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MAKING PROMISES – Hebrews 1019-25


									MAKING PROMISES – Hebrews 10:19-25
        The Rev. Dr. Richard W. Reifsnyder
        1st Presbyterian Church
        Winchester, VA
        May 11, 2008- PENTECOST

                          Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without
                          wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
                                                      Hebrews 10:25

        There is an old Seinfeld episode in which Jerry has made a reservation to pick up a rental
car at the airport. He arrives, tired from his trip, only to discover that his expected car is not
available. “Do you have my reservation?” Jerry inquires. “Yes,” the agent replies. “And doesn’t
that mean you promise to have a car waiting for me when I arrive?” “Well, yes. I know what a
reservation is.” And so where is the car? The agent stammers a bit, until Jerry finally responds,
“the problem with you is that you know how to make the reservation, but you just don’t know
how to keep the reservation. And it’s the keeping that matters.”
        That’s true of promises, isn’t it? The making of promises is rather easy. They are part of
the necessary rhythm of life, essential to all public and personal interaction. But the keeping of
promises is another matter, as most of us are all too aware.
        We say vows when we get married, and then sadly discover we—or they—or us can’t
follow through and the marriage is over. We promise our spouse we going to be better about
helping out around the house, and in short order find ourselves backsliding. It turns out the job
we hired on to isn’t exactly what we thought was promised. The person who struggles with
alcohol promises themselves they don’t need that drink to get through the day, and find they slip
up again. Politicians promise us the moon when running for office, and we most often are sorely
disappointed by the performance.
        In our own minds, we imagine that keeping promises is the stuff of great drama. -- --
Macarthur declaring as he evacuated the Philippines in the face of the Japanese invasion, “I will
return,” and managing to do it.
        But in fact, promise making and keeping, is usually anything but heroic; it is rather
everyday and ordinary, and yet promise keeping is the glue that holds families and communities
together. Ethicist Lewis Smedes says:
        Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose
        not to quit when the going gets tough because they promised once to
        see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown
        cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They
        dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they

        make. If you have a ship you will not dessert, if you have people you
        will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are
        like God.

God is a promises keeping God—as our text says, “The one who has promised is faithful,” and
when we keep promises we are mirroring God.
        I was deeply impressed as an adolescent watching my grandmother take care of my
grandfather, bedridden by a stroke for 9 years. All their hopes and dreams for retirement were
swallowed up in bedpans and sleepless nights. How do you do it? I wondered. Her answer was
simple. I made promises to God 50 years ago that I would love him in health and in sickness.
That simple promise enabled her to persevere in difficult circumstances. It was her way of
reaching out into an unpredictable future and making one thing predictable—that she would be
there, even when being there cost her more than she wanted. But when a person makes such a
promise, he or she stretches themselves out in circumstances that no one can control and controls
at least one thing: that they will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With a
simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a see of uncertainty.
        When we come here, to church, we are asked to make promises. We make promises when
a baby gets baptized, as parents, and as a congregation. We make promises at weddings. We
promises when we join a church, or are confirmed as teenagers as 13 of you have done today.
What about those promises you make as you stand before the church? How seriously do we take
them? At one level they are promises about your investment in this particular community, sharing
in its worship and ministry, supporting it with prayer, and offerings, and service. Hebrews
reminds us that the purpose of this promise we make not to neglect worship is encouragement.
Keeping the promise to be at church, even when it isn’t always easy or convenient, is important
because our mere presence is a way of prodding others on to faithful living and good deeds. We
need this encouragement because living as disciples isn’t easy when the world’s values call us in
other directions. .
        Sometimes I wonder if we take promises we make in church more lightly than others
because we view God as an understanding God. We are asked to make promises to our athletic
team, or to our employer, or civic club, to show up and do our best, but in those arenas we have a
sense that the coach or the boss or officer he may not be all that forgiving if I break those
promises. I remember getting a dunning notice after missing a couple of meetings in my first
month, suggesting I might be dropped. (You couldn’t get away with that in church, could you?)
There will be consequences. But God will understand because we have a forgiving God, a God

of grace who picks us up when we stumble and fail to live up to the promises. So it’s no big deal
if we fail here. And, of course, at one level, that is God’s nature. But still, it is not cheap grace
God offers, Keeping the promises we make in church helps shape and form us as disciples with a
faith that makes a real difference in our lives and provide a very present help in time of need.
        The promises the confirmands make, and we all have made at some point in our Christian
pilgrimage, involves more than a promise to be part of the church, however. The core promise is
to make Christ the center of who we are, it is the promise to let Christ inside, where he can not
only forgive whatever mess may be there, but to let him be our friend and reshape us to be an
instrument of his love. It is the promise, to “serve thee to the end,” as the old hymn puts it.
        Today is Pentecost, which marks the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of
the church, personally and as a community. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus left his
disciples with a whole host of promises, “I will not leave you orphaned, but I will send my Spirit,
my advocate.” After his resurrection, he announced, “I will be with you always until the end of
the age.” It is that promise of the presence of Christ, that is the particular promise of Pentecost.
We’re never alone, never abandoned, never bereft of strength that comes from beyond.
        Rossi Selzer told me of an NPR segment she heard earlier this week, on the “This I
Believe” segment, which impressed her. Sarah Miles grew up in a skeptical family, with little
belief. If people believed this religious stuff, it meant something akin to believing in
photosynthesis or germs, useful to some perhaps, but not integral to life. But one Sunday, she
had agreed to take an elderly neighbor without a ride to church. There she was when someone
put a piece of bread and a little wine into her mouth. Sarah said, I can’t really explain it, but in
that first communion I knew almost instantaneously that God, in Jesus, was alive and present in
me…I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table
where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.” So taken was she by
this assurance of God’s promise to be alive in the breaking of bread, that she established a food
pantry now serving 500 people a week in her church. The promise she made and kept to be
present and serve others has mirrored God’s promise to be present and serve her in Jesus Christ.
        So, this promise keeping God invites us to come to the table, where Christ promises to be
present, not in some magical or mechanistic way in the bread and the cup, but in the community
that gathers around table. Drawing on this promise of God, tangibly expressed, God then send us
out from here, to be his living body, making and keeping promises to God and each other.


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