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The Promise of the Covenant

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04/19/2009 The Promise of the Covenant Knox 16 PC

214/516/332 Psalm 139:1-18 Jeremiah 31:31-34 Galatians 4:15-30

OOPS! The church today, is struggling to keep the covenant promises to God. It is getting harder and harder to keep those promises year after year. The reality of the church is that it is diminishing in size. It is kind of like we are the incredible shrinking man or woman.  
  UGH! In the early 1980s the average attendance at a service of worship in a church of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was 96 people. As of a couple of years ago, the average attendance in those same churches of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was down to 51.
As you can tell, in looking around you this morning many of our members are over 65. We have no children coming to this church on a regular basis. Those who have taught Sunday School in this church, I honour this morning. For year in and year out they prepared faithfully the Sunday school lessons for the children, only to find that no children showed up to hear the lessons they had prepared.  
  We're struggling right now to develop new ways to reach out to the children of this generation. We're looking at new ways to be ready for the time when children do come to this church again. I believe they will. It is a matter of faith. But, it is not easy when you're looking at a shrinking congregation with no children.
We will struggle to keep the covenant we make with you this very day. It is a challenge for us to try to understand why it is we don't have people in their 20s through their 50s and children in the church.  
  When I was growing up, my mom and dad both worked. They were an exception to the rule. Most households had the mother at home. We lived in a safer environment. For a long ways around the radius of our home people around the neighbourhood would know who we were as children walking through the neighbourhood. We would play with some of the dogs on the front lawns of homes along the route to school. The dogs were not on a leash in those days. We played with them without any fear. If anyone tried to take you, as happens many times in our society today, someone would be there to jump in.
While I was barely coming up to six years of age, my mother took me to school for the first day. She asked me, "do you want me to pick you up at lunchtime"? I said no, I will be just fine. I walked 15 to 20 blocks to the school every day that I went to Swansea public school. You can't do that today. The majority of parents are both working.  
  You are struggling with paying a mortgage and bringing up your children. In your jobs you are working more for less. In this day and age there is a great danger of not even having a job. When you do have a job your employer has a lot of high expectations upon you. Many parents don't arrive home until about seven o'clock or eight o'clock at night travelling from Toronto or where ever. The only time for many people is the weekends. Employers are even asking you to work on Saturdays. And sometimes asking us to work on Sundays.
Last Sunday, which was Easter Sunday, travelling to church brought memories back to what it was like when I was a boy growing up. There was hardly any traffic on the road. Everything was shut down except for restaurants and maybe some drug stores and gas stations. When I was growing up that was the way it was every Sunday. We live in a difficult world today. And more than ever before we need to work together to overcome these obstacles. We need God in our lives more than anything else.  
  AHA! Once a person's will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. The law, which came 430 years later, does not annul the covenant previously ratified by God so as to nullify the promise. The promise of the covenant is always kept by the living God. This is kept even when we fail to keep our covenant promises.
WHEE! Baptism is the symbol of putting on Christ. That is where the tradition of the baptismal gown for children came into play. The white gown was significant symbolising the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  
  Baptism in its greatest symbolism is that we enter into Christ in order to die to sin. We go under the water as in immersion baptism and we are completely covered over. The first stage is to die to the ways of the world which is sin.
The second phase of baptism is to rise out of the water into new life in Jesus Christ, in other words to live the resurrection life. What is the baptismal promise? I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you!  
  The purpose of the Law was to tutor us and to lead us in the right path towards this encounter with Jesus Christ. The original paidagogos, however, was not a tutor or schoolmaster; he was an attendant to a child from six to sixteen. He accompanied the child to school, protected him from harm, kept him out of mischief, and delivered him safely to the teacher. There was a sense in which he was in charge of the child’s moral welfare, keeping him from temptation, though he had nothing to do with the actual teaching of the child in school.
Sin has moved from a dominant, fear-producing force in Christianity to an abstract, almost never-talked-about idea. "We thus find ourselves in the schizophrenic position of ignoring the most obvious fact about human behaviour, the fact of sin." Much of our view of sin will be shaped by our view of God and why He has given rules to obey. Sins are not an arbitrary list of rules drawn up by a cranky Teacher, but they are a "list of dangerous carcinogens that must be avoided at all costs." The rules were not given for God's sake--so He could have an excuse for punishment--but for our sakes. "Sin" by Philip Yancey.  
  Baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation. Salvation has come long before baptism. If our salvation was to depend on baptism or some other legalistic right, everyone of us would fail. God has brought a program in place in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ.
I would challenge everyone here this morning to go home and reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I am not going to discuss these kind of details here this morning with young children in the sanctuary. But it is something that each person has to wrestle with.  
  The church needs to come to repentance. We need to come to a new way of doing things which recognises the objects and the barriers and the problems that this generation faces. While they are similar to the problems that we encountered in growing up, they are unique to you. I place the challenge today before the church to come into dialogue with people in their 20s and 30s and 40s and those in their 50s with parental responsibilities. Together, how can we overcome the barriers they keep us from fulfilling all of the promises that we have made?
I am sure that you would agree that if we did not pay much attention to the promises we made to each other when we got married and did not spend any time in nurturing our marriage, it is very likely that that marriage will not survive. In the same way we cannot ignore our marriage vows to Jesus Christ. The scriptures describe the body of Christ or the church as the bride of Christ.  
  Even when we fail to keep our promises, Christ continues to wait for us. Long-suffering is one of the tremendous strengths that God has. He will keep pursuing us, even though we try to run away. His pursuit of us is indicative of his everlasting non-compromising love for us.
From the age of 14 until the age of almost 32 I ran away from God. My life through that period of time was not good. It was an unhappy existence. My roots came out to confront me.  
  The example of my grandparents stood out strongly in my mind. The time spent in Sunday school came back to remind me of who I was, even though I was sent to Sunday school whether I wanted it or not. My life ever since that day in October of 1975 has been a whole lot better than it was before. I found that I could not live without Christ.
Jesus Christ completes our life when we give ourselves over to him. I was baptised at the age of eight months. I have no memory of what went on there. God sent down a life raft when I was in my deepest need. I pray that everyone here today will come to the end of the pursuit and be caught up by the promise of the covenant which God has come through Jesus Christ.  
  YEAH! "Theodore Ferris said once that he thought he knew a certain man, a friend of his, pretty well. He knew that man to be powerful, a successful businessman, the kind that makes decisions easily and drives a hard bargain. One day Ferris was having dinner with the man's son, and they were talking about the father. The son revealed something new about his dad. "It seems that when the son was in the army he made a terrible mistake, got into trouble, and was given a dishonourable discharge. He said he knew what he had done disgraced his family. He thought his family would be outraged, but he also felt that he had to tell him what had happened. "'So I did,' said the son. "I wired him and told him what happened. He sent a telegram back. The telegram had only three sentences in it: "I will stand by you no matter what happens. I will be there in the morning. Remember who you are."'

O God of light and truth, lead us by your Word to your holy mountain. Then we shall come to your throne with joy and praise, for You are God. The wind cannot contain You, nor the fire consume You; the earthquake fails to encompass your power, for You are God. Speak as You have spoken with your still small voice that we may hear.

Infinite Word of Truth, breathe upon us the refreshing breath of your Spirit and forgive our transgressions. Cleanse our hearts of a wrong way of thinking. Deliver us from sins of word, thought, deed and omission. Turn us away from attempting to be self-sufficient. Draw us deeper into relationship with You.

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