In the television programme, ÂThe ÂAÂ Team,Â one of the characters, John ÂHannibalÂ Smith had a catch-phrase, ÂI love it when a plan comes together.Â Every now and then I have the same feeling when everything in a service comes together, or even a whole day.
We had such a day at Launde Abbey yesterday with two joyful celebrations. In the morning Eucharist we thanked God for the Golden Wedding anniversary of a couple who were staying with us. In the afternoon we baptised a baby. What kicked the whole day into gear for me were the Sunday readings which were about GodÂs promise to Abram (Abraham) and AbramÂs response of faith and trust, which was then reflected upon by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews. As I researched and reflected on the readings I realised how a promise changes the future.
When two people stand up in front of their family and friends and say ÂI willÂ in response to the invitation to love and cherish each other and to remain faithful to that vow or promise through thick and thin until death, they are changing the future not just by their intention for the future but by the very act in the present. All is changed by the love, hope and faithfulness that is expressed in that public declaration. Courage, confidence and freedom are the gifts that the union brings when a person is prepared to say to another, ÂOut of all the people in the world who I could chose to love and spend my life with, I chose you.Â How impressive is that when you think about it!
A promise is not material. Just as Abram could not count the stars in the sky which God invited him to look at, promising him that his descendents would be more than them, so any promise or vow has elements of the unknown. I may promise to love you in sickness and in health, but how that love may be called forth, what we may have to face together, no one can say. The point is that the promise is something we lean into: something that we make work day by day because we have faith in the one who made the promise to us.
Baptism is similar. We make statements of intent rather than promises but underneath all that we do is our belief in the love of God for the unique individual who is being presented for baptism. If parents and Godparents can receive the promise God has made, to be with the child Âuntil the end of time,Â if they can lean into that promise of future care for the child, taking seriously their commitment to bring them up to know their loving Father, then the child in turn may have the opportunity to understand the commitment He has made to them. They will grow in confidence, courage and freedom because they know God loves them.
Promises change the future in a tangible way. They change not just the people who make them but the community in which those people live. Promises can, of course, be bad as well as good; they can lead to damaging, hurtful actions where the intention is corrupt. Promises can also, with the best of intentions, go wrong. But whatever mess we might make of our lives, GodÂs promise to love and care for us is unchangeable. He does not promise that we will never suffer but he promises he will be there in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty. If we live this promise into the future we find it is true.