Service at Home on 3rd January - Covenant Service
Service at Home on 3rd January 2021
for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church
Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home, which is our New Year Covenant Service. Today, we’re going to look at the new covenant that was established by Jesus, which defines the relationship between us and God. We’ll hear how it shows that God cares and provides for us and never gives up on us. And then we’ll renew our commitment to God.
Let us pray.
Glory to the Father, the God of love,
who created us;
who continually preserves and sustains us;
who has loved us with an everlasting love,
and given us the light of the knowledge of his glory
in the face of Jesus Christ.
Blessèd be God for ever.
Glory to Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor,
and was tested in every way as we are, yet without sin;
who proclaimed the good news of the kingdom,
and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross;
who was raised from the dead and is alive for ever,
and has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who trust in him;
who is seated at God's right hand in glory,
and will come to be our judge.
Blessèd be God for ever.
Glory to the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
by whom we are born into the family of God,
and made members of the body of Christ;
whose witness confirms us;
whose wisdom teaches us;
whose power enables us;
who will do for us more than we can ask or think.
Blessèd be God for ever.
To the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be praise and glory for ever. Amen.
God of grace,
through the mediation of your Son,
you call us into a new covenant.
Help us therefore to draw near with faith
and join ourselves in a perpetual covenant with you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: And can it be
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
A reading from the Law
In our first reading we hear about the Covenant, the agreement, that God made with the people of Israel at the time of Moses.
Read: Exodus 24: 3 – 11
A reading from the Prophets
We heard in our previous reading how the people of Israel responded in love and gratitude to God who had rescued them from slavery and was bringing them to the Promised Land. The reading ended with the leaders of the people actually seeing God. However, not long afterwards, the people broke their Covenant by building an idol and worshipping it. All through the Old Testament of the Bible we see how the people turned away from God and forgot Him, then realised how poor their lives were without Him, returned again to putting their trust in Him and were welcomed back into His care.
God never gives up on his people. The next reading, which is from the book of Jeremiah, describes the new Covenant that God will make with them.
Read: Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34
A reading from the Epistles
We heard in our last reading God's gracious promise that "I will be their God and they shall be my people". In our next reading, the Apostle Paul describes how followers of Jesus should live to fulfil their side of their covenant with God.
Read: Romans 12: 1 – 8
A reading from the Gospels
Our final reading records what Jesus said at the Last Supper, just before Jesus was crucified. We hear how Jesus tells us that his blood, shed as his sacrifice for the world, established the new covenant that Jeremiah had prophesied.
Read: Mark 14:22-25
What is a covenant? A covenant is a mutually agreed arrangement between two parties that defines their relationship and what each party will do, based on trust. It’s not the same as a contract, which is a legally binding agreement between two parties that don’t trust each other. And it’s not the same as a promise, which is one sided.
The covenant between God and His people can be traced back to the early days of the Israelites. In the passage from Exodus, we heard that God gave His people, through Moses, a list of practical rules about how they must live their lives, including the 10 commandments, and how they must worship Him. If they followed the rules, God would lead His people into the Promised Land and make them prosper. But the Israelites kept breaking the covenant by disobeying God. Even within days of agreeing to the rules, they were worshipping a golden calf. And then by not trusting God they were condemned to 40 years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. But when they started to obey God, He enabled them to defeat their enemies, and they moved into the Promised Land and prospered.
They continued to prosper through the reigns of kings David and Solomon but then they went seriously off the rails. They stopped obeying the rules that God had given to Moses and they started worshipping idols and behaving immorally. God frequently warned His people to turn back to the covenant that they had with Him, because if they didn’t, seriously bad things would happen to them. God warned them through prophets, including Jeremiah, who we heard just now.
Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus was born, at a time when Judah and Israel were behaving particularly badly.
Jeremiah, and other prophets, told God’s people they were heading for disaster unless they turned away from their evil ways and back to their covenant with God. But Israel and Judah ignored the prophets and disaster struck. If you think 2020 was bad, it was nothing compared to what happened to them! Many were killed and the remainder were taken away as slaves, and Jerusalem was destroyed. But God gave them hope for the future through the words of the verses we heard from Jeremiah. Even when things were really tough, when they were slaves in another country and Jerusalem had been destroyed, they had this promise to cling on to. It was the promise of a time when there would be a ‘new covenant’.
We now know what this new covenant is. It’s a covenant that has been established by Jesus: God’s own son who He sent to this world to die as a sacrifice. There’s no doubt about this promised new covenant through Jesus when we read the New Testament. In the passage from Mark’s Gospel that we heard, Jesus makes it absolutely clear when he says, in verse 24, from the New Living Translation: “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people”. Jesus makes it absolutely clear that through his sacrifice, through his blood that he shed for us, a new covenant has been established between us and God.
This new covenant is very similar to the old one, except for one very important difference: under the new covenant, God’s people no longer have lots of religious rules to follow. At the time of Jeremiah, they had to offer sacrifices to gain forgiveness but Jesus was the ultimate final sacrifice and no more were needed. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we know that God will always forgive us and has promised us eternal life. And in Jeremiah’s time they had to memorise and follow not just the 10 commandments, but thousands of other rules, to remain pure and righteous. But Jesus took away this burden by telling us that we only have to focus on two relatively simple rules: to love God and to love each other.
But how do we really know that this covenant between us and God is real? The answer is in the passage from Jeremiah, in verse 33, when God said: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”. This is made even clearer by the words of Jesus, recorded in John 14 verse 26, when he said: “The Holy Spirit will teach you everything”. And then again in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth”. And then Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:22 that God: “put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”. This means that the truth about the new covenant is made real to us by God’s Spirit living in us, making it clear in our minds and making us feel the truth in our hearts.
As I explained just now, a covenant is a mutual agreement to do something for each other. We’ve looked at what God does for us, through Jesus, so let’s now look at what we need to do in return to fulfil our covenant. The passage from Romans tells us in verse 1, that we need to offer ourselves to God as “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. Or in other words, just as God’s side of the covenant is Jesus’ sacrifice of death on a cross, our side of the covenant is the sacrifice of how we live our lives. Jesus tells us the same thing in a different way in John 15 verse 10, when he says: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love”.
What happens if we break the covenant by not obeying God? Well look at the dreadful things that happened to the people at the time of Jeremiah! God doesn’t punish us for breaking our covenant because He will always love us and forgive us but by disobeying God we make bad decisions and get ourselves into a mess. When we start worshipping the modern-day idols of possessions, pride and physical pleasures, we forfeit the joy and peace that God offers us, and we become filled with sadness and anxiety. So although it might seem to some people that obeying God will spoil their life, exactly the opposite is true.
So let’s now look at what we need to do to keep our side of the covenant. As Paul wrote, we need to sacrifice what we want and instead submit to what God wants. This means that we need to be obedient to God even when he calls us to do something that we don’t want to do, or that doesn’t fit in with our own plans for our life. Paul expands on this in the remainder of the passage from Romans that we heard. I won’t go through Paul’s comprehensive list of things that we may need to do for God, just assume that it’s everything that you can think of! But note that the things range from important sounding jobs, like leading and teaching, to things that might go unnoticed, like encouraging other people.
Paul also makes the point of saying that it doesn’t matter what we do individually, as what’s important is what the whole body of Christ, the worldwide church, achieves together. This means that all that matters is for you to be obedient to God and obey His commands. That’s all you have to do! Don’t worry if you don’t seem to be doing much worthwhile in church, just obey God’s commands and let God sort out who does what. And don’t worry if your church doesn’t seem to be achieving much, just obey God’s commands and let God sort out which church does what. All that God expects of us, as individuals and as churches, is to do what He calls us to do to the best of our ability, and no more.
A big mistake that people sometimes make is to decide for themselves what to do instead of just doing what God calls them to do. When we do that we inevitably end up in a mess or creating a mess for other people to sort out. An even bigger mistake is to do things just to make you or your church look good: remember that the glory belongs only to God.
A useful illustration of the need to obey commands is that of an army fighting a battle, which is a good analogy as we’re fighting a constant spiritual battle against the forces of evil. In a battle, only the General and his staff at headquarters know the overall strategy and they give commands to their soldiers accordingly. Soldiers are trained to obey the commands for a good reason: think what chaos there would be if soldiers just went off and did what they thought was best. For example, soldiers who hadn’t seen any action after a few hours and decide to head towards the sound of gunfire, and perhaps leave something like a vital bridge undefended. So even if you’re not seeing much “action” at the moment, just trust that you’re where God needs you to be. And remember that the action could start at any time.
Remembering that we’re like an army fighting a war, just think what an amazing fighting force we’d be if every single one of us obeyed God’s commands immediately, every time, without question, like well-trained soldiers. If we did that, we’d soon push the enemy back and take new ground in our towns and villages. We’d make God known to many more people and build God’s kingdom. Surely this is what you want isn’t it? I know it’s what I want! And remember that it’s what God wants as well, to build His kingdom. So if we all obey His commands, it will happen.
This does leave us with one important question: how do we know what God is calling us to do – how do we hear His commands? The answer is in Romans 12 verse 2: “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you”. So the answer is, once more, God’s Spirit living in us. It’s God’s Spirit that transforms us and changes the way that we think. God speaks to us and tells us what to do through His Spirit living in us. So if you want to obey God’s commands and fight to build His Kingdom, then make sure you remain filled with God’s Spirit, and listen for His voice. Just as a good soldier will always take a radio with him and leave the channel open to receive orders.
God made a covenant with the people of Israel, calling them to be a holy nation, chosen to bear witness to his steadfast love by finding delight in the law.
The covenant was renewed in Jesus Christ our Lord, in his life, work, death and resurrection. In him all people may be set free from sin and its power, and united in love and obedience.
In this covenant God promises us new life in Christ. For our part we promise to live no longer for ourselves but for God.
We meet, therefore, as generations have met before us, to renew the covenant which bound them and binds us to God.
Let us then seek forgiveness for the sin by which we have denied God's claim upon us.
Let us pray.
God of mercy, hear us as we confess our sins.
For the sin that has made us slow to learn from Christ,
reluctant to follow him, and afraid to bear the cross:
Lord, have mercy, Lord, forgive.
For the sin that has caused the poverty of our worship,
the formality and selfishness of our prayers,
our neglect of fellowship and the means of grace,
and our hesitating witness for Christ:
Lord, have mercy, Lord, forgive.
For the sin that has led us to misuse your gifts,
evade our responsibilities,
and fail to be good stewards of your creation:
Lord, have mercy, Lord, forgive.
For the sin that has made us unwilling to overcome evil with good, tolerant of injustice, quick to condemn,
and selfish in sharing your love with others:
Lord, have mercy, Lord, forgive.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your constant love;
in the fullness of your mercy blot out my offences.
Wash away all my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Give me the joy of your help again
and strengthen me with a willing spirit.
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just,
and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Therefore to all who truly repent this is his gracious word:
'Your sins are forgiven'.
Amen. Thanks be to God.
We stand and the minister says:
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
let us again accept our place within this covenant
which God has made with us and with all who are called to
be Christ's disciples.
This means that, by the help of the Holy Spirit,
we accept God's purpose for us, and the call to love and serve God in all our life and work.
Christ has many services to be done:
some are easy, others are difficult;
some bring honour, others bring reproach;
some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both;
in some we may please Christ and please ourselves;
in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ,
who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make this covenant of God our own.
Let us give ourselves to him,
trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.
Eternal God, in your faithful and enduring love
you call us to share in your gracious covenant in Jesus Christ.
In obedience we hear and accept your commands;
in love we seek to do your perfect will;
with joy we offer ourselves anew to you.
We are no longer our own but yours.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me, in all that I do
and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done when I am valued
and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfillment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you,
as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever.
Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen.
Silence, all seated
As we have entered this covenant not for ourselves alone, but as God's servants and witnesses, let us pray for the Church and for the world.
Loving God, hear us as we pray for your holy catholic Church:
make us all one, that the world may believe.
Inspire and lead all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world: establish justice and peace among all people.
Have compassion on all who suffer from any sickness, grief or trouble: deliver them from their distress.
We praise you for all your saints who have entered your eternal glory: bring us all to share in your heavenly kingdom.
Let us pray in silence for our own needs and for those of others…….
Generous God, touch us again with the fire of your Spirit and renew us by your grace, that we may profess the one true faith and live in love and unity with all who follow Christ.
Lord our God,
you have helped us by your grace to make these prayers,
and you have promised through Christ our Lord that when two or three agree in his name you will grant what they ask.
Answer now your servants' prayers according to their needs;
in this world grant that we may truly know you, and in the world to come graciously give us eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be upon us and remain with us for ever. Amen.
Hymn: When I survey the Wondrous Cross
When I survey the Wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!