On Sunday, we had the opportunity to worship at the Wesley Chapel in London. When we arrived I was reminded that is was the first Sunday of the year. (I’ve sort of lost track of those things since I don’t plan Sunday calendars any more.) In many Methodist churches, the first Sunday of the year is a Service of Covenant Renewal.
First, a little background. Rev. John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement. God used the Methodist Revival to do some great work in England in the 18th century. The movement spread to the young American Colonies. The movement continues to flourish in many parts of the world. Millions of Christians find their faith traditions in the events that happened in and around Wesley Chapel. While we would never put a person or a place above God, you could hear the echoes of giants of the faith in the walls of those buidlings.
It was quite moving to see a myriad of nationalities represented in the congregation. Joshua and I noted that there were Africans, Asians, Europeans, South Americans, and North Americans all gathered together in worship. It was BEAUTIFUL. What a picture of Methodism around the world. Mr. Wesley was a out-spoken opponent of the slave trade that was so prevalent in his time. I wonder what he would have said about the brothers and sisters of the faith who were gathered together in the chapel he built.
The idea of Covenant needs a little background as well. The Covenant in an important concept in the Scriptures. I like to explain it in terms of contrasting it to a contract. Lets say I agree to buy your car for $5,000. We agree to meet at a time and place to finish the transaction. If we both show up, and I don’t bring the money, you are not obligated to give me the car. The contract, the agreement we had, is null and void. It is not so with a covenant. In a covenant, each party agrees to do what they say they will do, no matter what the other person does–or doesn’t do. In marriage, a covenant is made. God offers his people a covenant. He offers peace for today and bright hope for tomorrow. He does so through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit he extends the Covenant for ALL people to respond in love. And though his people don’t keep their end of the agreement, he still offers grace and forgiveness. He turns no one away who accepts his offer of the Covenant.
Sometimes, we forget the Covenant God offers or the promise we made to follow it. It is important to remember it often. That’s what I like about the renewal service: a reminder of what God said he will do and reminder of what we said we will do. In 1781, Wesley published the Covenant Renewal service for the ministers to celebrate in their congregations. In the preface, he admonishes:
“Get these three Principles fixed in your hearts: that Things eternal are much more considerable than Things temporal; that Things not seen are as certain as the Things that are seen; that upon your present choice depends your eternal lot. [Choose] Christ and his ways and you are blessed for ever; refuse, and you are undone for ever.”
No matter if we’ve accepted the Covenant with God before, the offer stands for ALL of us. Let us celebrate what he has offered to us and will continue to do in us. Here is the prayer for the Covenant Renewal Service:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
May this by a prayer for all of us in this new year.
The image below is the pulpit and altar table at Wesley Chapel. In the “It’s a Small World File”, the white cross on the altar came from Alabama!