Pondering covenant

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July 4, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 14
Henry Kliewer |

Decline easily gives rise to lament and worry. Is there an alternative? Perhaps this is the time to consider exploring renewal of our covenant with God.

At a recent Mennonite Church Manitoba staff meeting, Norm Voth, director of evangelism and service ministries, began his opening devotional with the words: “I love my [Mennonite] church.”

He had just returned from Chiara House, where he had been helping alongside others of “my church” to clean up the mess left by an arsonist’s fire. Chiara House is a project of MC Manitoba and Little Flowers Church in downtown Winnipeg, creating housing for those with residency difficulties.

“Not everything about the church is nice,” he said. “But these are my people, my covenant community. I love my church.”

All of us staff were moved by the simplicity of the statement and the quiet conviction with which it was said.

It was a moment for all of us to do our own soul searching. Not everything was going smoothly with summer camp preparations, with many vacancies yet to be filled. Not everything was heavenly in the church leadership department, with pastor vacancies, church conflicts and other matters to be dealt with. But in the end, I suspect that not one of us would have uttered anything different than Voth in saying, “I love my church.”

“I love my church.” In reflecting on that devotional, I wondered where the ability to make that statement came from. I couldn’t help but think of God inviting people into covenant over and over as an expression of his unending love: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Biblical foundations

Covenant begins and ends with God. God calls people out of slavery and into covenant using stone tablets (Exodus 19-20). God is faithful when people are not. Renewal of covenant happens repeatedly through God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant of the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34) by inviting into covenant all that would follow him as his disciples: “Abide in me, and I will abide in you” (John 15.4).

The resulting covenant community—throughout the generations—is invited to renew broken covenant by worship and communion, “the new covenant in my blood.” One day faithfulness to covenant will result in God’s face-to-face fellowship with all who responded to his invitation to be in covenant with him.

What gives us hope?

One author, reflecting on Menno Simons, indicated, “When we renew our baptismal vow, all other vows have a way of falling into place.” As baptism is the individual’s submission to Christ and his body, so the Lord’s Supper is renewal of the covenant community with the head of the church: a reminder of the “new covenant in my blood.” Hence, the call to covenant renewal involves both the baptized individual and the church communally.

Pondering covenant making, breaking and renewing is leading me to a deepening personal journey of covenant relationship with Christ, but also lovingly inviting our MC Manitoba community and beyond to consider doing the same.

Henry Kliewer is Mennonite Church Manitoba’s director of Leadership Ministries.

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(privately, please)

Henry,

I am enamored of your consistency, and as always, your non-anxious, non-plused approach to problems of the body.

I value our long-standing relationship which I have considered as friendship. Despite the silence of the last few years, I consider it unaltered.

I wish it were as simple and easy as the words Of your article might be (mis)construed to suggest.

The breaking of covenant is seriously "heavy" by the very power such breakage has for persons, community, and especially for those who "love my church", as Norm alludes to, in his address.

It is perhaps the most devastating to those whose naïveté, has somehow sincerely BELIEVED in a shared or community of love for one another. Having dared to sacrifice non-church relations in favour of fully committing to the local and conference covenants, such as MCBC includes in their current covenant, conference-wide, ("we will think the best of everyone"), then having that commitment contravened by the local gathered church within that covenant, or by the conference, as a whole, one might be forgiven for cracking under the pressure of malignment. False allegations, silence treatment, or worse, having one's very uniquely expressed covenant contravened in sorrowfully unethical, immoral, or illegal means, or one's actions maligned, leaves one vulnerable to the worst of human degradation, (inner self-loathing, depression, and worse).

It boggles the mind, then, to witness how self-love within the church, has, on occasion, become the seedbed for violence against our appointed, elected, or otherwise chosen servants of the very church we are called to love, since she is thought to embody the very presence, spirit, and power of God, in a world of hatered, violence and sin.

Perhaps we would be better served, if we got off our proverbial high horses, and proclaim (lament?) loudly, as the prophets of old, among a people who hated their birthright and heritage, in favour of self-advancement, and denial of God's way, call or claim to their lives?

Is it time for us to bear the price of loving the church, together, rather than having a few selected as sacrificial scapegoats, as was the one and ONLY Lord of his church was sacrificed, because it was better that ONE die for many, instead of many dying for one?

Where/when do we begin to pay less attention to numbers(stats) and more to the "real", individual situations, in our midst, which plague and fester on our skin and spirits, denying the very claims we make, of ourselves, as a peace-making, God serving/loving community of pure and righteous people?

Why not sacrifice a little our our "purity", (as expressed by our saying "Oh, no, WE couldn't do things that way, or seek help from 'such' people/professions/organizations. We need to do things in a churchly fashion"), in order to help each other work out our salvation in fear & trembling, suffering together, trying everything short of sin, until we find healing, healthy alternate arrangements, or reconciliation, or agreement to part ways in an orderly, respectful manner, in a spirit of shared loss, lament, over irreconcilable differences, yet with generosity toward one another sincerely, taking responsibility for our own contributions to the problems, etc.?

I love my church, too! Yet I have been reared in a combination of Sommerfelder, Bergthaler, MCM, such as Sterling Ave Mennonite, in it's infancy, Chortitzer, GCMC/MCM/CMC/MCCanada. So my love for the church is not restricted to one part of the whole, but to the larger and various expression(s)of that church.
While I remain steadfastly committed to an Anabaptist expression, I am increasingly aware that this Anabaptist group has many expressions, gatherings, histories, and forums wherein it's witness is/needs to be heard/tasted/tested.

But what of the local/area church which rejects it's elected, appointed, hired, ordained servant leaders?

Do they have a ways and means of entertaining repentance on their agendas, or reconciliation with those they have harmed - some for the rest of their lives?

Who helps them find their way?

Or are we really just as helpless, hapless, and hopeless as those who remain outside the church - only worse, because we have heard, and THINK/BELIEVE we "know" the better way?

May God's grace continue to rise up, surround, permeate, nurture, and empower you in your faithful witness/ministry!!

Your friend from a long past,
Clare

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