Friday, 13 August 2010

Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary : Promises, promises...

Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 1:46-55
Mary’s Song of Praise

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Fifty something years ago my parents made some promises to each other. I was born forty four years ago as one result of those promises. Forty three years ago, at my baptism they made more promises for me which I made for myself about thirty three years ago when I was confirmed. Twenty one years ago I made some solemn promises to Alison, and then eight years ago I made further promises at my ordination.

Our lives are marked by promises of which these are perhaps some of the more notable ones, and today, as we celebrate the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I want to think about what promises mean to us for reasons that will become clear as we go on. But first, why do we even make promises? The more cynical might claim that promises are made to be broken, but we all know deep down that someone who makes a promise and honours it is someone we can have confidence in.

Likewise, not keeping our promises is likely to be a source of lasting shame deep within us, and probably most people know of occasions that they can think back on where they wished they had acted in accordance with what they said they would do.

So why do we make promises? I think it’s to do with trust. When we say that we will do something in the future, or that we will go on doing something that we have promised, it’s a way of bringing some kind of stability to the future. It builds and develops families, friendships and communities, and I suspect that broken promises are the main reason for rifts in any of these

Promises are what makes marriages work, when two people promise that whatever comes they will always be there for each other. It makes the relationship stable because two people know that they can depend on each other. Promises are the cement in all of our relationships. And promises are what glue the Bible together, revealing for us just one more way in which we are created in the image of God because he, too, has made promises.

As I mentioned a moment ago, today in the church calendar we celebrate Jesus’s mother, Mary. One of the most famous pieces of poetry in the world are the words that Mary said when she met her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary with Jesus, and the joy they shared led her to speak out the words that we now call the Magnificat which forms today’s reading from the Gospels.

From our perspective today, the most important line is the summary at the end in which Mary says that God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Long before Jesus was born, long before Mary and Joseph met; long before all the prophets had lived; long before even Moses, God met with Abraham and promised him that his descendants would be a nation that would bless all the world, a promise that we believe came to fruition in Jesus because all nations could be adopted into God’s family through him. God has a history of making promises, and all of those promises have been leading up to this one end; that each person is offered the chance to become a child of God, a member of God’s family.

That final part of the promise was achieved by Jesus, the Son of God, being born of Mary so that by his life, his death and his resurrection, we could be adopted into the family of God. That was what we uncovered in the reading from Galatians where St. Paul told us that God’s promises had all been building up towards his adoption of us as his children and the sending of his Holy Spirit into the depths of our being calling God ‘Abba’, which is a deeply respectful and intimate term, somewhere between Daddy and Father.

I often say that we are created in the image of God, and this is just one more proof of that, that our making of promises is a reflection of how God makes promises. But the differences between God’s promises and ours are that God always keeps his promises. What’s more, our promises can pretty much all be traced back to God taking the initiative.

Take marriage for example. We might think that the promises originate with us, but they don’t. The vows we take are in response to God’s promise that humanity should be comprised of male and female that they should compliment each other and help each other. We make vows to each other in response to the order God has delivered us.

In baptism there is an even greater sense of responding to God because of the words we had in Galatians, that through Jesus God promises to adopt us as his children. And Mary’s Magnificat is, in its entirety, a song of praise about how God keeps his promises.

Here’s just ten of God’s promises to us(and there are plenty of others!):

1. God promises you can be one of his children.
“Yet to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, not of human decision, but born of God.” John 1:12-13

2. Salvation is promised as a gift, (not something we can earn)
St. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

3. The Lord promises he will never leave us.
Jesus said, “...And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

4. Nothing can come between us and the love of God.
St. Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

5. Love lasts forever
St. Paul writes, “...Love never ends”. 1 Corinthians 13:8a

6. Love is a mark of God’s children
St. John writes, ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves knows God and is born of God.’ 1 John 4:7

7. The Lord will always be there for us.
“If I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” Psalm 139:9-10

8. God hears our prayers for help and comes to us.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Psalm 40:1-2

9. The Lord promises his Holy Spirit will live within us to help us to live.
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit when the Holy Spirit has come upon you... and you will be my witnesses... to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

10. Our eternal future is assured.
Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3

How do they make you feel? I don’t know about you, but when someone makes a promise to me I want to respond in gratitude with a promise in return. I wonder what promises we might make to God. You see, as I have said on several occasions, I believe God forges the future in collaboration with us. He doesn’t want to make promises to us and for us to sit back and just let them happen.

The future comes about when we respond to God’s overtures, much as a beloved responds to a lover’s overtures. Our God is wooing us the whole time, and making promises, and I think that just as a lover expects the beloved to respond, and feels spurned if they don’t, so God desires us to respond to his promises by making our own.

Each of us has been baptised in one denomination or another. How well do we keep to our baptism promises to turn from evil and to turn to Christ, submitting to him and coming to him?

Mary knew that God keeps his promises to us. So how much time do we spend thinking about whether we should be keeping ours to him? Amen

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