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God's Church as a Covenant Community - Prayer Wk

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God’s Church as a Covenant Community

Scriptures: Deut. 4:1-9; 1 Cor.11:17-32.

 

Today, on this first Sunday in the Year 2009

we begin our Prayer Week services.

The theme for these services is

“Signs of God at the Crossroads”,

based on Deut. 4:1-9.

Artur Bergen and the Pastoral Team

at Eben-Ezer MC in Abbotsford, BC

have prepared the material that we will be using

for these services.

Let me begin by reading the text from Deut. 4:1-9

1 Hear now, O Israel,

the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.

Follow them so that you may live

and may go in and take possession of the land

that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

2 Do not add to what I command you

and do not subtract from it,

but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.

3 You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor.

The LORD your God destroyed from among you

everyone who followed the Baal of Peor,

4 but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God

are still alive today.

5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws

as the LORD my God commanded me,

so that you may follow them

in the land you are entering to take possession of it.

6 Observe them carefully,

for this will show your wisdom and understanding

to the nations,

who will hear about all these decrees and say,

"Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 7 What other nation is so great

as to have their gods near them

the way the LORD our God is near us

whenever we pray to him?

8 And what other nation is so great

as to have such righteous decrees

and laws as this body of laws

I am setting before you today?

 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely

so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen

or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.

Teach them to your children

and to their children after them.

In our lives we often come to a fork in the road,

a crossroads…

an intersection…

a place where we are faced with challenging decisions

that will have a significant impact on our lives

and the lives of others.

When we get to a “confusion corner” in our journey through life

we do well to stop and figure out where we are

so that we can eventually move forward

in the right direction to our destination.

This season of prayer

is a time to pause at the crossroads where we are…

it is a time to look back

       to consider where we come from…

and to focus our priorities as individuals and as a congregation

on our journey forward.

On New Year’s Eve,

       we reminded ourselves

that we are “Citizens of Heaven

on a pilgrimage through life on earth”.

The church’s destination is the Kingdom of God.

As a people of God on a journey towards the Kingdom,

the church’s calling is to be a sign,

a foretaste of God’s eternal Kingdom,

at the crossroads where the church and society meet.

All of us who follow Jesus together

       are witnesses to the kingdom of God among us.

On this journey as a Kingdom people

the church needs to watch for

and carefully discern the signs of God’s presence and will

in each of the decisions we make.

The good news of God’s kingdom is that God’s church,

with its life-giving relationships,

is a gift of God to Christians

and through us to the world we live in.

As followers of Jesus,

we are surrounded by different signs,

urging us to follow.

The need to decide which signs we will follow

places us at repeated crossroads on our Kingdom-journey.

We can discern and choose God’s way of blessing and life,

or worldly ways of cursing and death.

To discern rightly we must slow down in our fast-paced world,

and look, really look,

for the signs God has placed for us.

We need to think together

about which signs really lead to blessing and life

and which do not.

That is why during this Season of Prayer

we focus on specific biblical texts,

like this one from Deuteronomy,

looking at them afresh so they can point us

in the right direction on our journey.

In Deut. 4:1-9 God speaks through Moses to the Israelites,

teaching them what they need to learn

before they enter the Promised Land,

where Moses will no longer be with them.

Moses urges God’s people to hear the laws and decrees

he will teach them,

so that they may prosper in the land God is giving them.

They are not to add or subtract from the laws,

but to keep them.

 

As we focus on the Signs that show us

the way to the Kingdom of God

we will experience God’s desire for his people, Israel,

entering the land of promise.

And we will also be reminded of God desires for us today.

The first sign that points us to the Kingdom of God

       is the church

       the covenant community.

God’s people are called into a holy covenant,

and God has promised to be with us always.

This covenant requires our obedience

and blesses us with more than we could ever ask for.

God has called us together to be Christ’s body, the church,

and while there are many implications for our personal lives, we do well to remember that we are on this journey together

as a community.

The church, as God’s people,

has been on a journey toward the kingdom of God

for more than 2000 years.

As Anabaptists, our people

       have now been part of that journey

for more than 500 years.

At times the church has seen and followed the signs well.

At other times, in every era,

the church has been confused by the signs at the crossroads

and has followed some of the wrong signs.

Life constantly places us at crossroads…

that is, times and situations when we need to know

which signs point in the right direction.

 

In Deuteronomy 4 God’s people are invited to respond

to God’s initiative in a life-giving and life-protecting way.

Israel is challenged to choose and follow the good road

set before the people.

Or, they can choose to follow other signs

and suffer the consequences.

The theme in Deuteronomy

of developing and maintaining life-giving relationships

is central to keeping the covenant instructions

that God provided for Israel.

Following God’s signs results in blessings and benefits

for God’s people

that flow over to the surrounding nations.

The church also has a covenant with God,

a new covenant, offered to us through the sacrificial,

life-giving blood of Jesus.

We remember and renew this covenant

each time we offer and receive the cup during communion.

Jesus said that the “cup is the new covenant in my blood”

(Luke 22:20).

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ

and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord

belongs to Jesus and participates in the kingdom of God

(Romans 10:5-15).

We are part of the new covenant community.

 

God continues to invite us into covenant relationships

with God and the church today.

 

The foundation for these relationships

is love, grace, and faithfulness.

God reveals Himself to us as a Covenant-keeping God,

And God enables us through the Holy Spirit

to live in Covenant with God and with each other.

Throughout history we have often failed to do our part

       in keeping the covenant.

But God consistently showed himself to be faithful,

loving, gracious and just.

God’s steadfast love endures forever.

 

The New Testament teaches us

that living in covenant with each other

and with God is central to the Kingdom journey.

At the Last Supper

Jesus initiates God’s new covenant with his followers

by reinterpreting the Passover cup,

saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood.”

The communion cup represents the new covenant

in which we are living

and, like the earlier covenants,

it is made and sealed with blood -

in this case the blood of Christ, shed for us.

It is the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins

and his resurrection from the dead

that gives this new covenant its saving power.

All who are saved by their faith in Jesus

belong to this new covenant community,

which is a foretaste of the eternal kingdom of God.

In the new covenant,

Jesus enables us to live by the power of the Holy Spirit,

and so, as a Sign of the Kingdom of God

we live in communion with God and God’s people.

We live by grace,

by the power of God in us.

This is worth celebrating!

And celebrate it we do,

each time we participate in a communion service.

While the cup reminds us that Jesus has sealed the covenant,

the bread we break and share at communion

reminds us that we are participants in the body of Christ.

“The body of Christ broken for you”.

With this phrase we remind each other

that it is Jesus’ sacrifice,

not our own doing,

which makes it possible for us to live an abundant life.”

Christians in the early Christian Church

thought of themselves as a community

bound together by the new covenant

that had been sealed with Christ’s blood,

and the book of Acts includes several stories

about how this affected their daily lives.

They understood themselves to be accountable to each other

and responsible to care for each other.

Furthermore, many of the pastoral letters were written

to instruct the new congregations

in living out this covenant relationship.

In his letter to the Romans,

Paul teaches that in the “Christ’s Body”,

every member is important

to develop the full potential of the churches ministry.

Letters to the Corinthians tell us how radical

God’s design for the church is:

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–

and we were all made to drink of one Spirit”. (1 Cor.12:13).

First Peter 2:5 refers to the church as “living stones”

that are “built into a spiritual house,

an image that emphasizes the community’s connectedness,

in which each member both supports

and is supported by every other member.

This is what makes each stone precious

and creates a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).

The church has frequently drifted

from this understanding of a covenant community,

thereby diminishing its witness.

However, each century also includes examples

of the church listening to God,

correcting its theology and practice to align itself with God, collaborating with the Holy Spirit,

and living up to its mission

as a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning of the new year

       this is a very important message for our congregation

here at Springfield Heights MC.

We are invited by the road signs in God’s Word, the Bible,

to be more intentional about following Jesus

and be true to our covenant to the church and to God.

This includes loving each other

and receiving each other the way Christ has received,

loved, and welcomed us.

And it also includes holding each other accountable

       to the promises that we make to God and to each other.

Living out the covenant

makes us trustworthy before the World.

Let us always remember these words of Jesus,

“I give you a new commandment,

that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

As we enter this new year in Prayer,

we want to focus on the signs of God’s Kingdom

in Christian community.

For the following evenings beginning tonight at 7:00pm

       we have invited our surrounding churches

       to gather together here in this building

       to pray.

And so, we want to invite you

to prepare your hearts for prayer

by remembering that God has called us together

to receive and pass on the many blessings

we experience in a covenant community.

Let us Pray

Faithful God,

       As we begin a new year under your grace,

We want to Praise & Thank you:

For the blood of Christ, that is the new covenant…

For the body of Christ, the church that is invited

to participate in your work of salvation…

For the Holy Spirit,

the empowering presence of God in our lives.

For the church in every region of our country and the world

with its many gifts.

 

We Confess:

That we have often followed the model of the world

instead of following the way of Christ.

That our congregation lacks commitment to its members,

to the regional and the national church,

and to a needy world around us.

We confess our lack of commitment to our marriage partners

and our families.

We confess that we often create mistrust and disunity

       through our petty conflicts and stubborn individualism,

and that our witness often lacks power and conviction.

 

We Pray for:

The needs in our congregation…

For a renewed vision for a covenant commitment

in our church.

For willingness to commit to the way of Christ.

For the courage to model new ways of living out

our covenant in community with each other.

For the spirit of Christian unity to grow among us

May God add His blessing and life to each one of us,

       As we live in Covenant with each other.

Amen

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