Last April I called an ad hoc group of church leaders and staff together to meet with me and do some dreaming about the future of FCC.
We spent a day asking some pretty tough, basic questions about the meaning and purpose of the Church universal, and our church in particular. We enjoyed it so much we've continued to meet and toss ideas around over the last few months.
One of the concepts we keep coming back to is the whole notion of church as a covenant. Covenant is one of those great biblical words that nobody much uses anymore because few seem to understand it. We confuse a covenant with a contract because we understand the latter, but there are significant differences.
Let me explain it this way. When I wanted a deck constructed on the back side of my house last year I hired a couple of guys to do the work. When the job was completed I paid them for their labor and expenses, and I haven't seen them since.
That's a contract - an agreement entered into by two or more parties for services rendered.
On June 15, 2002 Penny and I stood in front of the chancel at FCC facing our friend, Rev. Carla Grosch, and promised to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to one another in good times and bad “as long as we both shall live.” We had a good idea as to what that promise might entail, and, because both of us had suffered the pain of previous marriages unraveling, I think we meant those words more sincerely than we did before. And yet neither of us had a clue where this relationship would take us. It's still unveiling itself every day. Most days we are giddy with delight over the wonder of our life together, but there are also times when the commitments of two professional people in demanding jobs and the pressures of a blended family take their toll. Our commitment to one another, however, does not waver and gives our life together stability and meaning.
That's a covenant - an agreement between two or more parties that is long-term and open-ended for the purpose of a continuing relationship.
Church is not a contract. It's a covenant. We entered it at baptism and renewed it at confirmation (or whatever rite your previous tradition used). And each time we make promises at baptism, or confirm one of our youth, or come to the Lord's table, or gather with other Christians to worship, we re-establish that indefinable connection to which we're committed for the long haul.
During the autumn months you will be hearing a lot about covenant and what it means to be the church here and now. We will explore it from a variety of angles. But I will leave you with this question: Would your marriage covenant be healthy if you treated it like your church covenant?