Not too long ago I was talking with a friend of mine who was planning a birthday party for her daughter. She had invited about ten children and was working on plans for food, decorations, party favors and all the stuff that comes with putting on a birthday party. The only problem was, she had no idea how many kids were coming. When I asked her about her party plans, she said, “I don’t know. Only two people have responded to the invitation. I can’t get anyone else to RSVP.” By the time the party rolled around, she still had no idea how many children were coming and was worried about having enough goodies for everyone.
I understood my friend’s dilemma. It happens all the time. I don’t know what’s at the root of it—lack of manners? Fear of commitment? Busy lives? Lack of planning? My mother used to think that people who didn’t respond to invitations were “waiting to see if they could get a better deal.” She could be cynical at times, but my mother was also brutally honest.
For whatever reason it seems that our culture is growing more and more reluctant to commit. I’ve heard complaints on all sides. And I wonder if it’s the natural consequence of our individualism. We enjoy our freedom. We don’t want anyone else telling us what to do. We want to be able to go where we want, when we want and with whom we want. If we commit to something—especially too far in advance—then we might not be free to do what we want to do when the moment comes.
Well, while individual freedom is a tremendous gift, our Christian faith teaches about something that’s even more important: covenant. This Sunday in worship, we’re going to be talking about covenant and what it means to be part of a covenant community. And the more I ponder what covenant means, the more
I realize how counter-cultural it really is.
It is clear throughout the Bible that God is a covenant-making God. God initiates a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses and the Israelites. God promises to be faithful and steadfast in God’s love. The people, in return, are expected to be faithful to God and to live as God would have them live. And once the covenant is made, it is binding. Permanent. The people break it repeatedly, but God never lets them go.
I remember hearing David Lowes Watson describe covenant on a video at the end of the Disciple I Bible study. He said that “covenant” comes from the word for “tether.” So in a covenant we make a promise and bind ourselves to others. We bind ourselves in a moment of strength, so that in a moment of weakness we cannot be unbound.
I invite you this week to be reflecting on what “covenant” means for you. How are we in the church part of a covenant community? How do we live up to that promise? How do we fail to live up to it? If I were really to consider my participation in the church as a covenant between God, the congregation and me, what would it demand of me? Bring these questions with you when you come on Sunday. I don’t promise to have all the answers, but I’ll be there with you in the questions.