The past week has been a doozie! My son was married, my daughter left for her new posting as an intern for a mission in Peru, my office had to be moved to two separate locations, I have had two intense board meetings with two more scheduled in the next couple of days, and I have been preaching through a challenging series on the postcard epistle of Philemon. I've also got a chapter due today for a book I'm working on and two articles are due tomorrow--and all the while I've been preparing for a very long, hot, and hilly race over the weekend (Bell Buckle's famous RC Cola-Moon Pie Festival 10 Miler). Whew!
The flurry of activity and the burden of responsibility has gotten me to thinking about my constant and pressing need for grace and renewal. I am not capable of dealing with all of this, doing all of this. My gifts and abilities are not sufficient. I cannot rely on my own competency. I am driven back to the Gospel hope.
Years ago, I wrote a short litany for a covenant renewal service based on the Advent "O Antiphons." In very hectic times like this I find myself reading and rereading the litany--with every iteration my heart swelling with a new confidence in the sufficiency of Christ, and Christ alone:
Leader: As His covenant people, the King, Judge, and Lawgiver has called us to visibly authenticate the work of grace within us by a faithful witness without us. He has called us to demonstrate to all the world a healthy model of mature discipleship—the possibility of actually living balanced lives of justice, mercy, and humility before God. In writing to the young Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul underscored the importance of manifesting that kind of discipleship:
Congregation: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Leader: The message comes through loud and clear: God saves us by grace. There is nothing we can do to merit His favor. We stand condemned under His judgment. His bequest of salvation is completely unearned, and undeserved. But we are not saved capriciously, for no reason and no purpose. On the contrary, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." We are "His own possession," set apart and purified to be "zealous for good deeds." We are to demonstrate the reality of God's grace before a watching world. We are to authenticate God's good providence in our lives:
Congregation: "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Leader: All too often though, our faith is composed of little more than mere words—words which we confess and profess all too easily. But He has called us to more than mere words. Clearly, it is not enough for us to merely believe the Bible. It is not enough for us to blithely assert that Jesus is Lord. We must authenticate and validate our claims. He has called us to live lives of justice:
Congregation: "This is what the Lord says: maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed" (Isaiah 56:1). "Therefore, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:24).
Leader: Likewise, He has called us to live lives of mercy:
Congregation: "Whoever wishes to be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27). “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).
Leader: Because God is sovereign, our lives must also be suffused with a holy fear and reverence of Him—to the point that everything is thereby affected:
Congregation: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). "Therefore, hear O people of God the Good News: in the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death (Proverbs 14:26-27). “For God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:5-7).
Leader: At various times throughout redemptive history, God calls His people to covenant renewal—led by Moses at Mount Sinai, or Joshua at Shechem, or Solomon at Moriah, or Josiah at Jerusalem, or Nehemiah at the Watergate, or by the living creatures and elders before the throne. A rehearsal of God’s attributes, His prerogatives, and His decrees, covenant renewal affirms our submission to all He is and all He has called us to. Covenant renewal is the heart and soul of genuine worship—worship in spirit and in truth. After the pattern of the early Scots Reformers, let us therefore enter into antiphonal canticles of covenant renewal—recalling that the word antiphon means to resonate fully with in faith.
Congregation: May it ever be so with us and with our households enabling us to live lives of justice, mercy, and humility before God.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your wisdom?
Congregation: O, Wisdom, which came out of the mouth of the Most High, and reaches from one end to another, sovereignly, mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of wisdom: of justice, mercy, and humility.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your deliverance?
Congregation: O, Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, Who appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the Law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with outstretched arm that we might then submit unto You.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your hope?
Congregation: O, Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel; That opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens: Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that dwells under the pall of the shadow of death.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your salvation?
Congregation: O, Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God, come that we might be Your own possession, given ever unto Your purposes.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your justice?
Congregation: O, King of the nations, and their Desire; The Cornerstone, Who makes both one: Come and save mankind, whom You formed of mere clay, establish Your own judgments upon the land that we might then uphold them.
Leader: Covenant people of God, from whence comes your mercy?
Congregation: O, Dayspring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten him that sits in darkness, and the shadow of death; let Your own compassions then reside in us as we shed abroad Good News.
Leader: Covenant people of God, how wilt thou yield humbly before God?
Congregation: O, God of all grace, we acknowledge our covenant fealty to you and you alone, Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, we yield unto You, our all in all: For You are worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, forever. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!