Covenant Service 2013

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Jeremiah 31:31-33, Philippians 3:10-14 & 17-21 & Luke 4:16-21
(6-1-13)

What’s the idea behind a Covenant Service at the beginning of a New Year? A covenant is a promise between two people (or parties). There are many covenants in the Bible, mostly between God and people. Covenants are how God enters into a lasting relationship with people: important because we were created to be in a relationship with Him.

Sometimes covenants are conditional, (I will be their God if they will be my people) sometimes unconditional (Noahic – God’s grace will be upon all people). Christians have been brought into a relationship with God by means of a covenant that is grounded in the person, work, and blood of Christ.

Mostly covenants are about what God will do. He promises to do something and the covenant means we can count on Him doing it. This is not the same as when we sign a contract and you agree to do this and I agree to do that and we both benefit - God’s agreements are things He commits to doing for us. Let’s hear a special Covenant that pre-figures Christ:
A man moved into a retirement home to spend the rest of his life there. It wasn’t long until he’d made friends with the other residents and there was one lady he was especially attracted to and vice-versa. Eventually he proposed. Next morning he woke up remembering his proposal, but couldn’t remember her answer. He went to her and said, "I’m really embarrassed. I proposed to you last night but can’t remember if you said `Yes’ or `No."’ "Oh, thank goodness” she replied, I remember saying `Yes’ but couldn’t remember who’d asked me!"

Sometimes that’s the way we feel about New Year’s resolutions. "This year we’re turning over a new leaf: exercise, lose weight, do all kinds of things to improve ourselves physically and spiritually." Then we forget.

That’s why it’s a good idea to make a covenant which establishes a target to reach for. Setting goals establishes priorities in life and you can always be sure of two things:

If we don’t make a decision to change for the better, it won’t happen. BUT a covenant is only words and doesn’t mean a thing if there’s no commitment to keeping it. There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it when it is convenient or when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you will allow no excuses for not doing it because the result of doing it is what you’re aiming for. Covenants indicate that we are serious about our relationship to God.

Paul recognizes that his priorities are to know Christ and to win the prize to which He calls him. When we live by goals, we’re not living just for today’s fun, but for eternity.

Life’s uncertain. Time’s a valuable commodity. We don’t know anything about the future. This moment is all we really have. The Bible says, "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation." We need to establish a priority in our lives.

If we live to be 75, most of us will have spent our time like this:
(all 24 hour periods!)
3 years acquiring an education
7 years eating
14 years working
5 years in cars/planes
5 years talking with each other
1 year sick or recovering
24 years sleeping
3 years reading
12 years amusing ourselves (TV, films, hobbies)

That adds up to 75 years and, according to research, on average, most of us will have done with our lives.

If we’ve gone to church every single Sunday of those 75 years we will have spent 5.5 months worshipping. Think about that - 5 years in cars, 5.5 months in Church/SS. And that’s if you’ve never missed a Sunday!

That tells us a little bit about the brevity of time and also about our priorities in life.

Are we using our time in this life to prepare ourselves as Paul did for the ‘upward call of Christ Jesus’? That glorious promise of heaven. This morning, it being Epiphany I spoke of the magi, the wisemen searching out Christ when He was born. Today wise men (and women!) still do!

Having thought about the brevity of time, and recognizing we should prioritise, how do we do that? Paul puts it this way, "This one thing I do." Obviously Paul did more than one thing. He made tents, started churches, preached sermons, healed the sick, wrote lots of letters. He obviously did many things.

But he said, "The top priority in my life is to press on toward the goal for the prize for which God has called me."

An expert in time management skills was addressing a group of students. After a while, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz” and set a one-gallon, wide necked jar on the table. He carefully put a dozen largish rocks inside the jar. When the jar was full and he couldn’t fit any more inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone said, “Yes.”
Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He put some in the jar and shook it down till it worked itself down into the spaces between the rocks. He asked again, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them said.

“Good!” he replied reaching down for a bucket of sand. He poured it in until it filled all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. “Good!” he said as he began to pour a jug of water in until the jar was filled to the brim.

Then he asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager student said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit something more into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the big rocks of your life? Let me suggest a few we should do each day:

Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. It was Jesus Himself who said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto you."

When Jesus began His public ministry He went to the synagogue and read the scriptures, a passage from Isaiah that set out His manifesto. Spoke of what He was about to do. Let us listen to it now and take it on board for ourselves.

Covenants usually have accompanying signs. Abrahamic Covenant = circumcision; Mosaic Covenant = observance of the Sabbath day. Noahic Covenant = rainbow. The prophet Nehemiah challenged the people to build for the glory of God and the establishment of the people of God. In order to encourage the people and not wanting them to slip back he got them to sign a covenant. Nehemiah 9:38 “Because of all this we make a sure covenant and write it and our princes, Levites and priests seal unto it”.

The Covenant we are about to make has been given out and I would urge you too, to sign it tonight. Listen to this before we stand to say it together:

A Middle Eastern mystic said, “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me, just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.’

The Covenant
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done
when I am valued and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you,
as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
May it be so for ever.
Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.
Amen.