iResolve

connectI 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.

–A prayer from the Wesley Covenant Service

From top songs of the year to most important newsmakers or influential citizens to efforts at identifying the year’s best athletes, recording artists, or actors, it is virtually impossible to avoid lists and discussions attempting to assess and qualify the past year.  Equally, once the New Year has begun newscasts and newspapers, sermons and state governments not only review the past year but also imagine the possibilities for the year now underway.  Often, these imagined possibilities include a cataloging of resolutions.

Among the countless promises, we pledge to lose weight, to save more, to spend more time with our families, to volunteer, or to finish those project perpetually left undone.  Whatever the items crowding our personal and corporate “to do” lists, the start of a new year seems an appropriate time to construct such hopeful catalogues.  Much like us, John Wesley—one of the founders of the Methodist movement—was no different. 

However, more than generally assessing what we did last year and what we must do in the year begun, Wesley was specifically interested in encouraging the members of his Methodist societies to identify those intentional actions done in the previous year that moved his people toward perfection—i.e., toward loving like God would love—and in fostering an environment where members would find such a pursuit of perfection successful in the year just begun.  One means Wesley contrived to facilitate this pursuit was the Covenant Service.  

This idea of Covenant was basic to Wesley’s understanding of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other.  His original Covenant Prayer involved taking Christ as “my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death.”  Wesley recognized that people needed not simply to accept but also to grow in relationship with God.  He therefore emphasized that God’s grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love.  Importantly, the Covenant is not a contract in which God and human beings agree to provide particular goods and services to each other.  It is not something that we have to do to create a relationship with God. God has freely and graciously already made it possible.  Rather, the Covenant is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship and then seek to sustain it.

Since, covenant is about connecting and choosing intentional acts that maintain that connection, the Covenant Service is recognition that God regularly chooses us.  In light of this recognition, it is no accident that Wesley referred to the societies as the “Connexion.”  The Connexion served as a material embodiment of our intended destiny to share life with God, each other, and all of creation. 

This week, as we begin another calendar year together at Young Harris College, the need to remind us of our shared life and to affirm that shared life could not be greater.

In a world seemingly defined by seemingly constant war, inexplicable acts of terror, enduring economic strains, and crippling personal difficulties, we might be inclined to try to manage solely in the solitude of our own hearts, struggling alone with questions, doubts, concerns, and potential solutions.  The timeliness of the Covenant Service serves as a counterweight to the inclination to retreat from community into ourselves when faced with such a complex world.  Created to share life with each other, life shared must be relied upon at this and other moments.  And, despite what might appear evidence to the contrary, everyday-life’s separating energy is not the ultimate force around us.  Rather, the bonding power of God—so Wesley wanted to remind us—resists all straining, dividing powers, holding us to God and to each other.

This week, begin the new semester and New Year mindful of love’s enduring and connecting quality.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

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