See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Matthew 25:31 –46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Today we gather to recommit ourselves to God. Whereas there is the secular custom of setting resolutions for the New Year, the Wesleyan tradition has often made use of the New Year as a time of reflection and prayer. With the changing of the calendar, the recognition of another journey around the sun, we now take time to look at the most basic aspects of our faith, and what that faith means for us as believers and children of God.
Covenant, as the back of your bulletins go into detail, is not easily defined. The, “בְּרִית” which God made with God’s people throughout time were more than mere agreements – the words of the covenant encompassed the relationship between the parties involved. In the same way that a marriage covenant is described with the words of the marriage vows, the marriage is also somehow much more than those words. “Till death do us part,” carries as much meaning for the people who say them as they are willing to live them out.
The Christian life is defined by the work of God. However, our enjoyment of the Christian life and our ability to grow is dependent on our willingness to take part in God’s work. We participate in God’s grace and are drawn into it. The gifts of God enable us to take more and more on. This does not mean that we get more and more work piled on us, but that we take on more of God’s goodness, hone our skills to act out what God has set us apart for. We do not live our Christian life by exhausting ourselves, we live it out by knowing ourselves and God enough to work to our fullest.
That each of us take on particular calls in life is natural. Some of us are called to work in service industries, others in production, other to work directly in the work of the Church. Whatever the vocation that we choose in life is, we do so as Christians participating in God’s vision for the world. There is a lie that we choose to believe that we serve God only when we pray or only when we proclaim the Gospel. While both of these are aspects of the Christian life, simply pursuing excellence in what we do is a form of service to God. It shows that we wish to contribute to the goodness of others, to work earnestly to help others.
Outside of working to the best of our abilities are the ways that we should serve one another. Helping one another by lovingly serving those we are community with – whether we know them through work, as part of the church, or as our friends and family. We serve those around us by doing what we can to further their good. This means helping them in times of need, supporting them in their pursuit of a good life, and meeting their emotional and spiritual needs. We should be a people that speak with one another, that pray for one another, that help one another. We cannot be passive participants in one another’s life.
Our community is not limited to those we know, not even to those we like. The stranger, those who pass through our life for only a season or even a day, these people we have obligations to. While we can never truly treat someone we do not know with the same fullness as those who we know well, we can show them what God has put on our hearts. When we meet the eyes of those who are begging on the streets and in the medians. When we give to honest charities and to people we know need it. When we fight for the rights of people who are not like us, or who we will never meet. These are all expressions of our love of those we do not know, of hospitality for those outside our households.
Today our scripture captures two moments that are fundamentally important to the history of God’s work with God’s people. The first was in the giving of the Mosaic covenant. Here God sets the stakes in clear terms.
The pursuit of God’s Kingdom is a benefit for all who participate in it. The language of blessing and prosperity here is not to be confused with the preaching that is popular today. Money and power is not a sign of God’s favor. No matter how much we make or how much we have, our worth in the eyes of God and God’s favor toward us is not manifested in the material. The reality is that God sets out an ideal way of being through the Covenants of God’s people. The community of the faithful is one that, when lived out fully, produces abundance for all people.
The Teachings that were wrapped up in the Covenant on Sinai centered around a few key things. Religious devotion to God, respect of nature, and ultimately care for other human beings. The care of animals was regulated to see that they were not abused, crops were to be grown on rotation to preserve the integrity of the soil, and all of Creation is considered as fellow participants in God’s world. The prayers of the people Israel were founded in the words of Moses, the way that sacrifices were to be carried out, even the ingredients to be used in anointing oil written down. Finally, and perhaps most relevant to the day to day – prices were made to be fair, exploitative business practices forbidden, and systems put in place so that no one would ever need to go hungry or suffer unnecessarily.
This same ethic, the ideal community, exists in Jesus message in Matthew 25. Those who see Christ are those who care for others. Religious devotion and preservation of the nature feed into the care of one another. God sets us in relationship with the Godhead, but that relationship is realized in how we treat one another. This covenant that we cut today is between ourselves and God, between each one of us gather here today, and it is to the service of God throughout all the world. Let us take this moment of reflection to recommit ourselves full to God’s vision, to repent of all evil, and to see the start of this New Year as a return to our faith. – Amen