COVENANT SERVICE - 1995.

Many houses have covenants attached to them: usually legal arrangements with neighbours, concerning such things as fences, drains and rights-of-way.
 
People buying such houses, have to sign a document which says that they understand the terms of the covenant, and, should the need arise, they will allow those terms to be applied. From the moment of signing, they can, if they wish, ignore the existence of their neighbours, for the covenant does not oblige them to establish a friendly relationship with them.
 
Although, at the beginning, it was essential to know all the details of what the covenant entailed: providing that its terms never need to be applied, life can go on, just as though the contract was never entered into: and the covenant-document can gather dust in the solicitor's office; forgotten by those who signed it; because it has no direct bearing on ordinary, day-to-day living.
 
Things are very different with the covenants that God makes with man.
 
The house-buyers had, first, to understand, and agree-to, the terms of the covenant: only then could they go ahead and become house-owners. Most men and women who become Christians, have no idea at all that there is such a thing as a covenant between God and man, until after they had begun to make a bit of spiritual progress.
 
Those buying houses, and agreeing to the terms of the covenants attached to them, have all details spelled out, so that there can be no surprises later.
 
Those Christians who find themselves confronted by God covenants, only after they began their spiritual journey; come to understand that there is a real sense in which they did not know what they were entering into. Therefore, for many of them, there were surprises, as the discovery of the covenant brought with it a gradual revelation of its terms.
 
New householders, signing documents, are aware that the effectiveness of their contract with the neighbours, in no way depends upon having an on-going relationship with them.
 
From the discovery of it; and with the passing of the years; Christians are increasingly aware that the effectiveness of God's contract with them, very much depends upon their good and on-going relationship with him: for it is revelation-within-relationship which spells out the terms of the covenant, and shows their relevance in daily life.
 
By no means all covenants made between neighbours are honoured; that is partly why the civil courts are so busy. Some people wonder: ‘If things go wrong; will the other man honour his side of the contract?’
 
Scripture teaches; the Church believes; and personal faith claims, that God's 'Word' is unchangeable; therefore, his covenant-promises are unbreakable.
 
This being so: where does this leave us, in relation to God's covenant in Christ? Do we, sometimes at least, wonder whether or not we are honouring our side of the contract: and are we quite clear as to exactly what ‘our side of the contract' consists of?
 
Our involvement in God's covenant, relates, not so much to rules and regulations; important and helpful though these are in giving proper balance and direction to our lives: but more to our acceptance of Christ; on a widening basis; and at deepening levels. It is only in this way, that we actually become 'heirs to all of God's good promises' - just as St. Paul taught.
 
Not only that; it is within a developing relationship with Christ, that the terms of the covenant are revealed; and make sense to us.
 
In following Christ; no matter how hesitantly; the terms of the contract become more clearly seen; more relevant to our faith; more closely applied, and, therefore, more helpful in our daily lives.
 
At the heart of it all, lies relationship with God the Father; through Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
In ordinary, human terms: speaking and listening are essential to truly meaningful relationship. There is a sense in which we can say that writers, composers and artists can ‘speak' to us through their writing, music and painting; and that we can 'listen' to what they are saying, because their work tells us something about them. But even the best of them, can say only so much through their work. To really get to know them; a better form of 'speaking' and 'listening' is needed; something beyond what their work, or other people, can tell us; and that is, listening to what they have to say for themselves. Only in this way: will come the fuller, and better, understanding; and the deeper relationship.
 
The Bible says that the created order of things has something to tell us about its creator; and that his spoken 'Word'; given through many ancient prophets and writers; reveals much of who God is; and what he expects of us.
However, though we may look, and listen, as carefully as possible; these things can tell us only so much. We need to know what God has to tell us about himself: through direct dealing with him, in prayerful relationship.
 
Although vast numbers of Christians regularly 'speak’, and 'listen', in their prayers and meditations, by no means all are satisfied with the results.
 
By far the greatest area of dissatisfaction concerns the lack of experience of the presence of God, through deepening relationship; and raises questions as to how things might be improved.
 
Perhaps all that is needed is a change of emphasis in approach to God.
 
According to St. Paul's own writings; up to the time of his conversion, he knew just about all that it was possible to know about God's ‘Old Covenant’ with his people.
 
But things changed. From his ‘Damascus Road’ experience, onwards; he had to learn, and was very willing to do so, all about God's ‘New Covenant’ in Christ, through direct and on-going relationship with Jesus.
 
When Christ spoke to him, on the Damascus Road; Paul did not say: ‘I’ve lived by the Law all of my life; so what more do you want of me?’ Nor did he offer God praise, or thanksgiving about anything. He did not ask for more grace; deeper faith; more love, or anything of the sort. Instead, he asked a short and very direct question:
 
‘Who are you, Lord? and then came the direct answer: ‘I am Jesus’.
 
The Lord did not say: ‘I am God's Christ; risen, ascended and glorified’. Instead, he said: ‘I am Jesus - your personal Saviour’.
 
In his writings, Paul makes it clear that his question: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ and the answer: ‘I am Jesus’, were not left at that. 
 
He shows that, through personal relationship, there was a continuing revelation: both of the divine nature; and of the depth of meaning, within God's ‘New Covenant’ in Christ.
 
Because Paul came to recognize, that relationship within the ‘New Covenant’ was a far better thing than the more impersonal Law of the ‘Old Covenant’; he was able to open himself to receiving those divine gifts and graces needed to strengthen him; and new meaning, and purpose, to direct him.
 
Paul's life and work became truly effective, only when he moved far beyond knowledge of the Law: and into ongoing and deepening relationship.
 
The clearer our vision of God's covenant in Christ is to us; the greater its relevance to our lives will be.
 
The closer its application in daily living; the deeper will be our joy. But the clearness and greatness; closeness and depth, very much depend upon our relation with God, through Christ.
 
When we approach Jesus direct; we move beyond historical questions and answers; raised by, and given to, others; and raise those issues; and ask those questions; that are very much of the present; and are important to us.
 
If our personal, ‘New Covenant’ life of faith, took on a new and meaningful dimension, when we first learned to ask: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ...
 
... then the ongoing application of its meaning will continue to deepen, and widen; as we continue to ask: ‘Lord, please tell me more’.
 
Amen.