I’ve signed a lot of contracts during my life, they’ve involved jobs, property, insurance, travel and a host of other life issues. I’ve made far fewer covenants. The very word covenant has an ancient ring, as if belonging to another world. Actually, I think it does.. Contract world enforces rights; covenant world gives us grace. Contract world defines limits; covenant world crosses them. When Jesus offered us bread and wine as an expression of his life, he said: “eat and drink, it’s a new covenant, a new beginning…”
Words for the Week
Jeremiah 32:1- 8
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah. For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it…’ ”
Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”.
2 Corinthians 3:3-6
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Faithfulness is a joy in the good times, but as we all know, life has its seasons. Circumstances change, the culture shifts and at such times loyalty can suddenly seem unnecessary and let’s face it, costly. Faith, friendships, marriages, churches, relationships at work and at home – all are tested. At crisis points, I’ve found myself asking: did I really sign up for this? Answer: probably not. But at the heart of Jesus’ message is a gold standard: Not my will, but yours be done. Jesus’ faithfulness to the covenant became the catalyst to new creation and, for us, eternal life. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah’s decision to buy a field was an astonishing prophetic act in the circumstances. Idealistic and impractical as it seemed, he looked to the future, trusted God’s promise, and invested in it. He provokes the question: how can we live with the same kind of rock solid foundation? How different might life become? Jesus said his covenant toward us is unbreakable. Paul writes that as we build our lives on this assurance, we also become “ministers of a new covenant.” How does this translate?
One helpful way to understand the prophetic impact that covenant makes to our lives, is to think about the vows we make at a wedding – by re-casting them. Imagine looking into the eyes of your bride or groom and declaring a steadfast intention to be faithful and true to him/her 99% of the time. Or possibly 99.9%. Offering to share everything you own, except your umbrella, because it has special sentimental value. To have and to hold, as long as he/she continues to put out the rubbish and share the cooking 50% of the time. Along with the destructive self-centredness, qualifying statements like these deny the very covenant life that wedding vows create and affirm. They lay a different foundation. They create new possibilities.
“Some people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,” I said.”Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
The vows in a marriage define a new life, not the renegotiation of the old one. There will be sacrifice involved. In sickness and health, in good and bad times, for better or worse. Covenant says: I will not let you go. It combines a sense of reckless abandon, a leap of faith, and then as Eugene Peterson puts it, a long obedience in the same direction. Covenant opens us to a different way of living in word and deed. This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
Own it personally
- Read Eugene Peterson’s book, Run with the Horses, a study of the life of Jeremiah. He writes: “I hope to stir up a dissatisfaction with anything less than our best. I want to provide fresh documentation that the only way that any one of us can live at our best is in a life of radical faith in God. Every one of us needs to be stretched to live at our best, awakened out of dull moral habits, shaken out of petty and trivial busywork.”
- Think about the key relationships in your life: at home, work, church. What spirit defines these, not just in theory, but in the spirit and direction they are travelling. How much are they defined by contract, how much by covenant?
- In what ways and at what times can you remember ‘buying a field’? What happened? List some ways in which you’ve experienced God’s faithfulness.
- Read the book of Ruth (only four chapters). The story of a young woman who defined covenant for us. A love story that results in her becoming one of Jesus’ forebears.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”
Speak it out. Pray, Prophesy
Lord, today I put my future back into your hands,
Teach me once again to trust your promises, your provision, your love.
Help me to recognise in a fresh and living way, the reality that you bring to my life, Dispel the myths of success and satisfaction that our stressed out consumer world tries to sell me.
Let me learn again to follow your ancient paths – the road of covenant, the good way, the place of peace.
May I become a minister of your new covenant, a carrier of the gospel of grace and truth.