A Time For Renewal - 2nd Chronicles 34:29-33
We were living in Northampton County and Anita was working in Ahoskie, over in Hertford County. She traveled highway 561 and it was not unusual for license checks to be set up along that highway. She stopped for the license check, produced her license, but after the officer walked around the car, she was asked to pull over to the side, he was going to have to write her a warning ticket. Why? Her license plate had expired. We have to do it with all sorts of things. Magazines. Newspapers. Insurance policies. Club memberships. Cell phone plans. License tags. We renew them on a regular basis.
While we most of us remember to renew this things, how often do we think about renewing our covenant with God? Do we let our commitment to God occupy our minds continually, or is it like that renewal notice that comes in the mail that we set on our desk or our dresser, knowing that it's important, but figuring we'll get around to it another day...and as days and weeks pass other stuff gets laid on top of it, until it is the furtherest thing from our minds.
For Israel's Southern Kingdom of Judah, Josiah decided it was time for a renewal. Since David had left the throne, during Solomon's reign things had been going downhill. Solomon, despite all the wisdom with which he ruled Israel, began the trend by violating God's law by marrying outside if the Jewish faith. The influence these foreign women had on Solomon began to be seen as focus on worship at the temple fell by the wayside.
As time went forward and the Kingdom of Israel split, we can watch as a seesaw of kings that would remember God and lead the people to be faithful to Him versus those that would turn to worshipping the false pagan gods of other nations (as well as those who would forget about God until confronted with impending doom and then return to God).
Enter Josiah, taking the throne at the age of eight. He began trying to clean up Judah and refocus them on God. As things were being reestablished and put back into place, a worker in the Temple discovered a copy of the Law as given to Moses. As it was revealed to Josiah how far the people had strayed from God, Josiah decided it was time to do something about it. He recommitted himself to living according to God's Law and then expected everyone in Jerusalem, Judah, and Benjamin to do the same. As the people made the covenant to recommit themselves to The Lord, Josiah continued his efforts to cleanse the nation by taking all of the things that had led God's people away from him--all the idols and everything that would lead the people back to them.
So where does this leave us, my brothers and sisters?
First, we must, unlike those of Josiah's time, realize that no amount of attempting to follow God's Law can earn us any favor from God! We are wholly dependent on the grace of God. God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, has invited us into a covenant relationship, not because we have done anything to earn it, but because of His love for us.
Secondly, God's invitation to us seeks a response from us. Will we agree to live in covenant with God or will we choose to live for ourselves?
Thirdly, If we choose to respond affirmatively to God's invitation, it demands a change on our part. God loves us enough to accept us where and how we are, but with His filling us with His grace, His Spirit, In our response, with His own strength empowering us, He expects us to live out His Word--loving Him with all our heart and soul and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves--not following His commandments to earn His favor but in response to His favor. Part of this would be imitating the actions of Josiah as he tore down the pagan idols, by removing from our lives the things we worship that are not God or that tempt us away from worshipping God.
Finally, as we seek to live out our lives in covenant with God, when we forget to rely upon the grace of God, we will fail. We will find ourselves like Solomon, Manassah, and other kings of Judah, failing to remember to keep our relationship with God a priority. We let other things creep in and take over our lives. We let greed, worry, bitterness, and illicit pleasures in and we start building temples where we worship our bank accounts, our stomachs, our addictions, and our own image. If we are not careful we let our responsibility in response to God's invitation lay on the desk and get covered up by everything else. Because of this, we need to take regular opportunity to examine our lives, where they depart from God's desire for our lives, and seek to renew our relationship with God—trusting not in our own strength, but in the power of Christ in us.
John Wesley was well aware of this need and adapted a traditional service from the Puritans. He developed a covenant renewal service in which we are called to examine our lives and recommit them to God. This morning we will take an opportunity to do just that, examine our lives and commit ourselves to live for God anew. The service that we have incorporated into our worship this morning is almost identical to the service that has been part of our Methodist heritage since 1780. The responses will be on our screen as well as in your bulletin…the reason for printing them in your bulletin is because, from the time of Wesley, participants in the service have been encouraged to sign their covenant and keep it somewhere to remind them on a regular basis of their commitment…and I encourage us to do the same.
Let us now together enter into this sacred time renewing our covenant with God…