Promises are hard to keep.
Just ask a teenager who promised his Mom not to use his cell phone until his homework was done, but his friends keep texting him.
Just ask a coach who promised parents to play everyone but wants to play the best players to win the game.
Just ask President Trump who made campaign promises but is struggling to keep them in his first 100 days.
Just ask a couple who have been married for 20 years, but lost that lovin’ feeling, and temptations abound.
Just ask the woman who promised her husband to honor his living will not to use extraordinary measures, but when the time comes, she just can’t bear to let him go.
Promises are hard to keep.
I will never forget a wedding I attended of a college friend years ago. She and her fiancé stood at the altar, hand in hand, making promises to one another as husband and wife. The priest was giving them the lines of the vows, and they would repeat them. The priest said, “I, Rob, take you, Judy, to be my wife.” He said, “I Rob, take you, Judy, to be my wife.” The priest: “And I promise, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving husband.” The groom: “And I promise, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving husband.” The priest: “I promise to be faithful.” Pause. The priest said again, “I promise to be faithful.” Pause. By this time, everyone was shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I could see my friend, the bride, nervously moving her head back and forth between the priest and the groom.
I thought to myself—is he trying to be funny? Because he is not. Is he getting cold feet? Not a good time. Is he admitting that he has not been faithful and will not be in the future? On behalf of my friend, I wanted to get up and say, “time out! Are you sure you want to go through with this with him?”
The priest tried again, “I promise to be faithful.” Finally, the groom said, “I promise to be faithful.” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
In the end, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He probably realized just how hard it is to keep a promise and he wanted to be sure that he could. Better now than later. Because a promise is not worth anything if it is not honored. (FYI—Rob and Judy still married after 20 years, with 3 kids).
Even though we all know how hard it is to keep a promise. We want to believe that it is possible. For others. And for ourselves.
In both of our Scripture readings for today, there are promises being made.
The Psalmist says: “I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people.
In return for all of the good things God has done, the psalmist promises:
I’ll lift up the cup of salvation and I’ll call on the Lord’s name.”
That means: I will offer prayers of thanksgiving, as well as call on the Lord for help.
The psalmist promises to trust in the Lord for all things, during all the times of life—in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in life and in death.
Why? Because God is a trustworthy God. God is a God who makes and keeps promises.
According to one person's count, there are 3573 promises in the Bible. The word promise itself occurs over 50 times in the King James Version of the Bible. God led the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God sent Jesus as the promised Messiah, and raised him from the dead, as promised.
Our Christian faith is based on promises.
In Acts, we read about a promise broken. The people who promised to follow Jesus have betrayed him.
They handed him over to be crucified. Peter knows about broken promises, he had 3 chances and denied Jesus every time. So, Peter reminds people that they have all had a part in breaking a promise to Jesus.
“When they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter, “What should we do?”
Peter reminds them of God’s promise, which is never broken.
Who? Who is this promise for? The promise is for you, for your children, and all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls. This promise is a gift graciously bestowed, not a pledge arrived at by negotiation. In other words, God’s promise cannot be bought or bargained for; it is a free gift for everyone.
How? How does one receive the promise? Repent and be baptized, so that your sins may be forgiven.
This promise is conditional upon faith, not fulfillment of the law. In other words, God’s promise is not something we can earn by good works, but can only be received by faith.
What? What is the promise? What is God’s promise?
This promise is centered in Christ and comprising blessings bestowed through Christ. In other words God’s promise is: through baptism in Jesus Christ, we will be given the gifts of Holy Spirit and blessed abundantly.
But the hardest question is: Why? Why don’t we always see the keeping of God’s promises?
Recently, I heard that a teenager has given up on church and God. She no longer believes. Why? Because her life is hard. Her parents are divorced; her dad is unemployed; she struggles with anxiety and depression.
She feels like God has not kept his promise to bless her. She is not alone.
Just ask the woman who is going through chemotherapy for cancer for the 3rd time.
Just ask the man who is suffering painful physical and mental illnesses with no treatment or pain relief.
Just ask the Christians in Egypt where churches have been bombed.
Just ask anyone who has experienced unanswered prayers.
I came across something that helps in part to answer the Why question. It is called:
The Blessing of Unanswered Prayers
I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but eveything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
I am, among all, most richly blessed.
What then shall we do? Peter says, “Repent, be baptized…and remember the promise is for you, for your children, for everyone whom the Lord our God calls. And so, today we baptize and remember God’s promise.
Today, we are celebrating the sacrament of baptism. Today, parents make promises—to bathe and feed and love their baby Josephine. They can’t prevent her from getting hurt, but they do promise to comfort her when she cries. Someday they will have to let her go, but they will always be with her in their heart and prayers.
As our parent, God makes similar promises to us—to bathe us and cleanse us in baptism and forgive us our sins, to feed us and nurture us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. God can’t always prevent us from getting hurt, but will help us heal and comfort us when we cry. God lets us go our own way, but promises to be with us wherever we go. Without hesitation, God says, “I promise to be faithful.”
God never promised life would be easy and pain free, but God promises to be with us during all the times of life—in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in life and in death.. Now that's a promise we can count on. Always.
Thanks be to God.