Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
As we begin the New Year and carry on the season of Epiphany, we are talking about our dreams and our visions for the church, for ourselves, and for our community. What can we dream up? What do we envision for our ministry? What do we dream for the future? In the coming weeks we will dream dreams and carry our visions. We will talk about what the church can be and what we aim for.
But first we need a base for these dreams and visions. This Sunday is about being named, claiming who we are and remaking a covenant with God saying that we are in this again. By making a covenant with God, claiming each other, we can open ourselves to see what God might have us see. This is our base, our centering, for moving forward. This is our gathering and sharing together (remember eat, share and serve?). This is where we gain energy and motivation.
John Wesley started a tradition in 1755 as he called the church to make a commitment again to God. He asked them to partake in a service of covenant and renewal to reclaim our relationship. He reports in his journals that 1800 people were present to pray this prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Notice the covenant language here resonates with what we are told in Isaiah and later on in Luke. God claims us and we claim God. Only then can we move forward in ministry. It was important for the people of Israel to be named and claimed. They hadn’t been called ‘mine’ by anyone until this time and it changed everything. By putting aside the fears of who gets what and claiming God’s way, the people could move forward in grand dreams.
In our scripture in Luke, Jesus is claimed, not by fire, but by the dove. He is named and set apart for ministry. As we celebrate our baptisms, we are named again and set apart for this covenantal ministry. This Sunday we will be offering the chance for people to be named and claimed by this community of faith. Our visions then can link in with each other’s. Our dreams become dreams of community rather than individual dreams. We will also be making a covenant with God again, renewing our ties to the holy one. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have our doubts but it means we can put it all in God’s hands, the one who calls us “mine.”
Quotes for the Week
“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.” ― Madeleine L’Engle
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ― Brennan Manning
“Dreams are manifestations of identities.” ― Kathy Acker
“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.” ― Anne Lamott
Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (Message)
The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
Questions for the Week
What will you recommit this season?
What grand visions lay ahead for you?
Does a piece of your identity resonate with God’s call?