Commentary by Walter Albritton


September 26


God’s People live and Serve within a Covenant Community


Deuteronomy 29


Key Verse: Enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, …in order that he may establish you today as his people.  – Deuteronomy 29:12-13


          Scottie and Jessica stood before me, with some 20 family members looking on, and entered into the sacred covenant of marriage. They promised to be faithful to each other, “forsaking all others” so that the bond between them would not be broken. All who were present could see that they loved each other deeply.

          Some present may not have understood that this marriage was not simply a covenant between a man and a woman. The marriage covenant includes also God and the faith community represented by the family and friends of the couple. Witnesses are present to remind the couple of the vows they made and to encourage their faithfulness to each other.

          Since the institution of marriage is God’s idea, the bride and groom enter into a holy covenant with God as well as each other. That is why I urged Scottie and Jessica to keep God’s holy will by being faithful to each other. I assured them that if they did, God would bless their home with peace.

          In the years to come, the young couple’s love will be tested. They will be tempted to break their covenant. However, they can find the strength to build a good, lasting marriage by relying on the grace of God and the help of their faith family. We all need the grace of God to help us remain faithful to our covenants.

          Life is about covenants. Buy and car on time and you covenant to make the monthly payments. Purchase a home and the mortgage you sign is a legal covenant. Join the United Methodist Church and you covenant to keep the vows of membership. The Bible is a book about covenants. The first man and first woman, commonly called Adam and Eve, were asked to live in a covenant of responsibility with God. The Bible tells us of other covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

          Today’s scripture introduces us to a new kind of covenant, one not with individuals but with a nation of people. This covenant was all-inclusive. It included not only key leaders but also everyone else, even “those who cut your wood and those who draw your water.” Even foreigners “in the camp” were expected to buy into the covenant.

          God called the Israelites to covenant, to agree, to be his people, to become a “holy nation” set apart to serve him. He promised to care for them. He did. He kept his promises. Their clothes and their shoes did not wear out during forty years in the wilderness. Their health was good, despite having had no bread or wine for years. They were able to defeat their enemies in one battle after another.

          Moses understood how forgetful the people were of all that God had done for them. He knew they, like us, so easily forget God’s works of grace. Therefore, he insisted that they remember God’s goodness, and renew the vows that were made first at Mount Sinai. Moses made it clear to the people that they were not free to live as they pleased, but they were expected to obey the commands of God.

          We Methodists, like most Protestants, delight in our freedom. We do not wish for anyone to tell us what we must do. That is why some will say about giving, “What I do with my money is my business; it is between me and God.” Some never pledge to the church for that very reason. They simply give what they want to give, whenever they choose.

          Fortunately, our membership vows are not narrow about giving. We vow simply to “uphold” our church with our giving, as well as our prayers, presence, and service. Each of us is free to determine what faithful giving means to us.

          However, in the matter of giving, we have a great heritage as a faith community. Our ancestors, the Israelites, practiced tithing, giving ten per cent to the Lord. They did that before God sent His Son to die for our sins. If the Jews could give a tithe before Christ, surely we as Christians can give no less, being on this side of the cross.

          Tithing, in my judgment, should be the minimum standard for Christians. For many years, my wife and I have given a tithe to the church, with no strings attached, and given additional money for other causes, mainly missions. Certainly, what we have given is nothing to brag about. I share it simply to illustrate how the Spirit has led us to fulfill our sacred vows as one couple within the continuing faith community known as God’s People. I can testify that God has blessed us beyond our deserving.

          Tithing reminds me that I belong to God. I aim to be a faithful member of his covenant people. When I married Dean more than 52 years ago, I agreed to belong to her, and she to me. We live in a sacred covenant relationship with each other and with God. We have both been blessed by our faithfulness to our marriage covenant.

          As Christians, we have a great heritage. We trace our heritage back to the covenant of Abraham. God has blessed us. He has embraced us as his own people. He has kept his promises to us. He has invited us to live in covenant with him. As Methodists, we know the lasting value of yielding our lives to God and declaring, “I am no longer my own, but thine”!

          May we choose to live daily as people in a holy covenant with God, so that bystanders will say, “Their God has done great things for them”!

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