May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, Our Strength and Our Redeemer. Amen
“He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit”.
Jesus, spelling out in John’s Gospel what a relationship with him can bring about in the lives of those who follow him –
You will be linked to that which is true and living.
You will be connected to that which gives life and nourishment.
You will be pruned to be the best that you can be.
You will be cleansed.
I’m not an avid gardener, and if you ever go past the manse fron garden you’ll know this fact – but when I think of pruning, I think of a massive, overgrown, messy hedge or shrub, and in my mind pruning is taking off all the bits that are unnecessary – those bits which make it look out of shape…Instead of being perfectly shaped in the way in which it was created to be.
Those who know what they’re doing will prune it so well, that it looks like something from the Chelsea Flower Show…perfectly shaped, not a leaf or branch out of place.
Thankfully, I don’t think Jesus is saying that his Father will cut off our limbs, but he is saying, I think, that anything and everything that is in us, which should not be will be remedied for those who abide in Him.
“Apart from me you can do nothing”. He reminds us. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”.
Exactly this time last year –
I was sitting in my room at Wesley House when the time came for me to make my way to see the Principal.
So I went –
I sat in her study, surrounded by books and an enormous desk. She turned in her swivel chair after looking at her computer and said: “Right Jarel, the stationing process this year really hasn’t been easy, as you know there’s been a shortage of stations so this has made things a little bit more complicated than usual”.
Then she said the words I had feared more than anything in the world: “OK, Jarel, erm, first things first…it isn’t London. It isn’t South East England either -“
At which point I thought “Good Lord, they’re sending me abroad aren’t they!!?”
She said: “It is a city though….it’s Cardiff”.
And then she handed me the paper with the stations details on it….
I took those papers back to my room and I didn’t read them for two days.
When we were asked to start thinking about what to put down on our stationing forms, they said be very specific or you can’t complain when you don’t get what you want…
I didn’t think I could get more specific than putting down: “South East England, preferably London”.
But you see God had other plans,
The Methodist Church in all its wisdom had other plans too…
Those words from Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither my ways your ways” really rang true. God and myself sat in total opposition.
Those two days – that felt like a year to me, from when I received the news and to the day when I finally decided that picking up the station profile off the floor and reading it might just be a good idea before the Circuit gets in touch…in those two days, all that went through my mind were the words from the Covenant Service.
Not the whole prayer, just the first line – which I think is actually the most important.
“I am no longer my own but yours”.
And then perhaps the hardest part of the Covenant Prayer:
“I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal”.
Serious words those…
It is, the utter and complete handing over of one’s self to God.
The offering up of one’s own will.
The giving up of your own path – to live and follow the plans that God has for your life.
In all those years when I sat in Covenant Services saying these words, I never once knew that it might mean me taking up a station in an unkown land.
That’s the thing though isn’t it –
It’s easy to say them when we haven’t experienced the sacrifice that God might sometimes require of us.
The line ‘rank me with whom you will’ would mean something very different for Mother Theresa’s nuns working out in Calcutta than it would for me and you.
The line ‘put me to suffering’ would mean something entirely different to Martin Luther Kind and Nelson Mandela than it would for most of us.
‘let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you’ would have its own resonances for theological college staff who are leaving appointments because the Church has decided some Methodist colleges must close.
Wherever you are in your walk in life, one line of this prayer will resonate more than any other –
But it is the first line that is key.
Because the essence of a Covenant is that God says “I am you God” and we say in response “We are your people”. It’s matrimony in a very real sense. It’s sacrifice. It’s giving in equal measure. It’s love.
The thing that separates Satanists from Christians is that offering up of one’s own will.
To follow Satan is to satisfy self, to conciously do the opposite of what is God’s will for your life – to be one’s own master.
To follow Christ is to submit to the will of God in order to be one’s true self.
So, if the covenant service acts to do just one thing, let it serve as a reminder that pruning isn’t painless and covenant isn’t cost free.
And let us remember that this God we hear of time and again in Scripture is a covenant keeping God (we wouldn’t be here now otherwise!), a God who has kept His promise and who will never let us go –
A God who came in Jesus Christ.
The God who comes to us now.
The One who will help us to say (and truly mean!) the words we will say in the Covenant Prayer later:
“I am no longer my own but yours”
The Covenant Prayer:
‘I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’