A sermon delivered David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on March 25, 2012.
Many of us find the word “commitment” unnerving, myself included. We get anxious when we hear the “c” word for all kinds of reasons. We wonder what we will be asked to commit to. We wonder if we can possibly keep our commitments, and how we will live with ourselves if we fail. On the other hand, if we refuse to commit ourselves, then what does that refusal say about us?
I’ve even wondered if the multiple meanings of the word could be part of the problem. After all, “commitment” can refer to the act of confining someone to a mental institution as well as the act of pledging or promising! There’s a part of us that frankly resists commitment, that wonders if we shouldn’t get our heads examined before we willingly give up our freedom to be and do as we please.
But the biblical witness is clear on this matter—we are at our best when we commit ourselves to a goal or relationship… or both. Remember, the goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. And nobody, and I mean nobody ever drifts casually into spiritual transformation. I challenge you to find one uncommitted Christian, one uncommitted Christian church that randomly became transformed into the image of Christ. Spiritual transformation doesn’t happen apart from an intentional, whole-hearted commitment to God, and to the process of spiritual formation.
Maybe that’s why God is forever calling his children to commit themselves to his coventants. Review the Old Testament (aka “Old Covenant”) and you will see that God fashioned covenants with Noah, and Abraham, and Moses on Mt. Sinai, and with King David, and other select leaders on several other occasions. Sadly, none of these covenants held because (to quote Jeremiah) sin is “engraved” on the human heart (17:1). Despite having hundreds of rules and regulations on the books, the people of Israel sinned like there was no tomorrow. Clearly, the old system of covenants engraved on stone tablets was very broken, and the prospects for the nation of Israel were very dark.
You might think God would simply call humanity a “failed experiment” and walk away. But he didn’t. Instead, while his beloved Israelites languished in Babylonian exile, ready to throw in the towel, God proposed a new covenant based on grace rather than the law, engraved on the heart rather than on stone, lived out not by will power but God’s power.
This, God says, is a “new covenant,” the only time that phrase appears in the Old Covenant. The new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah ultimately comes to fruition 600 years later in the person of Jesus, who ushers in the greatest covenant of all when he dies on the cross. It is this “new covenant” that we learn about in the New Testament (aka “New Covenant), and that we celebrated earlier with the Lord’s Supper. It is this new covenant that gives us the promise of hearts and lives transformed in Jesus Christ.
Today, we are enacting the FBC version of covenant renewal before God and one another. Throughout the month of March we have been meditating deeply on the depth of our commitment to God. We’ve been asking ourselves, “Are we committed enough to God to engage in disciplines of spiritual formation? Are we committed enough to God to give of our time and talents and resources to the Kingdom through this church? And in this season of discernment about our church, are we committed enough to fully participate in the conversation at hand, committed enough to pray for God’s leadership as we discern the future of our church?
We do this today not because God needs it or even because our church needs it. We do this today because you need it, and so do I. You and I need to be challenged to step up and be counted for the simple reason that unless we commit our heart to God, we will never be what God created us to be. And if we don’t commit our hearts to God as a congregation, we will also fall short of what God has planned for our church.
I’m asking you today to complete the three cards inserted in your worship folder. Then I’m asking you to make your way to the foot of the cross and deposit those cards before God and one another. The purple card offers you a chance to volunteer for service. If you don’t see the area you feel called to serve either inside or outside our church, write it in on the card before you place it in the basket (note: our Nominating Committee will review these cards).
The white card gives you a chance to express your financial commitment to our church. Please complete this card, place it inside an envelope (to insure confidentiality), and place it in the middle basket (note: our Financial Secretary will review these cards). By the way, after finishing 2011 so strongly, we have not started this year as well, so let me ask you to be generous in your giving!
The yellow card, in my estimation, is the most important. It asks you to acknowledge that God wants the very kind of intimate relationship described in Jeremiah 31, that he wants your whole heart. It asks you to commit to spiritual disciplines that will give God time and opportunity to do the extensive renovation of your soul that only he can do. No one will read these cards but you. They will be sealed for safekeeping. So be honest as you can be.
Remember, what matters most today is not what you write on your cards. It’s what God and you together will write on your hearts.
I invite you now to pray. And to listen. And ponder. Then complete your cards and bring them to the foot of the cross (and remain standing around the perimeter of the sanctuary). I invite you to commit your heart to God.