Covenant: God’s Gift of Christ – Worship @ Home Sunday, 07 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
(Based on material for Vision and Commitment 2021)

Introduction

In January of each year, in The Salvation Army United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, we have a period of reflection on our relationship with God and his direction for us as a part of his church. The Vision and Commitment season for 2021 has centred on covenants in the Bible, especially God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34. A covenant is a means to express our commitment to a relationship with another person, including how we intend to maintain and strengthen that relationship.

In the final Sunday of this season, we shall think about God’s covenant with us through Jesus, and consider how he wants us to respond as individuals. Towards the end of today’s programme, you will be invited to pray, to ask God what he wants to say to you,  and to sign your own commitment card. Although we will be doing this in the privacy of our own homes, it will still be a corporate act in the sense that God calls us into a community of believers, to support each other and to reach out in love to our communities.

We pray that, as you enter into this time of worship and reflection, you will experience your own encounter with God.

Majors Steven and Elizabeth Turner

Song: Lord of Creation

Lord of creation, to you be all praise;
Most mighty your working, most wondrous your ways;
Your glory and might are beyond us to tell,
And yet in the heart of the humble you dwell.

Lord of all power, I give you my will,
In joyful obedience your tasks to fulfil.
Your bondage is freedom, your service is song,
And, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.

Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
Rich truth that surpasses man’s knowledge to find.
What eye has not seen and what ear has not heard
Is taught by your Spirit and shines from your word.

Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart:
Your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide,
Your presence to cheer me, whatever betide.

Lord of all being, I give you my all;
If e’er I disown you I stumble and fall;
But sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom to the end of the way.

John Copley Winslow (1882-1974)

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.

Psalm 42:1

Song: As the deer

AS THE DEER pants for the water,
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

You alone are my strength, my shield,
To You alone may my
spirit yield.
You alone are my
heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

I want You more than
gold or silver,
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy-giver
And the apple of my eye.

You’re my Friend and
You are my Brother,
Even though You are a King.
I love You more than any other,
So much more than anything.

Martin J. Nystrom.
© 1983 Restoration Music Ltd./Adm. by Sovereign Music UK
.

Prayer

Lord God, we praise you for your greatness and power, for the beauty and majesty of your creation, culminating in human beings. However, we recognise that we are not all that we were made to be. Your word tells how you have “loved us with an everlasting love”, even as we have run away from you.

Yet in our hearts, we know that we need you more than anything. As we approach you in this act of worship, may we encounter you afresh, experience your love and grace, and know just how you want us to live out your love in our fellowship and our community.

Let us conclude our prayer time by using the prayer
Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Bible Reading

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

Luke 22:14-20

Song: My life must be Christ’s broken bread

My life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign.
That other souls, refreshed and fed,
May share his life through mine.

My all is in the Master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love’s demands
To give, for his dear sake.

Lord, let me share that grace of thine
Wherewith thou didst sustain
The burden of the fruitful vine,
The gift of buried grain.
Who dies with thee, O Word divine,
Shall rise and live again.

Albert Orsborn (1886-1967)

Covenant: God’s Gift of Jesus Christ

Introduction

Love is the most common theme within songs and poetry in almost any culture. And even within the darkest forms of literature, we see the need for everyone to love and be loved. Sadly, that love can be twisted and broken for all kinds of reasons.

The Bible tells us that God loves people. As early as the Exodus God declared of himself:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6

And soon afterward, Moses declared:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Deuteronomy 7:9

‘God loves people’ is the reality that informs and drives the idea of covenant. A covenant isn’t a deal or a bargaining position that results in a contract. It is the foundation of an everlasting relationship between God and people that reveals the incredible truth, that God wants to be with us… to love us.

Broken Covenants

Unfortunately, God’s unfailing love towards his people was not always returned. When Jeremiah begins to talk about the New Covenant which God wants to make with Israel, he has this damning indictment of their behaviour:

‘It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.’

Jeremiah 31:32 MSGhttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+31%3A32&version=MSG

Then Jeremiah begins to describe a completely new relationship with Israel, that will not be based on a contract – “you do this and I’ll do that”. When one party breaks a contract, the other is free to take measures to gain compensation.

Consider the row over the supply of vaccines to the European Union. Due to problems at the factory, the manufacturer was unable to deliver the agreed quantity on time. In retaliation, the EU introduced export controls, in case the manufacturer tried to “sneak” some vaccines into Britain.

Contracts imply co-operation and trust from each party, but are written on the expectation that they will fail, and so safeguards are built in. In a covenant, the two parties are bound together much more tightly. If one defaults, the other will still try to make the relationship work.

Consider marriage, in which two people commit to each other, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do us part.” (Christians often add, “according to God’s holy ordinance”, recalling God’s covenant of love with his people). The list of “for”s recognises that the relationship will go through times of difficulty, but that the couple will stick together to work it out.

Marriage has a unique place because it speaks of an absolute faithfulness, a covenant between radically different persons; and so it echoes the absolute covenant of God with his chosen, a covenant between radically different partners. ‑Rowan Williams

In his New Covenant, God promises that he will never abandon his people. Of course, we’d like to think we are good enough to “deserve” this treatment, or that we can earn God’s love by our good deeds. But the reality is that we mess up:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23

That’s where God’s mercy comes in, restoring the relationship and giving us another chance.

‘There’s a crack in almost everything, That’s how the light gets in.’

Leonard Cohen, ‘Anthem’ from 1992 album The Future 

Broken Justice

This life isn’t fair. If you always INSIST on justice, you’ll be angry all of your life. (Don’t make a ‘god’ out of justice.)

David Riddell

Pretty soon in human relationships, we find someone offends against us. They may say something that hurts us, take something of ours, or even directly or indirectly cause the death of someone we love. In that situation, we expect them to pay for their misdeeds. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God gave the people laws to tell them how to behave towards each other. The most famous is, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). The context is when a person’s actions lead to injury to someone else; the concept is that the punishment fits the crime. These principles have formed the basis of our legal system for a long time.

Unfortunately, retributive justice—hitting the offender with a hammer to give him a matching broken leg—doesn’t really do anything for the victim; he still can walk and probably can’t work. And in bigger cases, victims often feel left out of the process.

Restorative Justice seeks to heal and restore people, perhaps by introducing the victim and the offender, and allowing a relationship to develop and repentance and forgiveness to be exchanged.

God’s love transforms everything and heals the damage that is done to relationships. Human experience suggests that retributive justice does not work very well in families… or in any other context! Good parents love their children unconditionally, even if there is personal hurt and cost in loving this way, and as such this reflects the way in which God loves people.

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace. (Saint Ignatius)

Going forward together in covenant means that we must love each other to the extent that all of our relationships are transformed. The Church is to be characterised by the extent of our love for others. She is a loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive community of people that is like nothing else on the planet.

Broken Bread

At the Last Supper, Jesus took a ceremony that was linked to the Passover and the Old Covenant, and used it to introduce the New Covenant. The Feast of Passover commemorated the night when God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt.

The Israelites were told to cook two things: a lamb and unleavened bread (bread without yeast). Before cooking the lamb, its blood was spread on the doorposts and lintels to identify this as a house of faith. The Angel of Death “passed over” the marked houses, but killed the firstborn son in every other house (mainly the Egyptians). The unleavened bread was food for the journey. (Read the full story for yourself in Exodus 12)

When Jesus took the bread and wine, blessed them and shared them with his disciples, he was indicating that he would be killed in the same way as the Passover lamb, so that we would not be killed for our sins, but could have eternal life.

The breaking and blessing (note the contrast indicated in the two words) of the bread imply that brokenness and healing (death and resurrection) are key components of human relationships and the means by which humanity will flourish and thrive.

Such sacrificial, covenant love demands a response from us. Hence Albert Orsborn writes:

My all is in the Master’s hands
For him to bless and break;
Beyond the brook his winepress stands
And thence my way I take,
Resolved the whole of love’s demands
To give for his dear sake.

Albert Orsborn, SASB 610

Conclusion

‘When God makes a covenant with us, God says: “I will love you with an everlasting love. Iwill be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.” In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts.

When we makea contract with a person, we say: “I will fulfil my part as long as you fulfil yours. Whenyou don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.” Contracts areoften broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wantsour relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage,friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our livestogether.

Henri JM Nouwen

In following the example of Jesus, in the laying down of our lives so that others can pick up theirs, we arrive at the heart of discipleship and we share God’s vision of the new Kingdom community.

Questions for reflection

Personal

  • Jeremiah seems to suggest that instead of punishing us, God decides to love us all the more. Can you think of an example of when you experienced this kind of love? When did you offer it to someone else?
  • In your corps or family, what specifically can you name and thank God for as you reflect on his covenant of love?

Community

  • In what ways is our corps fellowship ‘a loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive community of people that is like nothing else on the planet’? In what ways are you loving, tolerant, accepting and inclusive? How can you be more like this?
  • ‘Going forward together’ – is there one thing that might enable our fellowship to move forward? What might be preventing the fellowship moving forward? Offer prayers for wisdom for your corps leaders.

Renewing my covenant with God

Re-read God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34, to make a new and living covenant with his people. Take time to reflect on your relationship with God: what is the best thing; where you might have fallen short; what you desire for the future; how God might want you to live in the coming days.

Pray the prayer below, and (if you wish) download, print and sign the Covenant Card from The Salvation Army website as a marker that you commit to follow Jesus throughout this year.

O God, we cry to you in our anger that people hurt each other.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

We feel the fear and pain of an innocent and trusting child.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

We carry with us things that have been done to us which hurt and destroy.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

They stand before us and weigh us down. They stop us living with joy and hope.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

Lift us up on the wings of your Spirit.
Be with us and heal us, O God.

For you are stronger than all the forces that stand against us. Set us free, heal our wounds, O God who never leaves us nor forsakes us. Amen.

‘Service of Healing’, Dorothy McRae McMahon in “Human Rites”, Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, editors (Mowbray 1995), 135.

Song: O Jesus, I have promised

Traditional Version
Livelier version

O Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end,
Be thou for ever near me,
My Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle
If thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway,
If thou wilt be my guide.

  1. O let me feel thee near me;
    The world is ever near;
    I see the sights that dazzle,
    The tempting sounds I hear.
    My foes are ever near me,
    Around me and within;
    But, Jesus, draw thou nearer
    And shield my soul from sin.
  2. O let me hear thee speaking
    In accents clear and still,
    Above the storms of passion,
    The murmurs of self-will.
    O speak to reassure me,
    To chasten or control;
    O speak to make me listen,
    Thou Guardian of my soul.
  3. O Jesus, thou hast promised
    To all who follow thee,
    That where thou art in Glory,
    There shall thy servant be;
    And, Jesus, I have promised
    To serve thee to the end;
    O give me grace to follow,
    My Master and my friend.

John Ernest Bode (1816-74)

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless us with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep with our hearts.

May God bless us with holy anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
so that we may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless us with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and transform that pain to joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really can make a difference in this world,
so that we are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

Our regular benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day
As you trust him and walk in his way.
May his presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

Cliff Barrows

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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