The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
COVENANT: SOMETHING ON WHICH WE CAN AGREE
Deuteronomy 26:16-19 and Matthew 28:18-20
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 15, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
A WORD ABOUT WORSHIP TODAY:
Beginning today, our worship this autumn will focus on the theme:
STRENGTHENING OUR CONNECTION WITH GOD’S HEART – A SEASON OF COVENANT RENEWAL:
God’s Mission Is Our Mission
“As my Father sent me, so send I you.”
(Jesus, in John 20:21)
There is Good News! In a world drowning in fake information while thirsting for trustworthy knowledge, you are sent forth by The Living God carrying Living Water.
In your commitment to God, you follow Jesus as Lord of your faith. Your relationship of discipleship unto Jesus connects you with God’s heart of love. And, God’s heart of love is more powerful than all other powers!
Our St. John’s Covenant begins with these words: “United in the faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, revealed in history, disclosed in the Scriptures, and experienced in human life, we do solemnly and joyfully make this Covenant together.”
Gathered to worship of The Living God, let us begin by greeting one another as a covenant community!
Message begins at approximately 34 minutes.
MANUSCRIPT OF THE MESSAGE
When I walked inside the cathedral, in Jackson Square of New Orleans, I saw this sign:
“CATHEDRAL VISITORS ARE NOT TO GO ABOUT THE CHURCH WITHOUT A GUIDE.”
No guides were available that day. So, I walked on down the street and noticed Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop and The Velvet Dog were both open with no guides necessary.
Beloved, you live in a world where guides are necessary. And, part of the reason guides are necessary is because the history of Christ’s Church is filled with stories of sacrifice and scandal; manipulation and mercy; love and lunacy; half-hearted commitment and humility.
The global Church is like the world; confused and divided; capable of disagreeing over almost anything. People are looking for something on which they can agree.
When Randy Woodley became the pastor of a Native American congregation, he asked them what they needed from him to help them walk closer with God. One of the village leaders said, “When we see your walk with God in your heart, we will follow you.”
Here is something on which we can agree: when people see our walk with God in our heart, it is because they see us living with God’s Mission as Our Mission.
Ninety-seven years ago, in 1922, the charter members of this church and the first senior minister, Dr. Joseph Gaines, discerned the leadership of God’s Spirit to write The St. John’s Covenant. Three years later, in 1925, The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the document named ‘Baptist Faith and Message.’ However, because St. John’s was so pleased with The St. John’s Covenant, we never adopted that Faith and Message document. And, when the Southern Baptist Convention revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, St. John’s continued to embrace the St. John’s Covenant. By the time the Political Fundamentalists revised the Baptist Faith and Message again in 2000, St. John’s was already divorced from the Southern Baptist Convention on grounds of irreconcilable differences. I submit to you the decision to allow our corporate life and ministry be guided by The St. John’s Covenant has always both reflected and nurtured our progressive and autonomous witness. Our St. John’s Covenant has protected us and served as our guide.
In Deuteronomy 26, there is a story of how the people of God entered a season of covenant renewal. This is one of several stories like this in the pages of The Bible. Covenant renewal provides for us a pathway of spiritual growth and vitality as a local church on mission.
As St. John’s approaches our second century of congregational life and ministry, our culture is focused on disagreement and conflict. Our world needs congregations in Christ’s Church to offer spiritual vitality because of a spiritual awakening. This spiritual awakening must happen at the core of our life together. This year, we will sing “All Are Welcome” many times. Let us welcome new people into a faith community which is on a journey of spiritual renewal.
The spiritual awakening needed in Christ’s Church cannot be based on political perspectives, nor stacked atop party alliances, infatuations with yesterday, nationalism or the shifting footings of social progress. This essential spiritual awakening must be firmly established upon the nature of God’s character revealed in many ways through the ages; but especially in Jesus Christ, the historical incarnation of divine compassion. We remember the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 28, “…all authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
And, this is exactly where our St. John’s Covenant begins – with Jesus Christ.
Consider with me two key ideas in the preamble of our St. John’s covenant.
- OUR COVENANT UNITES US IN THE FAITH THAT JESUS CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD”
This covenant gives us something on which we can agree.
We are united in our faith commitment to Jesus Christ. We may disagree in our perspectives of Jesus; however, we are united in our commitment to God through Jesus. God is the creator of diversity and unity is diametrically opposed to uniformity. The four Gospels and other stories of Jesus do not present a rigid or narrow view of his life. The twelve apostles were very different from one another. Our unity in Christ is like a human body with many parts, yet each one important to do its work in God’s mission of love.
The early Church had a tremendous impact upon their world. Yet, they did not impact the world for God because they offered doctrinal proclamations, became involved in politics or pronounced moral declarations. The first century Church impacted society because they loved one another and served the people in their midst. The first century Church was living evidence of an authentic spiritual transformation. They offered to other people a relational and ethical incarnation of God’s Character, as revealed in Jesus Christ. As God sent Jesus to us, God sends us to draw near to the needs of the world and reveal the character of God’s heart revealed in Jesus.
Jesus has been revealed in history. Historical accounts – both within and outside the scriptures – point to the rabbi Jesus whose teachings and actions changed the world.
Jesus has been disclosed in the scriptures. Jesus fulfilled prophetic hopes and visions of those who followed God in the generations prior to Jesus’ birth. The Gospels and writings of early Church leaders offer us glimpses of understanding about the meaning of Jesus – what he reveals to us about the character and will of God.
Jesus has been, is being and will be experienced in human life. Your life is very different because you follow Jesus. I remind you that Jesus never asked for us to worship him. He asked us to follow him. And, wherever Jesus is followed, God is active saving individuals, families, people groups and nations – redeeming, healing, reconciling, and transforming situations which seem hopeless. As you follow Jesus, you see The Loving God bringing forth light from darkness and life from death. As followers of Jesus Christ, you experience this powerful love of God every day. You are engaged in obedience to God’s covenant relating God’s love to others because God’s Mission is Our Mission!
YES, WE ARE UNITED IN THE FAITH THAT JESUS CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD.
And the preamble of our covenant offers us a second word about this unity.
- OUR COVENANT REMINDS YOU THAT YOUR WILL MATTERS:
“WE DO SOLEMNLY AND JOYFULLY MAKE THIS COVENANT TOGETHER.”
As early as 3,000 BCE, the concept of ‘Covenant’ emerged to help people get along. A covenant expresses the will of people. The root word for ‘covenant,’ means, ‘fetter;’ something used to connect one thing or person to another. In God’s covenant with humanity, God does not force humanity into a covenant connection. God’s covenant expresses God’s will to be in a relationship with us and asks us to be willing to be connected to God’s will.
I am fond of how the Quaker, Thomas Kelley, describes this idea:
“The most difficult challenge you will ever face is to have the will to will God’s will.”
Please allow me to be your teacher for a moment. You are a very committed people.
In fact, you often bump up against the reality that you are an overly committed person or people. No matter how diligently you try to live an integrated life, there are many pressures pulling on you to be dis-integrated. Your challenge is not commitment; your challenge is clarity of priority.
Using the image of Stacking Dolls, consider that your commitments are stacked inside other commitments. Are you building your life around your core commitments or are you focused on outer appearances and just keeping the core commitments buried on the inside; carrying them within you – but not focused upon them? Again, your challenge is not commitment; your challenge is clarity of priority. Your challenge is the will to will God’s will in your life.
Another concept to consider is how your thinking, feeling, willing and doing intertwine.
Your cognitive, affective, volitional and behavioral dimensions are always in conversation.
Your cognitive is your ‘think so;’
Your affective is your ‘feel so;’
Your volitional is your ‘will so;’ and
Your behavioral is your ‘do so.’
At times, you know to do so;
you feel like doing so would be right or good or bring meaning or gladness;
you want to do so; so you do so.
However, at other times, you think so, feel so, will so and do so are disintegrated.
In our culture, we give a great deal of emphasis to knowledge, emotions and behaviors.
However, we usually de-emphasize the volitional; the human will.
Influential thinkers and writers have emphasized the importance of the human will
Soren Kierkegaard wrote an entire book entitled, ‘Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.’
William James surmised, “The difference between a good person and a bad one is their choice of a cause.”
Paul Tillich challenges you to use your human will to determine, “your ultimate concern.”
Your will is how you make your energies flow together in one direction with purpose.
Your will connects with your knowledge, emotions and behaviors to give you integrity.
In Jesus Christ, you see it is God’s will for all the energies of God’s compassion to flow toward humanity and from human to human.
Our faith in Jesus Christ shapes us by God’s will to have the will to will God’s will.
Several of you have seen the video this week of Maxwell and Finnegan. At two years of age, they are best friends in New York City. When they spotted one another on the sidewalk, both boys started running toward the other for an embrace. The video has gone viral. These boys have no idea their skin color and culture are different. They will learn this over time. And, then, they will get to choose whether they will continue to embrace in unity. Choosing is an act of the will and challenges us to clarify our commitments.
Today, we are clarifying our commitments as we begin a season of covenant renewal:
STRENGTHENING OUR CONNECTION WITH GOD’S HEART
We are renewing our commitment to God’s covenant with us and our covenant with one another, because God’s Mission Is Our Mission
It is significant that our St. John’s Covenant includes the words, ‘solemnly’ and ‘joyfully.’
On the surface, these words may seem to be opposites.
Yet, they are pointing out that to will God’s will is a serious commitment that brings tremendous delight.
And that, beloved, is something on which we can agree. Amen and AMEN!