Happy New Year!
As we enter the New Year, a time of resolutions and new hopes and renewed promises and starting over, we’re going to be practicing a guided meditation of sorts. Because sometimes – often, really – it’s important to take a step back and stand still before we begin to move forward.
This sermon was designed to go alongside the Spiritual Resolutions sheet, which can be found with all other resources from our Covenant Renewal Service here.
My Journey with God Last Year
Ignatius of Loyola was a 15th-century Spanish soldier who, after being seriously wounded in battle, turned his soul and work with a fire towards the mission of the gospel. He founded the Society of Jesus – a Catholic order of priests that is now known as the Jesuits.
The Jesuits, besides being known as the order of Pope Francis and of decent basketball schools (Boston College, Loyola, Fordham, Georgetown and Gonzaga are all Jesuit schools), Jesuits are known as a spiritual group who introduced to the world the Daily Examen. I find the Daily Examen a fantastic way to pray when you just don’t know where to start – when it feels awkward or strange and you don’t know what to say, the Examen provides the structure that I need to begin a conversation with God.
If that’s too much to remember, the Examine essentially boils down to three things. Think back on your day. Where did you see God? Where didn’t you see God? Where do you hope to see God tomorrow?
So during our first song, sit still and be aware of God’s presence, as best you can. Think over the past year – all of 2014. Where did you experience God? Where didn’t you experience God? What are you still wondering about from the past year?
Song: I'll Walk by Your Side - JoJo David
My Vision with God this Year
Later in today’s service, we’ll go through a traditional Methodist New Years Service – a Covenant Service. This is a service that has been used for nearly 300 years at the New Year – either on New Year’s Eve or on the first Sunday after the New Year – to re-dedicate ourselves to God and to our faith. In essence, it’s a New Year’s resolution, but with Jesus added in.
John Wesley knew we weren’t perfect, that our lives – and our faith – would always need improvement. And so, each New Year’s, we’re given the opportunity to explicitly claim our intent and desire to live lives closer to God. To have God’s words written more deeply on our hearts, in the words of Jeremiah this morning.
We’ve reflected on and written down our thoughts from last year. Now it’s time to look forward. Like Jeremiah said, this is a new covenant. It doesn’t have to be like before. Yesterday is yesterday. The present is here. The future is now. God has promised to enter our hearts, to dwell within us, if only we let that happen. We have the option of responding to God’s work in our lives, to respond to the Grace that is there. Where do you hope to see God tomorrow?
How do you hope to open your heart to God’s work in your life this year? How do you need God to work in your life? What are you afraid of in the coming year? Lay it before God – he’s a big God. He can take it.
Song: “Be Thou My Vision” – Michael Card
Spiritual Practices to Begin or Continue:
One of the ways we can best experience God is through Spiritual practices, things that draw us closer to God, closer to each other, and help us grow in our faith and knowledge of God. John Wesley called the “Means of Grace,” or ways that we can actually experience God’s grace in this world. They are a key part of being a person of faith, although their practice, their implementation can vary greatly from person to person.
The beauty of spiritual practices is that, through them, we get to experience God. Perhaps not always, but often. And, if I can be as ridiculous as compare God with the stock market, it’s not the individual day that matters, but on the whole our faith almost certainly goes up.
It’s these practices, in part, that are what Peter is referencing in today’s epistle. “You must be holy as the one who has called you is holy.” Now, before we start thinking that engaging in spiritual practices is what makes God love us, remember what else Peter said in this same passage: we were freed through Christ – already. Our attempts at holy living aren’t to earn a spot at the table, but a thankful response to what God’s already done. And who doesn’t want to get to know someone who loves us that much?
On our sheet for today, there are a few and various spiritual practices for you to consider. Is this the year that you open the Bible each night to learn more of God’s story? Or perhaps you’ll increase your giving to church or some charity in order to give others more and learn to live with less. Engage in a new service activity, either through the church or on your own. Actually follow the Sabbath – take one day each week to be still. Say no occasionally. Don’t be so busy that you forget who you are and whose you are. Practice gratitude – write thank you cards more than you need to. Work on forgiving others. What else? This is just the beginning. How else can you connect with God this year?
After we’ve prayed the Covenant Service, sign this sheet. Return to it as the year goes on, as a reminder of your pledge to your faith and your God. Happy New Year, my friends. May it be a blessed one.
Song: “I surrender all” – Grace Kelley (only available on Spotify)
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