A local Word on the Word

by Rev. Mark M. Powell
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What is a covenant? 

In our everyday lives we use things that are like them all the time. A covenant is like a contract, treaty, agreement, pact or promise. 

We are somewhat familiar with contracts in our society. Credit cards, automobile loans and mortgage agreements are types of contracts that deal with money. What happens when we do not follow through on these contracts? We lose our car or house. We lose a possession.

A treaty is like a contract or an agreement. We read about them in the history books and we see them between nations and within governments all over the world. 

What happens when we do not follow through on these treaties? 

The Native American treaties from the early times of our land were not upheld. We can see how devastating that was to the people who inhabited this land before the arrival of foreigners.

In our relationships we make an agreement as well. We tell our neighbor that we will be there on Saturday morning to help them pack their moving van. We promise that we will serve on a committee for our church or community. 

What happens when we do not follow through on these agreements? 

Maybe we lose a friend. Maybe not. Ultimately though, we lose trust. We lose someone’s trust.

These contracts, or agreements or treaties all have consequences when not upheld. Sometimes the consequences are not too bad. Sometimes they are terrible. Many times we can make them right when they have gone wrong. Sometimes we cannot.

Contracts, agreements and treaties are all similar to covenants. 

But a covenant is different from these because, from a Christian perspective, a covenant involves God.

Covenants are littered throughout scripture. In fact, the Bible itself is a covenant. You have smaller covenants, like the one between Abraham and God, in which God told Abram that He would bless Abraham’s descendants making them more numerous than the stars. 

There is the rainbow in the story of Noah that symbolizes the covenant that God would never again flood the world.

The Old Testament is also known as the Old Covenant. It is a covenant between God and Israel based on Mosaic Law and can be found in the first five books of the Bible or the Torah.

Christians assert that God made an additional covenant through Jesus Christ, called the new covenant, in which Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would atone for the sins of all who put their faith in him. The new covenant is the promise of salvation based on divine grace rather than Mosaic Law.

The first Sunday after Epiphany brings covenant to our forefront. It is to the forefront because Epiphany marks the Baptism of our Lord. And it is a day in which we reaffirm our faith and the vows that we made in our own Baptisms.

Baptism is our entrance into this new covenant. It is when we acknowledge that Christ is our Lord and that the sacrifice on the cross would atone for sins of all who put their faith in him.

The thing I think we forget about Baptism is that it is not a one-and-done moment. We must live into our Baptism every week, every day, every moment of our lives. In Baptism, we make the statement that we believe in Christ. 

Baptism carries with it a covenant that we make with God that we, with God’s help, will strive and live into the promises that we made or others made on our behalf. 

Ask yourself, “What happens when we do not follow through on this covenant?” 

I am willing to bet that we could bring heaven here on Earth if we all lived into our baptismal covenants.

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