“As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.” (1 Peter 1: 22-23 CEB)
So has anybody made any resolutions yet? Yesterday at worship my liturgist asked that question to our congregation and my unspoken answer to that was, “No, but hey, I still have a few hours to think on it.” Some of the things I’ve been thinking about might be some of the same things that have been on your mind. I mean, everybody wants to lose weight and become more healthy, right? After all, I turn 40 this year (shh, don’t tell anyone) and I’m starting to get to the point where my body isn’t quite as good at overcoming my mind’s bad habits as it used to be. I could stand to lose ten pounds, or you know, fifty. Anywhere in there would be a start. In 2016 I bought a Fitbit tracker. Much to my dismay, despite the fact that I wear it day in and day out, it hasn’t magically made me lose weight. Imagine that! Funny, I have a gym membership that I pay for every month, but there hasn’t been any magical miracle solutions from that either. Maybe it’s time I try out one of those TV preachers, you know the ones who populate the basic cable channels at about 3 AM, right after that show with the dude who tries to sell you knives and Katanas. Surely if they can conjure up some miracle spring water or a magic green handkerchief that makes people rich, they can help this poor guy lose a few pounds. It’d probably only cost me a few thousand bucks.
What about your spiritual life? Have you made any resolutions there? Maybe you got a new Bible or devotional book for Christmas. Maybe you’re like me and you picked up a shiny, neatly pressed copy of “The Upper Room” yesterday at church figuring that this is the year you’re gonna make it through all six issues. (Mine is currently still sitting in my bag upstairs with the Bible I took to church and yesterday’s worship order. I’m not off to a good start there.)
How often do we manage to keep those resolutions? If you’re like me, and a lot of other folks, not very often. Why is that? I have a couple of thoughts. First, I think our motivation starts to lag as we get back into our normal, daily routines. It’s easy to think about making changes while you’re off work between Christmas and New Years. You look at that brand new calendar. You see all of that “New Year, New You” advertising on TV and at the store. Maybe you did get a new Bible or piece of workout equipment for Christmas. For the first little while, it’s easy to get up everyday and hit the Word or go to the gym. Then maybe you string a few days together and feel pretty good about it. But then, then you head back to the office. Then you have to get back into the swing of getting the kids ready for school. Those everyday things eventually start seeping back into the time you’ve set apart for those resolutions. Then you miss a day, or two, or three, and before you know it, it’s back to the same grind.
Maybe it’s not that. Maybe you’re afraid that people will judge you. After all, social media is full of jokes and memes about people who only come to the gym for the first few weeks of the year. If you’re like me maybe you walk into the a place like that and feel everyone looking at you, and you imagine those exact jokes and thoughts going through their heads, whether they are or not. Or maybe you were planning on going back to church this year, but when you got there on Christmas or New Years you saw a smarmy sign on the marquee that said “We’re not just open for Christmas and Easter!” Maybe you heard somebody make a snarky comment like, “Well, it’s been nice, I guess we’ll see you at Easter!”
Or maybe the task ahead just seems too daunting. Maybe you feel like you’re lacking in so many areas that you just don’t know where to start. I get that, I really do, and you know what? I’m not sure that we can generally pull off these kinds of life altering transformations on our own.
Which is why I love United Methodism, which focuses so much on personal transformation and the grace needed to accomplish it. For those of us in the Wesleyan tradition, New Years Day is a big deal. It’s on this day, or the first Sunday after, that we are generally called to renew our covenant with God. It isn’t meant to just be a prayer or liturgy that is recited without thinking either. The “United Methodist Book of Worship” recommends thorough preparation for this service including self-examination, study, and prayer.
It is a serious business. Various parts of the service talking about giving ourselves totally over to God, about renouncing our own wisdom and will, about putting our necks under his yoke, and about ordering our whole lives to his direction.
But even this must be intentional. Much like the devotional book won’t read itself or my Fitbit won’t help me to magically lose weight, this service, these words, won’t mean anything unless we continually use them and continually respond to God’s covenant with us.
It’s not always easy either. When you first start to lose weight you often find that the more you work, the pounds come off pretty quickly, but then you hit a plateau. It is the same for our walk with God, we get back into it and we can feel invigorated in those early days, but eventually we hit a plateau. When we hit a plateau in our physical exercise the solution is to keep working with purpose and intent, and I believe the same solution applies to our spiritual “workouts” as well. Sometimes you have to feel the burn before you see the results.
I am going to leave you this evening with the words from John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, which is a big part of the covenant renewal service. My hope for myself and for each one of you in this new year is that we all plug into the power that is Christ and his Spirit, and through intentional effort we will not only enrich our lives but those around us, therefore building His Kingdom as we become obedient to the Truth and love one another deeply and earnestly.