Wednesday, November 13, 2013

To Make a Promise (Ruth 1:15-22) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A father was skeptical of his teenage son's new found determination to start weight-lifting, but drove his teenager to a sporting goods store where they admired a set of weights.  “Please, Dad," pleaded the teen, "I promise I'll use 'em every day."  "I don't know, Michael. It's really a commitment on your part and they're not cheap either," the father said.  "I'll use 'em, Dad, I promise. You'll see."  Finally won over, the father paid for the equipment and headed for the door. After a few steps, he heard his son behind him say, "What! You mean I have to carry them to the car?"

To make a promise.  There are of course different levels of promises that we make in life. For example, over the years I have heard people complain about RSVP's.  What does R.S.V.P. mean?   It is a French phrase  "respondez, s’il vous plaĆ®t," which means "please reply or respond." The person sending the invitation wo­uld like to hear whether you accept or decline the invitation.   Will you be coming to the event or not?   It is simple courtesy to someone who was nice enough to invite you, not to mention knowing how much food to provide.  Nowadays, invitations often carry a "regrets only" notation at the end so the host will  count on your being there unless they hear otherwise.

Making and keeping promises is fundamental to human relationships.   When companies break their promises strikes occur.  When there is a breakdown in confidence between the government and the people, revolutions occur.  When there is a general breakdown in the structure of the family, an entire society is threatened.  What is a family but a community of promises made and kept?   A family is not just two or more people related by blood who happen to live under one roof.  Families dare to make promises to one another and love each other enough to keep them no matter what.  A family is held together by promises; where promises fail, families fail, where promises are honored, families thrive.  

Honoring promises says everything about building trust, about one's character, about keeping one's word, about fulfilling one's responsibility, about one's values, about respect.  People talk about the old days when your word was your bond or a deal was sealed with a handshake.  Now it takes lawyers and pages of legalese.  

According to our Christian faith, because of sin, human nature is commitment adverse.  We try to avoid making commitments or promises in the first place to ourselves, to others and to God and have little or no shame in breaking those promises we have made.    Some people spend their lives either struggling against making commitments or in frantically trying to get out of them.   They say:  “I’m not a joiner,” “I don’t get involved.”  “Maybe, but I can't promise.”  “Sorry, I forgot, something else came along.” “It's your problem, not mine.”  “Find someone else.”  “I like to keep my options open!”  Honoring promises says far more than any words we speak.  Yes, in the final analysis words are cheap.  “Don't tell me how much you care until you show me how much you care.”  Actions do indeed speak louder than words. 

Are there promises or commitments you have had trouble keeping?  I suspect that's true of most of us.  Can you think of someone who made and kept a promise to you?  Can you think of someone who broke a promise to you?  Can you think of a promise you have kept?  Do you recall a promise you have broken?   There are no short cuts in becoming the person God created and intended you and me to become.  It is about seeking God's help and doing the right thing, even if the right thing isn’t the easy or most expedient thing.   Is there a commitment you are wrestling with today?

A pastor sent a letter to a family that had not attended worship for sometime to indicate that they were missed and that he hoped to see them back soon. A letter came back in response which said: "Rev. Anderson, nice to hear from you, we have discovered a mega church near us and now go most Sundays.   They have outstanding music and nationally known guest speakers.  We had not heard such music and preaching as that before.  Our children enjoy the many other kids who attend.  But best of all, there is no membership, no pledging, and no expected involvement.  So if you don't mind, we'll just leave our membership at Hyde Park and continue to enjoy what we have here.”

Ministers just love getting letters like that, it really makes our day, it really lifts our spirits.  It reflects a current attitude on the part of some which says:  “I may join the church, but don’t expect anything of me, don't expect me to be involved, don't expect me to support the church, I'll stay as long as I'm happy here, but if something a little more exciting comes along, well!”

And yet, according to the truth of scripture, commitment is the secret of a joyful, fulfilling, meaningful and faith-filled life.  It is the key to moral, spiritual and emotional growth.  We won't grow if we don't make commitments.  Honoring commitments and promises is the means to building character and authentic and lasting relationships.  As followers of Jesus Christ, commitment should not be resisted or avoided but instead be embraced.   God came into the world in Jesus Christ to restore our broken relationship with Him, and expects us to respond with faith, gratitude, love, and obedience. 

God expects us to stay the course, as His witnesses amidst life’s problems and struggles, unexpected twists and turns, challenges and difficulties.  Romans 6:13 says: “Give yourselves completely to God, every part of you.  You want to be tools in the hands of God to be used for His good purposes.”  

Which leads us to the book of Ruth, one of the most popular stories in the Old Testament.  It is a story of personal tragedy and, yet, hope that comes from faith in God and God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  We encounter a young Moabite woman named Ruth, and her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi.  Naomi and her husband, Elimelech leave Bethlehem, in Judah, because there is a famine in the land, and set out for the country of Moab.  
Soon tragedy strikes the family.  Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies and then about ten years later, her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, who had married Moabite women, also die.  That leaves Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law. 

Naomi decides to return to Judah and encourages her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab.  She prays: “May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown kindness to me.”  Orpah, one daughter in law, leaves and returns to Moab

But Ruth was determined to stay with her mother-in-law; they had formed a special bond and she pledges her loyalty and love in the famous words from this story: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”   It is a story of incredible devotion.

My friends, God has so loved us, that He made an eternal, an everlasting, an unbreakable commitment to you and to me in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And God wants a response from us that is hot, not luke-warm, full-hearted, not half-hearted, daily, not occasional, joyful and positive, not negative and resentful.  

Why be committed to God? Because God created us and breathed life into us, because God knows what’s best for us, because God has shaped us for a purpose, because commitment expresses our gratitude for our salvation, because our character is forged and shaped by the promises we make and the commitments we keep, and because God promises to reward commitment.  Yes, God will bring us blessings and benefits, when we put God and his will first in our lives.

Sometimes God calls us through life-changing events to make new commitments.  I recall an interview with the late television host Art Linkletter.  He made a life-commitment, as a father and Christian, to reach young people ensnared in the deathtrap of drugs.  Why – because his daughter died from an overdose and his son died in a drug-related car accident.  Art said this: “Until you are hurt, you can never truly understand the hurt of others.  When you accept the deep pain, then you begin to realize that you have expanded your own capability of loving and caring for others.  In my own case, the pain in my life started me on a crusade against drug abuse-trying to help young people and families.  Not everybody may be called to start a crusade as I was, but everybody can reflect love and caring.  Every person’s life touches some other life that needs love today.” 

Today is our Day of Commitment.  Today is a day to make our promises to God and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ in response to God's promises to us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Our lord wants us to commit not only our money, but beyond that, our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our souls our time, talents and faith. I invite you to commit or re-commit your life to God at this time in prayer.

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