to you.
And now, holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
May this covenant made on earth
continue for all eternity.