Last Sunday's covenant service proved a challenging time. Indeed, Leslie Newton the Methodist minister said that some members do not attend this annual service just because the covenant prayer is so demanding and they believe it is hypocritical to say it. He commented: 'You know I almost prefer people who withdraw because they are at least honest in facing the covenant's high demands, to those who just turn up and thoughtlessly and casually repeat them!'
In sermon preparation I thoroughly immersed in John 21: 15-19. Throughout my ministry I have often been drawn to this story because Simon Peter seems to have wrecked his relationship with Jesus because of his three denials (preceded by his arrogant denial that he would never deny). It is a terrible thing to fail pathetically. To do something wrong and be unable to correct it, or to fail to do the right thing and have to live with the consequences. I have deep empathy with Simon Peter because I know the wretchedness of failure. I think many of us have been/ are there.
Yet, the dramatic nature of his failure makes this conversation all the more mind-blowing as Jesus initiates a new beginning with Simon, addressing him directly and focusing on his love-relationship. Whatever Simon Peter has done, what matters now is his heart response to Jesus Christ. He may not have as much love as he should, but Jesus is asking him to be real about his feelings towards Christ. This is a vivid illustration of 1 John 4:10 that love is not that we love God but that he first loved us. Only Jesus could speak to Simon about love and open up afresh the relationship that perhaps Simon thought was ruined for ever. The Lord of second, third, fourth...nth chances who will not give up with me.
That encouraged me to enter the covenant relationship that out of answering love could say those words in the extraordinary relationship that our Lord wants us to deepen with Him through 2013. I shall not forget sharing worship with my Methodist friends. Actually, next month I have to give the annual Beeson Preaching Lectures at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, which is a Methodist seminary. I guess I may refer to my covenant experience!