This morning I have been pondering the Methodist Covenant Prayer, it is a part of our Methodist discipline to hold a special service each year to reaffirm promises, to be reminded of God’s constant and abiding covenant with us, and to claim it once again. In some churches this takes place in September, which is the start of the Methodist year, but in many it takes place in the New Year, my diary currently has 4 Covenant Services in it. The central part of the service is the Covenant Prayer, which is as follows:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
It is not the easiest or most comfortable of prayers, but it is certainly powerful, and I have to be honest I am not sure that I want to say it this year, because I don’t want to be laid aside, put to suffering or to experience being empty, or frankly any of the other less comfortable parts of the prayer.
So, I’ve been asking myself some questions: Do I want to yield everything to God’s pleasure and disposal, do I want to reaffirm these promises this year? I am a Minister, and a part of my role is to lead these services, so how, holding these questions do I do so with honesty and integrity? I could slip on a mask and take on a role, hiding behind the dog collar, but I don’t feel that, that is a good or healthy option.
I know some members who won’t come to church on Covenant Sunday because they don’t want to say this prayer, just in case God takes them at their word and puts them to suffering! That in turn begs the question about our image of the God we worship. So I have to reflect back over this last year, it has not been an enjoyable one, and I have been laid aside and experienced some suffering, but I don’t lay these at the feet of the Almighty and claim that they brought these things into my life, they happened, life happens, and life has ups and downs. I have experienced downs this last year. I am not going to sugar coat things, and through those downs I have grappled with my relationship with God, asking myself questions about their nature and being, I have struggled to read, and struggled to pray, sometimes the intention of praying, the lighting of a candle, or simply sitting quietly has had to be enough. I have experienced bouts of depression, questioned my calling and questioned myself, in some ways this is prayer, and I don’t have ready answers, or reports of unexpected blessings. But, I have not been alone.
I have not been alone, I have been surrounded by prayerful people, people who have prayed when I couldn’t, by encouragers who have affirmed me when I have been low, and people who have carefully supported me, sometimes daring to ask difficult questions.
New Year of course is a time when we do take stock, some make resolutions, quite often these are about self-improvement and/or fitness. I have done it, I have declared that I am going to loose weight, that I am going to walk more, read more, do more, sometimes I have achieved these things and sometimes I have given up ( didn’t really want to learn to run anyway). Covenant offers a chance to take stock too, to return to the traditional readings, reminders of the faithful love of God, and how we are invited to enter into that, here are some of the options:
Deuteronomy 29: 10-15
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Romans 12: 1-2
John 15: 1-10
I would normally include them all, and they are, taken slowly and prayerfully a sermon in themselves, no need for me to add anything, they are all reminders and invitations. The plea in Romans 12, to offer yourselves to God comes with an urging to be transformed, not that we have to self help transform ourselves, but through a covenant relationship the divine will flow into our lives bringing about transformation for our own good.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for me over the last year has been having to look again at some of my priorities and values, if I hadn’t been laid aside I wouldn’t have had the time and space to do so, other changes to my life and work have caused me to ask similar questions, let me be employed for you, what does that mean?
It is so easy to want to cling to the familiar, even the unhelpful, and unhealthy if familiar can seem more comfortable than a change especially a dramatic one, or one that requires great effort. I will be saying/ making the covenant prayer though, however uncomfortable it makes me feel, because I have to acknowledge that this is not about me, we say it as a community, and I trust the communities of support I have around me, it doesn’t require me to pass a test, simply to exercise faith and trust, and to acknowledge that the work is not mine but a holy work, into which the Creator, and Sustainer of all things invites me into, and the truth is I am held within creation whether I choose to participate or not.
By participating I look for Godly values where my own fall short, I may be called to speak truth to power, and would be surprised if I were not, I open myself up to the possibilities of divine transformation which will bring out the best in me! This of course means that there is a best in me. I wonder sometimes when we come to make a prayer like this, I see it as an actual participatory act rather than a repetition, whether we need to turn our theology around again, whether images of an angry God slip into our heads, the idea that we will be laid low, brought down, and suffer, and that somehow God will take pleasure in that- enter stage left the God with a scowl, a long beard and a handful of thunder bolts! But time and time again I assert that this is not the God I worship, neither is it the God that I preach!
I believe that the created universe was an act of love, a physical manifestation of the power of love, and that we are called to be co-creators in it, and yes there are some horrors in our world, but we can work together to bring about good, to effect real change and to share the love that we are created for. Deep within we are all good, we are all loved, we are unique expressions of the divine, and if love would not step back from the cross for me, then surely I can confidently place myself into the nail scarred hands of Christ, knowing that nothing I suffer is insignificant to him.
I am no longer my own, I have never really been my own, I am a part of something greater, of something wonderful, and so are you, so is this world, the universe and all that we do and don’t understand. If I shudder about being whole hearted I offer what I have and it will be received, and transformed until my heart is whole again. Romans 12 in the Message Version says this:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
There is a best us in all of us!