A Covenant of Love
Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, September 28, 1997
Kings 8:22-29 Solomon's Prayer of Dedication
Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah's Song
Arcana Coelestia #1055 The covenant of love and kindness
Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or
on earth below--you who keep your covenant of love with your
servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. (1 Kings 8:23)
is a special day for all of us. Even though I have been here as
your pastor for a year already, this afternoon in our installation
service we are celebrating the beginning of our relationship with
each other. We have had a year to try it out, and now the three
year contract that we have signed is a written testimony to our
happiness with the relationship. Though in one sense the contract
is only words on paper, it represents much more than that: it is
an expression of the agreement that I have made to love and serve
you as my congregation, and that you have made to love and support
me as your pastor.
Bible has a different word for "contract." That word is
"covenant." The word "covenant" may sound more
poetic and Biblical than "contract," but really it is
the same thing--only with the deeper meaning more clearly present.
When we think of a covenant in the Biblical sense, we do not get
stuck in the legal idea of a written document that is binding on
the parties that sign it. Rather, we focus on the heart of the
relationship that the covenant represents: we focus on a covenant
of love between the Lord and his people.
very first time I preached here in this church as your pastor, I
read the story of Moses setting up the tabernacle for the first
time. Today's reading from 1 Kings celebrates a similar
occasion: it is the beginning of King Solomon's prayer of
dedication for the first Temple to the Lord in Jerusalem, which he
had just finished building. This scene also calls to mind the new
beginning we are celebrating later today when the Rev. Edwin Capon
comes to install me as your pastor.
Solomon's words provide us with our theme for this morning's
service. He speaks of the Lord as the one who keeps a
"covenant of love" with his servants who continue
wholeheartedly in his way. We sometimes think of the Bible as a
great, long saga that is far to much for us to easily grasp. But
then we come upon these wonderfully brief phrases that cut right
to the core of the matter.
covenant of love." Love, as Swedenborg tells us, is the
covenant. He says, "There is no other eternal covenant
besides love to the Lord and love toward our neighbor."
(Arcana Coelestia #1055) And even this sweeping statement is not
enough. He continues, "The whole of heaven is founded on
love. In fact, so is the whole order of nature, since in the
natural order nothing at all exists that has any union or
connection if it does not trace its source back to love."
covenant is a relationship. The Biblical covenant is a covenant
between the Lord and all of his creation. And that covenant is not
only based on love, it is love. Love is not an abstract thing or a
wispy feeling that only poets and lovers have fleeting glimpses
of. It is the stuff that we are all made of, and it is the very
real and human relationships that we share with each other.
example, when we talk with each other, it is our love speaking. Oh
yes, our love is filtered through our thinking minds. Often by the
time the words come out, the love that prompted them has become so
deeply hidden and disguised that we can easily forget that behind
them there is a person with a warm and beating heart. We say
things to people because we care about them--we care about the
people and we care about the things we are trying to communicate
through our words. Nothing we say or do comes from pure intellect.
No matter what the outward appearance, all of it comes from the
love that we are made of.
should not surprise us. We know both from the Bible and from the
teachings of our church that God is love in a very literal way.
God is love. And everything God does is an expression of love, and
has love at its core. That means that the entire spiritual and
physical universe is love at its core. And it means that we are
love at our core.
unlike everything else in the universe, we human beings can turn
that love into something that it was never meant to be. We can
take love for God and for other people and turn it into hatred and
contempt for them instead. Or we can water it down to apathy that
does not move us to acts of love and kindness toward each other.
knew when he created us to be expressions of love that we would
turn away from that love and go astray on our own paths of error
and sorrow. Yet he did not leave us to those hopeless paths.
Instead, as Zechariah says in our reading from Luke, "he has
come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of
salvation for us . . . salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us--to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant."
enemies that the Lord has saved us from are not enemies that carry
rifles or arrive at our shores in warships and jet fighters. They
are the spiritual enemies of hatred, apathy, selfishness, greed.
They are the false and destructive loves that turn us away from
the true and eternal covenant of love that the Lord offers us: the
covenant of mutual love between us and the Lord, and between us
and all the people that the Lord has given us to be with here on
earth. If we are willing to enter into a covenant of love with the
Lord, he will help us to overcome all the inner enemies that we
struggle with throughout our lives. Yes, we will still have to
struggle with them. But with the Lord's help, over time, we will
overcome them. This is the promise of the covenant.
we are celebrating a covenant of love. It is a covenant of mutual
love, support, and service that you and I are entering into. This
covenant represents more than a mutual commitment made by me as
pastor and you as congregation. It also represents a commitment
that we as a church body--as a member of the body of Christ--are
making to serve each other and our community out of love for our
neighbor. If we as a church did not make this commitment, there
would be no point in having a pastor, or even having a church,
since this is the essence of being a church.
our mission statement says, "Our mission is to nurture
spiritual growth by: worshipping the one God, the Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ, studying his Word, and living a life of kindness and
service." This is the mission and the covenant that we as a
church have made with our Lord. The order in which our mission
unfolds is a good one: it starts with the worship of our Lord
Jesus Christ, gains shape and substance through the study of his
Word, and both of these are expressed in a life of kindness and
service to others. This is our church's covenant of love.
know that we often do not live up to this covenant. We know that
as a church, we are often focused inward, on our own internal
affairs, rather than outward on the work that the Lord is calling
us to do. Sometimes we may think that we are too small a group to
express that covenant in outward-looking ways. But if we think
this way, we will only bring about our own failure to carry out
the mission that we have set for ourselves.
Lord also knows that we often do not live up to our covenant, and
that too often we fail to fulfill its good and loving goals. Yet
the Lord is never content to let us remain in a position that
falls short of our potential. The Lord is always calling us to
reach beyond what we have previously done or even conceived of as
possible for our church. The Lord is calling us to reach out in
new ways, from love.
we still have lingering thoughts that this is just not possible
for us. That we can only make small and gradual progress toward
the goals that not just we, but the Lord himself has set before
us. But then again, if someone had asked us a year ago, how many
of us would have thought it possible that our church steeple might
soon be rebuilt?
Lord is not limited by size or by history. The Lord is always
offering to break us free from any limitations that we may feel
are holding us back. The Lord is offering us so much more than we
could possibly do on our own. The Lord is offering us a covenant
of love--a covenant that puts us in the stream of the greatest and
most powerful force in the universe: God's love.
we make our commitment to each other in our installation service
this afternoon, I pray that our commitment will not only be to
each other, but will also be a renewed commitment--a covenant--to
carry out our mission and purpose for existing as a church. I pray
that as we renew and continue our relationship with each other, we
will also be renewing and strengthening a covenant of love with
the Lord, with each other, and with all the people of our
name of painting is "Little Precious One"
Music: How I Love
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer