Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: Galatians 2:20-21

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer
A Message on Galatians 2:20-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 3, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

Galatians 2:20-21 (NRSV)

…and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

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Today we are going to start the New Year with a new sermon series that is based on what is officially known as “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition.” I like to just call it the “Wesleyan Covenant Prayer.”

If you have been here the first Sunday in January for the past six years you know that we always recite this covenant prayer during our worship service. It’s a great way to start the year by reaffirming our covenant with God.

Let’s go ahead and do that right now. Stand as you are able, and as we pray this prayer together.

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Well this year I wanted to go further than just reciting the covenant prayer one time in one service. (After all, it should be something we live, not just recite.) So today and for the next six weeks we will be exploring this covenant prayer by having a sermon series that looks at the scriptures that form the foundation of this prayer.

So each week as we gather both in-person and online we will delve into one part of the prayer, dividing it into seven sections and looking at those sections each Sunday until Ash Wednesday when the season of Lent begins.

Scholars can’t agree on exactly where the prayer comes from. (But do scholars ever agree on anything? Right?) As its name implies it comes from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism who lived in England in the 1700s. The man himself attributed the English puritan Alleine as the source of inspiration for the prayer, but other people (mainly those pesky scholars) want to give credit to a German pietistic movement and even the “high church” tradition of the Church of England, of which Wesley was a priest.

The first documented printed version that we have is from 1780 when ol’ John published in a pamphlet titled, “Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God.”

Wesley wrote the prayer with the expectation that the people called Methodists would recite this prayer at the beginning of each year. It was designed as a New Year’s prayer, and as such, I think it’s spot on. And after the year we had in 2020, I think it becomes even more important. (And if you haven’t eaten your blackeyed peas for good luck this year, please do so as soon as we get through here! Apparently lots of people failed to do that this past year.)

Today we focus on the first line of Wesley’s prayer, “I am no longer my own, but thine.”

This is an important aspect of being a Christian. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we rearrange our priorities. Instead of a worldly view where we put ourselves first, we put loving God and loving others first. We change our perspective. It is not only a spiritual shift, but an attitudinal one as well.

“I am no longer my own, but thine.”

In the scripture we read today from Galatians we find Paul emphasizing this point.

“and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

I like the way the late Eugene Peterson paraphrases the scripture we read today: “I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.”

Wow. Did you catch that one sentence, “My ego is no longer central.” Ouch.

That’s completely opposite the teachings of the world, isn’t it? The world teaches us every day through advertisements and messages that we are the center of the universe and that everything should revolve around us. It’s all about self satisfaction and building up our ego as to how important we are. It’s all about “me.”

I have known many people that are like that, and you have too, I’m sure. It’s all about them. And yes, although it is painful to say, if we are honest there are people like that in this church.

It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking though. Our world bombards us with advertisements that make us think that if we only had that product our lives would be so much better and we would find happiness and contentment.

And while there is nothing wrong with having things, including nice things, if we look to “things” for happiness and contentment we will always, always, be disappointed. It is a matter of priorities.

While I was working on this message I was receiving messages on Facebook messenger about some clergy friends who were very, very ill with COVID. As I checked these messages the Facebook page came up and this was one of the ads from Nikon.

The ad says, “Go ahead. You deserve it,” The ad was showing a new model of camera that Nikon has out. I clicked on it (after all, it said I deserved it…) and I will admit that it’s a pretty cool camera. (Can you say, “covet”?) And after searching the site I finally found, in very small print, the cost of the camera: $1,999.95. (Why don’t they just add a nickel and call it $2,000 even?)

So, for two grand I could get that camera and I would be the best photographer ever. It would be a big boost to my ego and I would feel so much better about myself and I would be completely happy. My wife would love me more and I’m sure it would even improve my looks.

Except that it won’t. That’s faulty thinking and bad psychology. And really bad theology.

The Bible tells us that if we want to feel good about ourselves the key is not focusing more on ourselves, but less on ourselves. Yep. We are to focus more on God and others. Less of “me,” and more of “thee.”

“…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

That’s why Wesley starts off his prayer with “I am no longer my own, but thine.”

So my challenge to you today, this first Sunday of 2021, is to think less of yourself this year and more of others. Make a New Year’s resolution to focus on God and others and less on yourself. Remember Paul’s words, “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives.

Begin every day with the first line of the Wesleyan Covenant prayer: “I am no longer my own, but thine.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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