Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back To the Covenant

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

In all of life choices are important.  Just ask “The Zode”…
Did I ever tell you about the young Zode,
Who came to two signs at a fork in the road?
One said "To place One," and the other "Place Two"
So the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zode scratched his head and his chin and his pants,
And he said to himself, 'Now I'll be taking a chance...
To go to Place One, That place may be hot;
How do I know if I'll like it or not?
On the other hand, though, I'll feel such a fool,
If I go to Place Two and find it's too cool.
"Play safe," cried the Zode; I'll play safe, I'm no dunce.
I'll simply start off to both places at once.
And that's how the Zode who would not take a chance,
Got to no place at all with a split in his pants.
Joshua was the leader in the Old Testament who took over for Moses and led the people of God into the Promised Land.  After years of leadership and conquering all enemies, Joshua was about to die.  So he sent word that all the people should gather for some final instructions. 
Joshua reminded the nation about their great God, Who had led them, protected them, and provided for them.  He also reminded them of their victories and defeats along the way.
·        They went out of Egypt victorious, but wavered and wanted to go back.
·        They followed Moses thru God’s dry path in the Red Sea all the way to Mt. Moriah; then they got nervous and made an idol, a golden calf.
·        They came within a hair’s-breadth of crossing Jordan, but they wimped and then had to wander forty years in the wilderness.
Victories and failure! 
They had followed Joshua after Moses died, and succeeded in conquering the Promised Land; now it was time to occupy the land and pass along God’s ways to their children and children’s children.
Joshua told them God is worthy of, their devotion.  And then he gave the invitation....he said “choose…and choose today”.  They all stood as one and (drum-roll, please), made a solemn vow to serve God without ceasing.  Long story short….they didn’t!
7The people worshiped the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred ten years.  9So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.  10Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.  11Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshiped the Baals; 12and they abandoned the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger.                                  Judges 2:7-12  (NRSV)
Joshua, like Moses spent a good deal of time calling God’s people back to the covenant – back to the place of their vows with God. 
Jesus has had about the same problem with His church throughout the past two thousand years.  We make and break covenant like we change clothes.  It is a human problem; we lose focus, get selfish, forget.  We must return time and again.
Our Covenant
The covenant we have together as a church keeps calling us back to our vows.  What are the possibilities?
1.    Reject the Covenant 
Rejection of the covenant has many different faces:
We can reject it outright – walk away.  People do this – they walk away from Christ and His church, but that is the nature of our very Wesleyan thought of free will.
We can reject it by our behavior
·        some choose to delay, saying “I will get around to that.” 
·        Others choose to be selective – “I’ll do this part of being a Christian, or church member – but don’t ask me to do anything else.”
·        Still others reject the covenant with conditioned response – I’ll be a Christian/church member just as long as my prayers are answered, I can pay my bills and the dog doesn’t bite anyone.

All of that is rejection; but it’s worse than outright rejection to say “yes” and act “no”!  Jesus said it would better to have never put your hand to the plow, than to say “yes” and then turn back (Luke 9:62).
2.    Accept the Covenant
As a church, and as individuals, we all need to be called back to the covenant.  To return to our covenant today means reaffirming what our baptism meant, and what it means; more about that in a moment.
Today is “All Saints Sunday”.  We are particularly mindful of those who, as part of the church “invisible” are no less part of our company here.  If we are going to come once again to our covenant, affirm our vows, it is important that we come with all the church, (present and triumphant) in that attitude which was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
Here’s how to come back to covenant:
1.           With Radical Humility  2 Chr 7:14
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  (NRSV)
Folks, we make a lot of vows, and words are important – they convey our heart’s desire and intention – but God’s view of us participating in His covenant also means we must act, not just talk.  Humbling ourselves, prayer, seeking God’s face and rejecting sin in all forms, within and without, are not going to be accomplished with a one-hour a week Christianity.  Some changes will have to be made.
2.           With Radical Hospitality
When we studied Bishop Schnase’s “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” this idea of radical hospitality seemed like a sweet addition to being just plain nice folks.  It isn’t.  Let me tell you why.
When this church opened its doors for the first time in the 1870’s America was quite different.  The church was respected and had influence in the community.  In the 21st century we are an option among many.  If we are to come back to the kind of covenant that will make a difference in this world, we are going to have to enter the mindset and worldview of first century thinking. 
At that time the church was not a world-wide business organization; the church was an underground movement, and it spread like wildfire.  Why?  Listen to this:
41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.   44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.                             Acts 2:41-47 (NRSV)
If this is the kind of church we truly sense God has called us to be (and I do), then we will have to keep our eye on the covenant; we will have to go back to the covenant.  Come, meet me at the font; let us reaffirm our commitment to each other and to God and His world.

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