Has anyone ever made a promise to you but then just goes off and breaks that promise? Hurts, doesn’t it? It hurts because a promise is supposed to be a promise which is supposed to be a promise. It hurts because a promise is supposed to mean more than just saying something or agreeing to do something. It hurts because a promise should solidify your word, making it supposedly unbreakable. Making a promise leads to expectation, and when that expectation isn’t met, well, that hurts.
And it almost doesn’t even matter what the promise is about. It could be a promise of a ride somewhere, or to meet up for coffee, or a phone call or text. It could be a promise of fixing something by a certain time, or returning something by a certain date, or a change in behaviour. Or perhaps it was a promise of a more grand nature, like a promise to never hurt you, or a promise to always love you, or a promise to be the best president politian that this world has ever known.
Whatever the promise, it hurts when it is broken. It makes it harder for us to trust promises in the future, because all these broken promises tell us that a promise isn’t really a promise anymore. Instead, it is just some sort of plea by the “promiser” to get the “promisee” to hopefully trust them because their simple “yes” or “no” is no longer good enough. And when that didn’t work, the language had to be upped a little. People started making “promises to God” or on “their mother’s grave” and things like that to raise the stakes a little.
But you know what I think would get people to believe in the promises that are made again? Just don’t break those promises. Pretty simple, but it seems like no one can do it. People just seem to be unable to do what they say they will do, and powerless to not do what they say they won’t. And I mean everyone. Friends, significant others, parents, teachers, professionals, it even seems like Jesus can’t keep his promises.
No, really. I’m surprised that the disciples would have believed anything that Jesus said. I mean, Jesus spoke in riddles and parables a lot that it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that no one short of a seminary degree could understand him. But think about it, what promises did Jesus keep during his time with them? How many of those were kept? He said that Israel will be restored. Nope. He said that the temple would be torn down. Uh huh. And today, he said he’ll be with them always, until the end of the age. He said this right as he was leaving them.
It sounds to me like it was promise after promise after broken promise. Jesus talked a lot of talk, but even he let them and us down. Today we read one of Jesus’ biggest promises, about being with us forever, but where is he? The world is still suffering, and where is he? We still feel pain, and where is he? We are sick, alone, and afraid. Where is Jesus?
I know what you’re thinking, Jesus is with us, just not in physical form. He is in our hearts and in our worship. And you’re right, I would agree with that to a degree, in fact I’ve even preached that on occasion, but I admit that doesn’t really help those who are in the midst of pain. It doesn’t help those who are currently facing suffering and hardship. It doesn’t help those who are lonely, who face a terminal illness, or still mourning the loss of a loved one. And it most certainly doesn’t help the disciples as they are standing right there watching Jesus leave them.
So maybe this is why people have trouble believing in Jesus’ promises, they aren’t exactly quantifiable in the way that we would want them to be. Jesus says that he’ll take care of us, well we don’t always feel cared for so I guess he was lying. Jesus says that he will rescue us from oppression and… well, let’s be real, that isn’t all that true either. And Jesus promises us that we’ll never be alone, and he we are, among the loneliest generations living in one of the loneliest cities in the history of humankind. Not exactly a faith inducing track record, if you asked me.
But that doesn’t sit well with us, does it? We know that Jesus keeps his promises. We know that God is faithful and just. We know that the Trinity: the Father, Son and Spirit that this day in the church calendar commemorates, is indeed trustworthy or we wouldn’t even be here. So how do we make sense of all this? How can we see the ways that Jesus does keep his promises? How can we trust in the things that we learn and read about God?
Yes, Jesus made a lot of promises. Yes, some of them seem pretty lofty. And yes, we don’t really see or feel how the promises really help or affect our lives in any kind of real meaningful way. And yes, that doesn’t mean that his promises aren’t true.
Today’s promise, for example, Jesus tells us that he will be with us always, until the end of the age. What does that mean? Does he mean just in a metaphysical way as mentioned before, that he is with us in spirit? Does he mean that he’ll be with us because he’s on our minds and we talk about him and maybe even perhaps possibly use his name when we swear? Or does he mean that the end of the age is relative and happens exactly when he leaves so technically he was right for those few seconds between him saying this and ascending into heaven?
All this aside, I firmly believe that Jesus is with us, here, now, in a very real way. He says in another part of Matthew, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” which sounds nice, but how literally do we need to take that? What does it mean to be gathered “in his name”? What does it mean to have Jesus among us?
We see it in our first reading for today. You might think that this is just the creation story, how the world began, the prequel to life. But as we are told in starting few verses of Paul’s letter to the Colossians that all things are created through Jesus Christ, and John’s gospel tells us that the very presence of the Word was there in the beginning. So reading about creation tells us more about what this presence of Christ really is, what it means, and why it is important.
And we know the creation story. It is one of the first things that we learn as kids growing up in church or in Sunday School or in our Old Testament 101 class. But what we may not have learned growing up in church or in Sunday School (but probably in OT 101), is the good order of creation, the reason why things were made in their time, with what, and for what. Essentially, I’m talking about the elaborate dance among all created beings and things.
It starts with the light, which counteracted the darkness, allows us to see not just things, but what is good and what isn’t. Then God created sea and sky, air and water, the building blocks for life. And on the third day dry land was made, producing vegetation, feeding off the light from the first day and the water and air of the second day, providing for itself in this growing circle of life. Then we needed time, seasons, periods of birth and growth, life and death. And to fill out all that times of life, God created more life. Animals, birds, fish, carnivores and herbivores, allies and enemies, interacting and intersecting with each other, with the land, with the seas, all together living and breathing and eating, being nourished and strengthened, constantly feeding each other by taking and giving back. All this is the beautiful dance of creation.
And then God created us. People. Human beings, to make sense of all this and to regulate the relationship between all living things. And God said this is good.
Do you see it yet? Do you see the presence of Christ? In us, through us, around us… us. We are the presence of Christ for each other, with each other, in community with each other. When Jesus said that he’ll be with us always, he meant that when we need him we turn to each other. When we need his comfort we look to each other. When we need his strength we rely on each other. When we need his guidance and wisdom we partake in that intricate and elaborate dance of creation that I was talking about, flowing in and out and around others, relating to and interacting with and caring for each other, being a part of each other’s lives and plugging into community.
See, Jesus didn’t break his promise, but just like the disciples we simply misunderstand what the promise means. While we thought that Jesus should take away all our problems and make us happy like all the time, he really meant that we won’t be alone in our problems and our happiness will be found in the peace from within. While we thought that Jesus should reward all those who are good and punish all those who are bad, Jesus meant that there is good and bad in all of us and we are all forgiven and redeemed by God’s unending love and grace. While we thought that Jesus should always be with us in a very tangible way, speaking to us in an audible fashion, guiding us to live better and fuller lives, Jesus meant for us to live in community, in love and service to each other, relying and depending on each other as we contribute, offer, and be part of this body of Christ, ever participating in this dance of creation.
Earlier this week I saw this quote about Mother Teresa that hit me right in the feels. It reminded me of the person that Mother Teresa was, how we can live in love and community with each other and all of creation, and how we can participate in the dance of the Holy Trinity, relating to each other, being a part of each other’s lives, and seeing God’s very presence in each of us. **pic
Simple, but not so easy. Thanks be to God. Amen.