This month we continue our look at practices that cultivate and sustain community. Last month I wrote about the importance of enacting the practice of gratitude. This month I encourage us to live into our community with the practice of making and keeping promises.
I know I have become more cynical in my expectations for fidelity. My own parents divorced when I was seven years old. As a child I did not understand all the adult things that they were working out. All I knew was that my parents were no longer together. For a while I thought it normal that promises made would become promises that would become broken. As I grew up, I found that they both worked hard to make and keep promises to my brothers and myself. My parents divorced from each other. They did not divorce themselves from their responsibility to be parents. I am thankful for their fidelity to parenthood.
God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. Promise-making and promise-keeping are central to how God relates to us and how we relate to Him. Promises are the internal framework for the relationship we have with God. When we hit rough patches, we turn to God. We turn to God because the commitments He has made to us have been tested and proven. I trust in God. I trust I can put myself fully into His hands and He will do what He has said He will do.
I understand that we make promises in different ways. Some promises are formally made. When I was a kid, I would spit in my hand and shake my friend’s hand to secure our bond. When our oaths involve rituals, we raise our expectations for faithfulness. Now not all promises are formal, we also bind ourselves to one another in unspoken ways. Expectations can be set up by what we have previously said or done. The unspoken expectations in a community can be confusing because they are not shared on both sides. What unspoken expectations do you have of the people at this congregation? What unspoken expectations do you have of me as the pastor of this congregation? If I break the bonds we have together, please let me know. I understand how important faithfulness is to our relationship together.
We are not always faithful. When we break promises, we betray our relationships and weaken our community. When we are down in the pits of betrayal, the love of Jesus is the scaffolding upon which we will climb up to fresh air. The love of Jesus in the face of our betrayal and desertion is a part of our redemption. In this congregation we make and keep promises. In this congregation we will also experience betrayal and desertion.
Christine Pohl, in her book Living into Community, wrote about how a troubled congregation that was trying to rely on its own strength found rebirth when they relied on the promise keeping of God. The pastor at this congregation was experiencing the meltdown of the church after the misconduct of a previous pastor. The congregation was suffering greatly from diminished prayer, attendance, gifts, and service. The mission of the church was largely abandoned. The remaining members felt burdened and hurt. They were wounded by those who left the congregation during the times of difficulty. In order to move forward, the congregation needed a way to forgive friends who left. They found redemption as a congregation from their time of crisis when they sought to rebuild their congregation on the strength of the forgiveness of Jesus.
We will be a stronger congregation when we practice making and keeping promises. Though it seems ordinary, consistency in showing up for worship and supporting the Gospel proclaiming ministry at this congregation is a part of the internal framework that supports us. During times of crisis and confusion, it can be helpful to be faithful to the tasks we know that need to be done. When the storms subside and the crisis is over, you will find that the damage is limited by your consistency in daily tasks. Keep centered on Jesus, and the swirling confusion around you will not appear as dangerous.