New Year Covenant
A tradition in the Methodist movement was to have at the close of the year, or the beginning of a new year a service of covenant. John Wesley was a firm believer that we needed frequently to renew our relationship with Christ. He also believed that the relationship with God and Christ is covenantal. A covenant is an agreement in which each party agrees to do certain things for the other. There are examples of covenants with God throughout the Old Testament.
After the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah. This is an odd one-sided covenant. Before the flood, God had sought out righteous people, and couldn’t find any except Noah. So God decided to start over using Noah’s children to repopulate the earth. After the flood, God doesn’t ask anything of Noah but promises never to destroy humanity by flood again. God causes the rainbow to be the sign of his promise to all people.
Then God makes a covenant with Abram. In this covenant, Abram promises to follow and obey God, and God promises that he will have many descendants. Abram has been obeying God faithfully for many years, though well into his nineties he has begun to doubt God’s promise to give him children. God makes a formal agreement signified by a traditional suzerainty treaty. When two kings were making an agreement it was the custom to sacrifice animals, cut them in half, and the kings walked between the halves letting the blood of the animals bind them to their promises. That was usually accompanied by a written agreement. In this case, God renewed his promise of descendants, and Abram agreed that all male children in his line would be circumcised as a sign of their commitment to God. Abram killed the animals, then he walked between them accompanied by “a flaming firepot” that indicated God’s presence. Abram was also given a new name, Abraham.
God made a covenant through Moses with the people of Israel. God had delivered them from Egypt, but they were not yet in the promised land. God offered to continue to be with the people in return for obedience to his commandments. The commandments were spelled out in much greater detail than given to previous generations. The people agree and constantly backslide, but God remains faithful. Before his death, Moses reiterated the call to obedience, and just before Joshua died, he calls on the people to renew their covenant with God, saying choose life or choose death.
God promised David that his descendants would rule after him, and there would never cease to be one of them on the throne of Israel. Again, David is not asked to do anything in return, but there is an understood commitment to obey God. When the people do not do so, God allows the kingdom to be conquered, though David’s descendants continue to lead through the exile. Then Jesus, who was descended from David on both his mother’s and his earthly father’s side becomes the one who will reign over the Kingdom of God forever.
King Josiah called on the people of Judah to renew their covenant with God. After the exile, Ezra and Nehemiah lead the people in publically recommitting themselves to the covenant with God, holding a daylong celebration and scripture reading to commemorate the event.
Jesus offered a new covenant. God would save the people from their sins, and the people were asked to obey Jesus' “new commandment” which wasn’t really new: that they love God and love others. A sign of this new covenant was the gift of God’s Holy Spirit who would give people guidance and strength to fulfill the commandment. It is this covenant that we will renew on January 2. We will again agree to our commitment to love one another, asking God, through the Holy Spirit to enable us to live up to our promises. Even if you are unable to come to this service, I would encourage you to renew your covenant with God: to remember God’s promises to you and to renew your commitment to love.