Sermon,  Sermons

Reconciling Covenant

sermon video. Click, for pt. 2

I’d like to begin with a story. This is Maria Popova’s summary of Vincent van Gogh’s early life:

“Long before Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890) became a creative legend and attained such mastery of art that he explained nature better than science, he confronted the same existential challenge many young people and aspiring artists face as they set out to find their purpose and do what they love — something that often requires the discomfiting uncertainty of deviating from the beaten path.

“In January of 1879, twenty-six-year-old Van Gogh, who had dropped out of high school, was given a six-month appointment as a preacher in a small village — a job that consisted of giving Bible readings, teaching schoolchildren, and caring for the sick and poor. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to the task and, in solidarity with the poor, gave away all of his possessions to live in a tiny hut, where he slept on the ground. But his commitment backfired — the church committee that had hired him saw this as extravagant posturing of humility and fired him. In August, Van Gogh moved to a nearby village and took up drawing and writing — which he had been doing recreationally for years, for his own pleasure — as a more serious endeavor. That summer, his beloved brother Theo visited to discuss Vincent’s future, making it clear that the family was concerned with his lack of direction. (Vincent was the eldest of six children, which only compounded the expectations.) The uncomfortable talk, which initially caused a rift between the brothers, affected Van Gogh profoundly and became a serious turning point in his life.”

Maria Popova

On August 14, 1879, he wrote to Theo – the letter can be found in the newly released, Ever Yours: The Essential Letters (public library).

“It’s better that we feel something for each other rather than behave like corpses toward one another, the more so because as long as one has no real right to be called a corpse by being legally dead, it smacks of hypocrisy or at least childishness to pose as such… The hours we spent together in this way have at least assured us that we’re both still in the land of the living. When I saw you again and took a walk with you, I had the same feeling I used to have more than I do now, as though life were something good and precious that one should cherish, and I felt more cheerful and alive than I had been for a long time, cause in spite of myself life has gradually become or has seemed much less precious to me, much more unimportant and indifferent. When one lives with others and is bound by a feeling of affection one is aware that one has a reason for being, that one might not be entirely worthless and superfluous but perhaps good for one thing or another, considering that we need one another and are making the same journey as traveling companions. Proper self-respect, however, is also very dependent on relations with others.”

Maria Popova

He continues to speak to the power and life-giving sustenance of close relationship. And then of the damage his soul sustained due to uncle’s attempts to persuade Vincent to pursue a more conventional life:

“I would rather die a natural death than be prepared for it by the academy, and have occasionally had a lesson from a grass-mower that seemed to me more useful than one in Greek.

Improvement in my life — should I not desire it or should I not be in need of improvement? I really want to improve. But it’s precisely because I yearn for it that I’m afraid of remedies that are worse than the disease.” 

Ultimately, the answer is to continue walking on the path that is before him:

“On the road that I’m on I must continue; if I do nothing, if I don’t study, if I don’t keep on trying, then I’m lost, then woe betide me. That’s how I see this, to keep on, keep on, that’s what’s needed.”

            “But what’s your ultimate goal, you’ll say. The goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting, as one works more seriously, as one digs deeper into the originally vague idea, the first fugitive, passing thought, unless it becomes firm.”

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Because, to be creative is to make something, bring something about, that has never existed before. And that is vulnerable. It might appear to be undisciplined, etc., but nothing new ever happened or was created that remained conventional, as expected. And it can make relationships uncomfortable, even antagonistic.

Reconciliation presupposes covenant. If there is no commitment, no relationship between us, then there is no condition (argument, hurtful action, etc) that requires we reconcile.

Two weeks ago we defined reconcile. Let us now look at some of the synonyms – as we can also learn a great deal by examining the antonyms:



  • reunite, bring (back) together (again), restore friendly relations between, make peace between; pacify, appease, placate, mollify; formal conciliate. ANTONYMS  estrange, alienate.
  • settle one’s differences, make (one’s) peace, make up, kiss and make up, bury the hatchet, declare a truce. ANTONYMS  quarrel.
  • make compatible, harmonize, square, make congruent, balance; rare syncretize.

(taken from, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Version 2.3.0 (203.16.12), © 2005–2018 Apple Inc.)

What will be best – for this season – for the members of this community?

If we continue to reading in Jeremiah that Dee so beautifully read – Jeremiah goes on to say:

Jer. 1:11 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”

Jer. 1:12 Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

“I am watching over my word to perform it.”

God speaks. God covenants with us – using all of God’s creation to communicate with us (nature, angles, prophets, direct speech) – and what is God communicating? Over and again: A covenant with us to always be in relationship with us, to take care of our every need, to teach us how to be in right relationship with each other. And God is watching over that Word (God’s revelations to us) to perform it.

What is the thing that is wickedness to God, the thing that is making everything fall apart in our relationship with God and relationships with one another?

Jer. 1:16 And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.

The wickedness is in giving credit to other gods (money, power, excesses . . .) and worshiping their own efforts, the products of their money, power, excesses . . . Complacent.

And God tells Jeremiah:

Jer. 1:17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.

God is saying to Jeremiah, if you do not speak out what God telling him, God will break him down before the people. And that is exactly what he feels in chapter 20:

9 If I say, ‘I will not mention God,
   or speak any more in God’s name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot. 

Anything other than right relationship with God and with each other goes against our very being – and the prophet feels it most acutely because we don’t like to hear about what we might be doing wrong – doing harm to the relationship. Vincent’s uncle and brother likely did not realize how much harm they inflicted when basically telling him he was a looser.

Covenant: a relationship of commitment. A promise. A bond. Pledge. Agreement.

Reconcile: the act of making one view or belief compatible with another, restoring friendship, agreeing together that we can walk together in love and commitment, while also holding different views about a matter.

God is the only Unchanging.

We are always changing . . . or we are corpses.

God is Unchanging.

We image God uniquely, and have a more complete picture when we see God from more views, perspectives.

God is Unchanging.

Yet, God also says through Isaiah, “please, come – now – , let us walk together and argue it out, settle how it is that things are made right between us.” Please, come,

 “your offerings are futile . . . an abomination.” (1:13) Then God says, “make yourself clean,”

that is: let us be reconciled, and this is the way to do it:

            learn to do good;

            seek justice,

  rescue the oppressed, (not just those with whom you feel comfortable)

            defend the orphan,

                        plead for the widow.” (1:17)

God is saying: So, please come, now, let us walk together through this, let us talk about this, argue it out – so that we can come to an understanding: all that you do that is not goodness, out of love – that will be completely washed clean. Just stop doing it! Learn to do good, be active in making things right in this world and between one another – together.

Because if we are not uncomfortable with something, we are complacent about everything. . . and we are corpses.

In the United Methodist Church, when someone is baptized, we make a covenant, a vow; and, if a baby, do so on behalf of the baby. When one becomes a member, we remember our baptismal covenant. WE:

  • Renounce the forces of wickedness . . .
  • Reject evil powers of this world . . .
  • Agree to walk in right relationship with God and with each other . . .
  • Resist evil, injustice and oppression – in whatever forms they present themselves.
  •  . . . in union with the church Christ opened to everyone without exception.
  • Nurture the children
  • Teach and guide them – and by example show them the grace of God – According to, Living into, God’s grace
  • As representatives of Christ – ambassadors, instruments of God’s grace in the world:

so that together we may grow stronger in expressing God’s love for all creation.

What is that wickedness we renounce? It is the thing (whatever it is) that is making everything fall apart in our relationship with God and our relationships with one another:

In Jeremiah, it is worshiping our own efforts, the products of our money, power, excesses . . . ; “depending on other gods, glorifying the wealth and status they enjoyed, rather than God and God’s companionship.”

In Isaiah 58, “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!”

In Ezek 16:50, lack of concern for the vulnerable while living in excess, and that it was Sodom’s arrogance that was the abomination to God.

When we get caught up in all the details on which we might disagree – even hold strong convictions about – when those details divide us, we are not living into communion and covenant with each other. We do not grow stronger in expressing God’s love for all creation.

If I say to you, “you are wrong about your notion of God’s heart on a matter” (implying you aren’t really seeking God) I am “liable to the hell of fire” (So says Jesus in Matt 5:22, if you’ll remember from 2 weeks ago).

But if I am hearing God, and you are hearing God, and we listen for God’s voice, God’s Word  . . . the Word that God is watching over to perform  . . . in each other, perhaps we might overlay the x-ray and the gamma ray and the ultraviolet and infrared – and see a little more clearly into the vastness, the universe, the incomprehensible God of the universe – who also wants to be known by us!

That is reconciliation. That is reconciling the covenant that we made with one another and continue choosing to make with each other. Because it is an ongoing choice to covenant.

Vincent van Gogh was uncomfortable with the conventional paths being forced on him – to the degree that he lived most of his life with significant depression. But he chose fidelity to his calling. And produced art that changed the way we see the world.

Jeremiah was uncomfortable with living in a space where people despised him for his prophetic message. So much so, he felt as if a furnace was consuming him from the inside out if he didn’t speak out against the wickedness – making everyone else uncomfortable. But he chose fidelity to his calling.

It is always vulnerable to live into one’s calling, one’s conviction.

 If we are not uncomfortable about some things, then we are complacent about everything. Van Gogh said he’d rather die. Ultimately, he couldn’t remain in a world that would not accept him for who he was. Is our church a place that will withhold acceptance to anyone based on that person’s self-expression and preference for relationship?

Will we Live into our shared baptismal covenant together? Can I? Can you?

RMN equips and mobilizes UMs to

Renew baptismal vows – vow, covenanting together to  . . .

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. May charity . . . govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. 

—Pope Francis

We believe and trust in God the Creator

We believe and trust in Jesus Christ God’s son.

We believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. We believe and trust in the Three In One.