New Year’s Resolution

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.

Amen!

Those Methodists Mean Business!

jwesleyI’m not much on New Year’s resolutions, really.  It seems that we always make the same ones: to eat less and exercise more, and usually only because we’ve overindulged during the holidays.  But here’s a New Year’s resolution of a different sort, one I picked up several years ago from a Methodist colleague: 

On the first Sunday of each new year, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) would regularly urge his congregations to “wholly give themselves up to God, and to renew at every point their covenant that the Lord should be their God.”  And then he would lead them in the covenant printed below.  Take a minute to look it over and see if you can say—and mean—these words.  And then imagine how the rest of 2009 would unfold for you if you could keep this covenant.

____________________________

 

PART I:  CONFESSION OF SIN

 

Let us humbly confess our sins to God:

 

O God, you have shown us the way of life

through your Son, Jesus Christ.

We confess with shame our slowness to learn of him,

our failure to follow him,

and our reluctance to bear the cross.

 

Have mercy on us, Lord, and forgive us.

 

We confess the poverty of our worship,

our neglect of fellowship and the means of grace,

Our hesitating witness for Christ,

our evasion of responsibilities in your service,

Our imperfect stewardship of your gifts.

 

Have mercy on us, Lord, and forgive us.

 

Let each of us in silence make confession to God.

 

SILENCE

 

Have mercy on us, Lord, and forgive us.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

In your abundant mercy

blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

 

Now the message that we have heard from God’s Son

and announce is this: 

God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him.

If we live in the light—just as he is in the light—

then we have fellowship with one another,

And the blood of Jesus, his Son,

purifies us from every sin.

If we say that we have no sin,

we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 

But if we confess our sins to God,

he will keep his promise and do what is right;

He will forgive us all our wrongdoing.

 

Amen.  Thanks be to God.

 

Let us pray:

 

Father, you have appointed our Lord Jesus Christ

As Mediator of a new covenant;

Give us grace to draw near with fullness of faith

And join ourselves in a perpetual covenant with you,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

PART II:  THE COVENANT

 

In the old covenant, God chose Israel

to be a special people and to obey the law.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection,

Has made a new covenant with all who trust in him.

We stand within this covenant and we bear his name.

On the one side, God promises in this covenant

to give us new life in Christ.

On the other side, we are pledged to live

not for ourselves but for God.

Today, therefore, we meet to renew the covenant

which binds us to God.

 

The people stand.

 

Friends, let us claim the covenant

God has made with his people,

And accept the yoke of Christ.

To accept the yoke of Christ means that we allow Christ

to guide all that we do and are,

and that Christ himself is our only reward.

Christ has many services to be done;

Some are easy, others are difficult;

Some make others applaud us,

others bring only reproach;

Some we desire to do because of our own interests;

others seem unnatural.

Sometimes we please Christ and meet our own needs,

At other times we cannot please Christ

unless we deny ourselves.

Yet Christ strengthens us and gives us the power

to do all these things.

Therefore let us make this covenant of God our own.

Let us give ourselves completely to God,

Trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.

 

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.

 

Amen.

 

 

—from the New Handbook of the Christian Year