What is your favorite promise?
We make lots of promises as human beings. Before a sports game, people promise to give their utmost effort for the success of the contest. Sometimes parents will promise their children a trip to the ice cream parlor if they have been very good during the day. When folks have fallen off the wagon, they promise our spouse or family members that they will not touch the bottle again. A week ago, four men promised to serve the church faithfully as priests forever. And it is hard to beat the promise that couples make when they vow their love: For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
A promise is a pledge that we will be true to the words we have spoken. It is an outward sign of the inward intention of the heart – to do something, give something, be something in the world for all to see.
Promises are meant to be things to hang on to when all else fails. And promises are things that we hold ourselves true to, when our courage would be lacking and our spirit would back away. What is YOUR favorite promise?
Jesus knows that his time is short. So in that ‘final speech, recorded in both Acts and Matthew’s gospel, we hear three different promises, don’t we.
You will be receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
I am with you always, until the end of the age.
The first promise equips his disciples [and us] for what had to be a daunting mission – go make disciples of ALL nations. To these fishermen whose furthest journey had been the 5 day walk to Jerusalem, the whole world was a bit daunting. YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER… “Oh, so it is not just US doing this. The promise of the Father called the Holy Spirit – got it. Check.”
The second promise gives us our identity- that which we hold ourselves true to – to be his witnesses. Two thousand years later, it is still the church’s identity – to let our lives be conformed to his.
And the third, which is my favorite promise, gives us comfort in the midst of our struggles. I am with you always, till the end of the ages. I do not leave you orphaned or directionless or without recourse, abandoned upon the street. My presence is found whenever you gather with fellow believers, whenever you call on my in prayer, whenever you celebrate around this altar – there am I with you.
There are lots of ways we can experience that presence. But perhaps the most important thing about that final promise is the most important thing about wedding vows and ordination promises – that we simply believe them to be true. One author described it as ‘living into grace’ – which means that we trust the promise is real and true and alive, and then act accordingly.
And if Jesus is always with me, then doesn’t that make a difference in the choices I make and the way I respect my body? Doesn’t that call for moderation in drink and food, watching only shows and movies that are worthy of me, reading only things that build up the spirit?
And if Jesus is always with my brothers and sisters, then discrimination in all its forms has to go. The randy jokes and cruel humor are out of place, and I have a mission to not rest until all my sisters and brothers, be they in Libya or Syria or the West Bank or East St. Louis share the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.
And if Jesus is here with us on this planet, then recycling becomes a part of my stewardship of this earth; working for sustainability becomes essential, and even the energy debate that was splayed across the front page of this mornings’ paper becomes the work that God has put before us to accomplish.
Promises are amazing things, especially when they come from God. As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord and prepare for the Feast of Pentecost, may we tune into those three promises of God in our living – you will have power, you will be witnesses and I will be with you…
And then, watch out, world…