COVENANT: Living without the full picture

Adapted from a sermon preached at Covenant Services in January 2020 at Westergate, Bognor Regis and Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex.

During the 2020 Christmas break we took our first ever family trip to the cinema to see Frozen 2. If you want to watch a movie that includes songs that will undoubtedly get stuck in your brain forever… that’s the film to go and see…

We sat in the cinema, waiting for 12:30 to arrive… and when it did, the sound came on…be we had no picture. At first we thought the film must be starting off with some radio adverts, but after a while of listening and hearing some adverts that made no sense without pictures, and I was convinced I’d seen on the telly in recent days we began to think something might not be quite right.

The rest of the eager viewers in the cinema seemed to be getting the same idea – so with restlessness and chatter building I headed off to find a member of staff to see if they even knew there was an issue – they didn’t!

But after a few minutes of further listening without the picture, the staff resolved the issue, the picture came on and we watched the rest of the adverts in full colour, and then enjoyed the film.

Living life in our journey with God can sometimes be a bit like watching those adds with just the sound. Sometimes it might feel as if the sound of God is all around us – we can hear the full range and depth of sound in 5 max stereo surround sound…but we can still struggle to see and understand. As we listened the those adverts in the cinema it wasn’t always easy to know what it was advertising. The picture isn’t yet there….and nor is the actual story we’re really waiting for. In the same way, we can sometimes struggle to understand God, God’s story and how to live the Christian life with integrity and faithfulness, because we don’t see God’s full picture.

And because we struggle to understand, only knowing part of the story, sometimes it can be hard to stick with God, and hard to stick at being disciples.

When we look back to the book of Exodus we can see a similar struggle for the Israelites in their own journeying with God. God had heard their cries in Egypt, (2:23-5) responded in calling Moses, (3:7-22) showed God’s power over the false god’s of Egypt, and eventually lead them out of Egypt, (12:31-32), and then saved them by parting the waters of the red sea and leading them to freedom. (14:21-25; 15:1-20). And then, if all those signs are not enough, God promises that he will lead them to the promised land.

Yet, it isn’t long into the journey until they complain of hunger, thirst, and begin to doubt God’s presence, even becoming nostalgic about living under the slavery and persecution of Egypt – where the grass would be greener, where the picture was perhaps clearer, or at least more familiar… because even when they were in Egypt they had food to eat, keeping them from starvation.

So what does God do? This same God who’s already been present to them in so many ways? God shows Godself to the Israelites once more, providing water and manna.

Yet, even then, the Israelites don’t find contentment. They get bored of manna day after day and complain again. What does God do? Give up on these grumbling people? No. God hears, is gracious… and sends quail for a varied diet.

Despite their complaints,
despite their apparent ungratefulness,
despite their forgetfulness,
time and time again,
God – the great I AM,
is present. protects. saves.

In Exodus 24 we hear Moses telling the people what the Lord has said and done, the people declare their belief, trust and obedience to God…that they will do as God has spoken. This is one of many reminders we find in the Old Testament – where we regularly find times where God’s people are called to remember.

To remember the covenant that came through Moses to all the people.
That God provides, protects and saves.
That God has done what God has said would be done.
That God will do what God has said God will do.

But it isn’t long before the people have made for themselves a golden calf… because Moses has gone off up the mountain again, and the people feel alone, so they take matters into their own hands. They do what their past in Egypt makes them familiar with, God’s as statues that can be seen… because the sound alone is not enough.

We see here in Exodus, and indeed through scripture, the affirmed reality that to live as disciples we need God’s help, because living God’s way is sometimes easier said than done. Especially when we recognise that we don’t see the full picture, struggling in the face of daily life to remember the covenant God has made with us, the people he calls his.

We sit through sermons and bible study, we read books, and we think, yes, that’s it! That makes sense!
God calls us to love unconditionally. I get it!
God calls us to trust him, because God will provide strength and hope for the journey… I get it!
God calls us to live lives of grace with one another, because God is gracious to us… I get it!

We hear the sound…perhaps even feel we understand the theory, the ideas, the truths. We get it! But sometimes struggle to live without the full picture. We struggle, we forget.

Throughout scripture, there is a continual reminder for God’s people…remember… remember the covenant. The characters of scripture struggled as much as we do today. And as we read through scripture, where God’s story continues to unfold, we discover another chapter of God’s covenant story, of God’s salvation unfolding around us. The picture, perhaps, begins to appear to accompany the sound…though still not fully in focus…

Christ… Immanuel… God with us…
Who comes and is grace and love and strength to the world… and who humanity rejects and crucifies. The answer to all humanities problems is right in front of them… but change and transformation is too hard. The grass is greener in how things have been.

And so grace, love and strength of God are rejected.
And hung on a cross – killed, destroyed, wiped out.

Yet in that rejection, the grace, love and strength of God are made available to all. God’s power is shown once more. Christ rose from the grave, defeated death itself, and invites us into a relationship with God, inviting us to offer ourselves for transformation by the grace, love and strength of God.
To live in and through God’s promised presence, to commit, and recommit to the journey of the reality we live in.
That God has called us. saved us. Redeemed us.

And to know that in our journeying with God,
something even greater is yet to come….
the picture is yet to come in full maximum 4D HD LED colour.

As we remake, reaffirm and remind ourselves of the covenant, we remember that God has promised to be present with us, to protect us and to save us.

And so we respond to God’s promise by making our covenant with God. Recommitting ourselves to journeying in and with God’s unending strength, unconditional love and overflowing grace.
Knowing we don’t yet see the full picture.
Knowing we don’t have all the answers.
Knowing that the contents of the covenant prayer are hard to live by.

But we pray it knowing we have a God who has already proven through the story of the Israelites, through Christ, and through countless other stories in scripture, and from Christians down the centuries, and those we journey with today…
That despite our forgetfulness,
despite our struggle without the full picture…
God provides.
God protects.
God saves.
Because this is God’s covenant with us.

I am no longer my own but yours
your will not mind 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 fulfilment 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. 

From the Covenant Service, Methodist Worship Book, p288
(C) Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes

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