What is the strongest thing in the world, yet the weakest? A promise.
When we speak a word, making a commitment, it can be eternally binding, or it can be simply breath. On Wednesday, May 30, I had my 12th anniversary as a priest in the Episcopal church. I told my Bible study that "if I knew then what I know now..." Everyone laughed as did I, but it really isn't funny. I am a priest in a church which seems to be dismatling the Christian faith as fast as it can. It has been one of the most painful things I have ever endured (and I have buried family and friends). I am able to go on because of my parish (and the Holy Spirit). I have no doubt that we could do better and be better, but I do think we are faithful. Would I do it all over again? Yes. In large part because I love my people and I love what I do. Also, I made a commitment. There are days when it has been sad, sickening and a struggle (with the Big church, not the parish) but I have always thought I needed to keep my word, to God and to the folks.
Yesterday was my daughter's birthday. She is sixteen. As we drove to get her license we had a nice conversation. I told her she was the first person I ever loved unconditionally. She told me, "I did what no one else had ever been able to do. I made you a daddy." True. She was the one who did that. I know when I first learned that she was conceived, I promised to be the best dad I could. There are times when I get mad at her, times when I feel pushed out of her life or ignored, times when I feel used and taken for granted, but I have always kept that commitment. I do love her. And that love is not always an action and choice. Sometimes it comes out of me, it is pulled out of me. I have to say it is a gift. I am not sure where I stack up on the daddy scale. I do know that I am commited to being a daddy.
Next Tuesday is the 28th anniversary of my deacon ordination. I remember laying on the floor, spread out before the Lord and His church. I remember the promises I made and the feel of the bishop's hands on my head. I did not keep that word. I broke it. I pledged celibacy to God. Today I am married. Broken promises are very hard to face. For over half my life I have lived under a vow which I broke. I have to admit there are still times when I wonder what the Lord will say at my judgment. Some seem to think He will blow it off. They claim it is no big deal and God is merciful. I do not doubt mercy, but I question whether it is no big deal. If our promises mean nothing what will become of us and our world? I have tried to be a faithful minister, with mixed results. I am not near the priest I want to be. I am not near the person I want to be. There is a bright side to that, imagaine if I was satisfied with me! I am also aware that on my face, in prayer, I can cry out for mercy. Sinners make good pastors, if they are self aware and sorry, because they are compassionate with the struggles of others. I can only kneel before the cross and remember that my sin put Jesus there. I can only sit before the empty tomb, clinging to Jesus' feet and cry for joy at knowing He has forgiven me.
Words. More powerful than anything else known to man. They have the power to bind us in eternal commitment. On the other hand, it can also be tossed aside with the least effort. What after all makes our word binding? Fortunately, Jesus is faithful, even when we are not. That is hope! He is the Word made flesh. He is God's promise. He is unchanging and faithful.