Covenant with God and each other

October 23, 2013

In our society, when two parties form an agreement, they usually agree to a contract. We have far too many attorneys in the parish for me to be terribly specific, but in contracts like these each party has obligations and there are specific repercussion when one party violates the contract. Interestingly, the Bible has very little to say about contracts. Instead, the Bible talks about covenant, specifically the covenant between God and his people.

This morning’s reading from Jeremiah talks about a new covenant, a refreshment of the arrangement between God and the people. Jeremiah is speaking during a time of great upheaval in Israel. He is prophesying during the years just leading up to the time when Israel is conquered by Babylon. So in his prophecies, we see a community in profound crisis, and God is assuring them that his bound with them will remain. Through jeremiah, God lays out this new covenant. There are two characteristics that Jeremiah notes about this new covenant. First, each person will be accountable for their own actions. There’s a new element of personal responsibility. The second part of the covenant is even more interesting. God will write his law on the heart of each of his people. They will each be able to say that they know the law, and they know what God wants of them. Moreover, they could never lose the law because it was always written on their hearts.

In our church, we often talk about the covenant of baptism, and this covenant is a lot like the one described in Jeremiah. In baptism, we are bound to God in an intimate way, in a way that we can never lose. The grace that is written on our hearts brings us into God’s family, and that fact binds us all to each other.

If we are bound into a community with God, then the story from Luke makes a little more sense. I love this story. Jesus is pretty clear that message of the story is that we are supposed to be persistent, almost irritatingly persistent, when we pray to God. There’s an intimacy implied. Since we are bound together in a covenant, we’re stuck with each other, and God is giving us permission to treat him a little familiarly, like family. This certainly happens here in the church. We care for each other like family, and sometimes we squabble like family. But this is all because we are bound together as God’s family in a covenant that is written on our hearts.

As a Christian community, we are not brought together under a contract. There’s nothing transactional about what we do here. We do have responsibilities to God and to each other, but they are based on membership of a divine family, not because we have given anything in exchange. We’ve already been given the grace of God for healing, and for salvation. We really don’t have much more to ask for.

Next week will be the kickoff for our Stewardship campaign for next year. But since the bishop will be here and stewardship might not get the attention it deserves, I would like to make a few comments this morning. When we approach stewardship, I would suggest that we think about it in terms of our covenant with God and to each other. Supporting the Church is not part of a transaction; it’s not about what I give and what I get. It is something that flows from the love that we have for God and for each other. It is a way of sharing resources so that we can bring new people into the love of God, so that we can share the love of God with the world, and so that we can help others in need.

The words that Jeremiah spoke almost 2,600 years ago were words of comfort to people who had no idea how they were going to survive. But the power of this prophecy resonates today. God’s law has been written onto our hearts, and we know God. This knowledge brings us into one fellowship, one family, with each other and with him in a way that we can never lose.

– Michael Tuck+

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