My topic for us to reflect on this week is covenant. As I was thinking about it this week I thought, what does that even mean?
In Peter’s letter he says, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” What does St Peter mean, be holy? Does it make sense to speak of us being holy? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel holy about 99.99% of the time. May be that is because like most of us, I tend to think of holiness as some sort of squeaky clean or heroic saintliness.
Maybe we could understand what St Peter was on about if we understand holiness as endeavouring to be faithful to God each day of our lives. The word endeavouring recognises that there will be days and even multiple times in a day that we realise we have dropped the ball.
I want to suggest that this notion of holiness, endeavouring to be faithful to God each day will help us to understand covenant. I realised this week that when I pinched the idea of a covenant renewal from the Methodist tradition it didn’t occur to me that it doesn’t make sense without a covenant. Well I did think we had a covenant, but I was thinking of mine and your individual covenant with God. In our baptism and then again in confirmation we enter into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Have you ever noticed in a baptism we ask the Parents and Godparents if they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? They say, “I believe in God, Father Son and Holy Spirit”. But each Sunday normally we say, “We believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. The main focus in Baptism is on the individual making a personal commitment to God.
Normally we stand together as the body of Christ and say we believe. We, you and I, we all together believe in God. Once a year at Easter, we renew our baptismal vows. We say, I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil, and I believe in God, Father, Son and Spirit. And on this occasion though I am inviting you as members of the Body of Christ to make a commitment to one another within the commitment to God.
Now maybe it would be better if we actually wrote out a covenant for our parish. After all you can go back and reread your wedding vows, in sickness and in health I will cherish you. In a contract you will read how much you need to pay the bank each month. In the memorandum of understanding the Men’s Shed know they committed to pay their portion of the electricity bill. But as Anglicans we have never written a covenant that binds us together like a memorandum of understanding. I wonder what it would look like if we did?
When I was thinking about all this I read an article that suggested the Monastic traditional practice of a rule of life may be a help in thinking about a covenant.[i] The article wanted to make clear you don’t have to become a monk to be holy or to enter into a covenant relationship with your brothers and sisters in the parish. The model that we have in the Franciscan tradition may be helpful. Fr Peter, Ruth, and myself along with others like Bp Godfrey and Bronwyn Fryar all belong to the Third Order of St Francis. We don’t live in one house like the brothers at Anerley. We are a community in dispersion and we each prepare our own rule of life from a set of guidelines. Our Parish is also a community in dispersion. Would it be possible for us to prepare guidelines for people to prepare their own rule of life that would express their commitment to our Parish as a Christian community in dispersion. See the Gloucester Cathedral site.
I am not sure if we would have the same areas as Gloucester Cathedral’s Rule but it is a good place to start our reflection.
Under the guideline of prayer someone may commit to pray each day for people on the pew sheet, members of the Parish and those who are sick.
Under service various people might commit to delivering meals on wheels or helping Rosies’ in the park or mowing the church lawn or their neighbour’s lawn.
Under the heading of worship, they may commit to joining in worship once a week even if I get to my normal congregation.
Under the heading of encouragement some one may write, I will think ten times before complaining, and I will find three people to encourage each week. Another might write, I will give thanks for at least three things each day.
Under the guideline of love for neighbour you might write, when my sister asks for something I will do it for her without counting the number of times she does something for me. Another person might write, when I am tired and stressed from work, I will try to think of three things to give thanks for before I arrive home. (The neighbour in this case being the unsuspecting family members at home who might otherwise have their heads bitten off for sitting reading a book rather than cooking dinner.)
Now, I am not going to suggest that you sit down in the next 5 minutes and write a rule of life. See it as part of the Sabbath Reflection I have been talking about. It could take a few months to prepare. You might want to seek help to do it. Don’t rush. As you prepare your rule, think about how your rule builds up the body of Christ here in our Parish.
Your immediate response might be, this is crazy! Aren’t the Ten Commandments or the Two Great Commandments a rule of life that we all live by. I guess the idea of writing a rule of life is to clarify what it means to worship the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How do we each live each day as children of God as members of a church? Also, it is this notion of making a commitment to God in the context of this Parish Community. If you look up “Rule of Life”[ii] you will see lots of examples of what others have done.
So this Covenant Renewal Sunday I invite you to take the personal relationship you have with God and really consciously set it in the context of this congregation and our parish as a whole. In this way we take St Peter’s notion of Holiness and ground it in real life situations.
[i] Ties that Bind: Sharing a Common Rule of Life, https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/116163.pdf
“A Rule of Life…says ‘this is who we are, this is our story,’ it reminds us of those things God has put on our hearts, calling us back to our foundations…It serves as a framework for freedom–not as a set of rules that restrict or deny life, but as a way of living out our calling alone and together. It is rooted in Scripture, pointing always to Christ; and, in the words of St. Benedict, it is ‘simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in dailylife.'”