Keeping Your Promises
Let us remind ourselves of the membership promises we each made to the living God when we professed our own Christian Faith.
Do you reject sin, confess your need of God’s forgiving grace and pledge yourself to honour God and love your neighbour?
Rejecting sin is a life long struggle. It is a daily overcoming of temptation. St Paul said “The good that I want to do I don’t always do and the bad I don’t want to do I manage to do”. In Hebrews, we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are - yet was without sin”. To reject sin you need to recognise it and wish to deal with it. I heard a radio discussion about the nature of marriage during the week. A Roman Catholic woman gave her Church’s view of the sanctity of marriage. A humanist celebrant who conducts humanist marriages said that there was nothing wrong or shameful about being a single parent or being a woman having a number of children to different fathers. She gave no justification for her views but promoted them just the same.
“Sin” is not a cool word in our culture. “Sin” is something that is felt when you come into contact with the living God. Even St Peter once said to Jesus., “Leave me alone - I am a sinful man”. Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer put it like this “False and full of sin am I, Thou art full of truth and grace”. The loss of public Christianity in our land has meant than individual and collective sense of sin has also been lost. “Sin” therefore is something you only feel if God is relating to you and setting up a contrast and tension within you by His presence in your life. The normal process is that if God has a purpose for you, He will not let you go until you make your peace with Him on His terms. Many great Christians have wrestled with God for years before surrendering to Him with their lives.
Some contemporary psychological theorists may suggest that a sense of sin is a negative factor, unhelpful, inhibiting and intimidating in life, preventing fulfilment and achievement. But Christianity has always taught that confession is good for the soul and above all, Christianity deals positively with sin. Christianity overcomes sin. Christianity is the answer to sin. It can be true that some Christians make hard work of confessing their sins and trivialise the process doing not a lot for God’s reputation. As you know in the Roman Catholic tradition, priests can hear personal confessions of sin and give absolution. A certain priest was chaplain to a nunnery and he was obliged to sit and listen to the nuns confess their sins. He quipped, “It is like being stoned to death with popcorn”. He was making the point that the sins the nuns confessed were usually utterly trivial - maybe - one took an extra spoonful of sugar in her tea, for example.
We promised to reject sin. It is true that in our Church of Scotland Christianity we do not always show lifestyles that reflect the keeping of that promise. Members do not conduct themselves inside and outside the Church so positively. We do not sufficiently show distinction from society in our personal way of living.
We made a promise to confess our need of God’s forgiving grace. Maybe that is something we manage to do by coming to Church throughout the years. It is spiritually and psychologically health giving to do so. It accumulates peacefulness in later years. It helps us to travel on the right paths.
We promise to honour God. We do that by the way we live. We can easily bring dishonour to God and from that make others doubt whether we are sincere Christians at all. One of the old chestnut accusations about Church people is that we are hypocrites. We do not practise what we preach or profess. We attend Church and then live during the week as if we had no Christian dimension to our lives at all. Ask yourself this question “Does my lifestyle bring honour to God?” If not - then do something about it.
We promise to love our neighbour. Over the past two and a half years I have found that one particularly hard to keep. I do not believe however that loving your neighbour means you just lie down and let your neighbour walk all over you with impunity. You can love your neighbour while struggling for justice and peace. You can do these this while not being motivated by hatred and vengeance. But even so I must confess that I have struggled to keep this promise.
I have not found Church of Scotland Christianity so wonderful at keeping this promise either. Congregations are not always full of good neighbourliness. Within congregations are often found harshness and criticism and quarrelling and falling out. Our projected image is rarely one of harmony, understanding and peace. At best - congregations are like large scale version of “The Broons” with minor crises and misunderstandings resulting usually in happy endings. At worst, congregations can be cesspits of gossip and intrigue.
Do you believe the Christian Faith into which we are baptised?
The content of that Faith is described simply and beautifully in The Apostles’ Creed. We may not fully understand all of it but I think we want to say we do believe it. Belief in this sense is not just a kind of mental agreement. It is a life commitment. It means something special. Believing in Jesus Christ has consequences and you cannot avoid them. Putting into practice what you believe is the heart and soul of true Christian calling.
Believing in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and confessing Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord, do you promise to join regularly with your fellow Christians in worship on the Lord’s Day?
This seems to be a minimal basic expectation and requirement. You join the Church. You attend. In fact, many join churches and do not attend. Hundreds in many parishes, including our own. You promise to attend and that means even if you don’t get everything your own way or if you fall out with someone or you can’t stand the Minister. Your promise is greater than some of the irritations of congregational life.
Do you promise to be faithful in reading the Bible and in prayer?
How many people do you know who made this promise and do not keep it? Apart from Sunday mornings, most Church of Scotland attenders do not read the Bible much or at all. Most, I think, however, do pray from time to time and some a lot more than that. This promise is not a grudge match - a boring chore that we have to do. Reading the Bible is spiritually profitable, encouraging and central to continuing in the Christian life. That is because it does have answers for our spiritual and life issues and problems. The Bible is astonishing in its relevance to our Christian lives today. I have been reading through the Minor Prophets recently. The Minor Prophets are not Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They are Hosea, Habakkuk, Haggai and the others. How can anything they say matter to us? Just listen to these samples.
Hosea 4 : 1 - 3
There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.
There you have a connection between human lifestyle and the state of the environment.
Joel 2 : 13
Rend you hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.
Inner spiritual sorrow can lead to recovery. God is love.
Amos 8 : 4b - 6
When will the new Moon be over so that we may sell grain and the Sabbath ended that we may market wheat? Skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
Trading on Sundays. Dishonest advertising. Small print. Mortgage debt bundles. Hedge funds. World bankruptcy due to corruption.
Micah 5 : 2
But you, Bethleham Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler over Israel.
Prophesying Jesus’ birth and place of birth.
Habakkuk 3 : 17 - 18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
Remaining faithful in times of unanswered prayer.
The Bible will sustain you and increase in you the life of heaven, the life of the Risen Jesus, the life of the Holy Spirit, the life of God. Spiritually dead Christians do not read the Bible. Sleeping Christians do not read the Bible. Alive, revived and renewed Christians read the Bible and it works for them.
Do you promise to give a fitting proportion of your time, talents and money for the Church’s work in the world?
Time - it is arguably the most precious ting we have. People make this promise and do not keep it. There is a lack of commitment with some of our members who could make a significant contribution to this congregation but do not make time to do so.
Talents - We have able people with different gifts and skills also but they do not all offer these in Christ’s service. Their priorities do not place God first.
Money - the ideal standard is the tithe or 10% of disposable earnings. Very few give anything like that level. That is where the blessing is to be found in Christian giving and that is where the financial security of the congregation can be grounded. But you need to be a serious Christian to go there. Most travel by a different, less costly, less generous route.
Do you promise, depending on the grace of God, to profess publicly your loyalty to Jesus Christ, to serve Him in your daily work, and to walk in His ways all the days of your life?
Christianity is not just for Sundays. It matters how you live during the week, at home, in the work place and during interests and recreations. People easily doubt your Christian Faith if they hear you swearing or doing something that even you know is not what a Christian should be doing. None of us is perfect. However, are you actually on the journey of faith or have you stopped for a permanent rest on the way? Have you reached a plateau of Christian practice above which you have no intention of going, trying, aspiring? Where has the Lord led you in the past year? Where are you going now?
Christian life is a pilgrimage, a dynamic involvement - it is not ritual or boring repetition. Life with Jesus Christ is never going to be dull or prosaic. How could it be? But you have to keep your promise for it to work.
These then are the promises we all have made. Let us promise again today to keep them and let us keep our promise this time.