We all make vows. We make commitments to one another … to God … to ourselves, and inevitably, those vows get laid aside from time to time. Vows are intended to be ways in which we bind ourselves to those whom we love, yet so often in our world, we find those bonds constantly breaking. Sometimes they are broken by circumstances beyond our control … the spouse who leaves the relationship or irreparably harms the relationship … the church that harms us or that closes or that simply ceases to be the church we thought we had joined. Sometimes it is as simple as the vow to lose weight that becomes less important that the many other stresses in our lives, so our vow to diet and care for ourselves better becomes less important. But so often we are the ones who break the vows and fail to live up to the promises we have made.
Someone remarked to me recently that we just don’t take vows as seriously as we used to … that our culture doesn’t honor vows like we did one upon a time. As I have reflected upon that, I am not sure I agree.
A quick look at scripture reveals that the fundamental relationship between God and the people of God is covenant. Covenant contains vows made by two parties … in this case, they are not equal parties … to devote themselves to one another. God has promised to be there for the people of God in all things, and the people of God have vowed to have no other gods before the one true God … to create a community where God’s love can be made known … to do good and to do no harm to God’s creation. Yet throughout the story of the Bible, the people of God find it nearly impossible to keep those vows because their immediate benefit is not obvious.
I am reminded of a great scene from a movie called The End starring Burt Reynolds, where Reynolds, the main character, has decided to end it all by swimming into the ocean away from shore. Suddenly, he has a change of heart and realizes he doesn’t want to die. He then begins desperately trying to get back to shore and realizes that he might not make it. So he begins to bargain with God promising at first to give everything he has to God if he can just make it to shore. As he nears the shore, that percentage begins to decrease from 100% to 75% to 50% until as he crawls upon the shore, he basically takes it back and offers only a simple thank you instead of honoring any commitment he made while in the midst of drowning.
Too often our vows are that way. We make pledges to God at various times in our lives when we are either moved by a great religious experience or when we are feeling desperately alone and cut off from God. Then as things begin to return to normal, those vows, like our New Years resolutions, become little more than distant memories.
In our worship, we are right in the middle of considering the vows we make as United Methodist Christians to uphold the ministry of our church by “our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness,” and we are taking a deeper look at what those vows mean. During this time, I am avoiding the “should” statements because we all know what we “should” do. Instead, I am focusing us upon what it means at a deeper level for us to engage God through prayer, practice presence with one another, discover the joys of taking risks in the ways we give and the ways we serve, and experiencing God anew as we discover how we might witness to the love of Christ in our world.
The primary focus of this series, however, is to remind us that, even when we fail to live up to our vows, God will never fail to live up to the vows God has made to us. God will always engage us and attempt to reach us. God will always be present with us. God will continue to remind us of the gift of life we have been given in Christ Jesus, and God will offer us the richest blessings when we discover this Christ who served us much as he washed the feet of his disciples.
Finally, as God engages us in our daily lives, we are given the opportunity to witness what God is doing and then share that witness with others. Even when we fail to share that witness, God will continue to perform mighty acts right in front of our faces in hopes that perhaps we will remember that the best gift we can give others is simply to share.
Years ago, I had an ant farm, and one of the things I learned about ants is that, when one of the ants who is out hunting finds food, that ant then returns to the ant mound and through a unique style of communication shares with all the other ants where that food is. Then together they all go and begin to bring food back to the colony. By that simple act of witnessing where the sustenance can be found, the one ant enriches and provides sustenance for the entire colony.
So maybe that is what it is about. Providing for community. I wonder what happen if we were to uphold our vows within the church. It is my guess that the world will be a better place because we practiced our faith through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness and thereby provided for a stronger community firmly grounded in the love of Christ.
So how about it? God is still keeping God’s vows to always provide for us. What would happen if we made a conscious effort to keep our vows to God?