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Promises, Promises

Even though I wrote to you last week about New Year’s resolutions, apparently some of the world has not read that devotional. I could see this as I drove by the Planet Fitness yesterday: the parking lot was packed. I had forgotten that many really do choose the turn of the new year to resolve to be different, to try new things, things like: losing weight. Predictably, although some will find themselves in the glory of youth reborn, the truth is that the parking lot, even next week, will be only half-full, at best. Of course, the core of the issue isn't about the making of resolutions so much: goals and commitment and transformation are generally good things. The problem seems to run deeper. And this all brings me to the heart of the matter, a little problem that we mortals have, including me, your humble scribe: Lip Service. I love that phrase. You see the lips moving, but they are not seemingly connected to a brain or hands or heart. Lip service has been around a long time, of course. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus admonishes his followers, “Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Workplace consultant Peter Block says this about Lip service: “nothing kills transformation faster than lip service…the future does not die from opposition, it disappears in the face of lip service…lip service sabotages commitment…it offers an empty step forward…it is an agreement made standing next to the exit door.” He continues in his book Community: the Structure of Belonging to speak of commitment as “a promise to peers about our contribution to the success of the whole. Promises that matter are those made to peers…the future is created through the exchange of promises between citizens, the people with whom we have to live out the intentions of the change.” And he challenges, “not being a person who honors his or her word by either fulfilling our promises or retracting when we know they will not be fulfilled sabotages community.” Wow. That’s a lot to take in. These business community realities that Block speaks of are also very true in the community that is the church of Jesus Christ, right? Promises, promises. Lip service. Another great writer on community and its trials and struggles is the prophet Jeremiah, who, as I also quoted last week, shows us a God who keeps God’s word…not a God of lip service, but a God of promise, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” We’ll gather again on Sunday, in community, to celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A celebration that focuses on both the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John and our baptism in our local waters as either adults or infants, into community, into God’s promises, into God’s community with the one who was born, baptized, taught, suffered and died for our sake. We’ll be asked once more, “Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?” Our yes, our “Amen” to this question can go a few different ways. It can be just so much lip service, as we have been talking about. Or, it can be a yes that is a commitment wrapped in a promise. A promise made among your peers, one to another, a promise made in faith through grace in the presence of the living God. The God whom we trust to be faithful to God’s promise in baptism: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything becomes new!” (2 Cor 5:17) We’ll keep this conversation going after the service on Sunday when we will have time, led by the mission team, to join with peers in a Holy Conversation about baptism and what it means for us and for our community. Until then, consider these questions: --Douglas Barclay

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