First Congregational Church
March 23, 2014
Third Sunday in Lent
Matthew 26:31-35 & Matthew 26:69-7
"Broken Promises Restored"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A dying man gives each of his best friends -- a lawyer, doctor and clergyman -- an envelope containing $25,000 in cash to be placed in his coffin. A week later the man dies and the friends each place an envelope in the coffin. Several months later, the lawyer confesses that he only put $10,000 in the envelope and sent the rest to a college for scholarships. The doctor confesses that his envelope had only $8,000 because he donated to a medical charity.
The pastor is outraged, "I am the only one who kept my promise to our dying friend. I want you both to know that the envelope I placed in the coffin contained my own personal check for the entire $25,000.”
This week we continue the Lenten series of Brokenness. Week one was about broken vessels being restored, last week was about restoring broken trust, and this week we look at how Christ’s sacrifice restores broken promises. We laughed at the “broken promise” in the joke with the three gentlemen, but broken promises are a great deal more serious. Broken promises, when gathered together, can lead to broken trust. And broken promises can lead to individuals being broken - most especially in spirit.
The basis for this morning’s message comes from two passages from the same chapter in Matthew. After a woman broke a vessel of perfume over Jesus’ head - at Simon the Leper’s house - and Judas made the deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus, and Jesus had Passover supper with the twelve disciples, they all went to the Mount of Olives. While they were there, the first of our two passages took place. After that, Jesus went with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray - that time and place where the disciples fell asleep on him. It was after Jesus was arrested and while he was being tried that we get to the second of our passages.
Matthew 26:31-35 NIV
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Matthew 26:69-75 NIV
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Thank you, Dale. We all know what a promise is, but just for curiosity, I looked up the definition. As many of us could have determined, a promise is “a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.” (Interesting that there is an action implied.) What seemed more integral, however, were the synonyms: “word (of honor), assurance, pledge, vow, guarantee, oath, bond, undertaking, agreement, commitment, contract, commit oneself, bind oneself, covenant.” Those are not your ordinary $2 words.
The idea of “covenant” is a big deal within Congregational churches, because a it is an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified. In this church family, when new members officially join us, they make a promise - out loud - with their own mouth - to be a part of this church family and the church universal.
We make this covenant because of the covenant God made with us - that God would be our God and we would be God’s people - which we get way back in the book of Genesis. Since then, there have been covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and our “new covenant” that comes from the book of Hebrews.
Before the Mayflower Compact - there was the Iroquois compact that joined five tribes together. The Mayflower Compact - another word for covenant - the first written binding document in the U.S., made our forefathers and mothers accountable to each other. From that compact, we’ve followed with the Resolution of the Stamp Act, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation and the individual amendments. Throughout the course of time, we have taken covenants and vows very seriously.
Sometimes - because our humanity gets in the way - we fail to understand that we are making such important agreements. Sometimes - because communication is what it is - what I may think I’m promising is not what the listener thinks I’m promising, and visa versa. Sometimes, the breaking of a promise is a complicated matter.
The broken promise in our scripture passages is one of those that was self-generated and therefore all the more hurtful - to both the one to whom the promise was made (Jesus) and the one who made the promise (Peter.)
There are people quick to point out Peter’s “failure,” because he was the impetuous one, the one more apt to fly by the seat of his pants. But that doesn’t negate his sincerity. I think he really, truly meant what he said about “being there” for Jesus. And just like the rest of us humans, his humanity got in the way of what he wanted.
A lot of times, maybe most of the time, we don’t mean to break a promise or vow. Sometimes we realize the brokenness of the vow in the midst of it being broken. Broken promises are sometimes evil, sometimes not, and they do not necessarily make us bad people. Broken promises, when realized, are cause for apologies, and forgiveness, because that is often how promises get as close to they can to being “fixed.”
We don’t know if Peter asked for Jesus’ forgiveness, but Jesus forgave him - from the cross. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
The difference between us and God is that God doesn’t break promises. We see the best work of God’s restoration in Peter: from these passages and one in John, when Jesus was having breakfast with some of the disciples on the beach after his resurrection - which of course, I remembered after the bulletin was printed. It’s the passage where Jesus recommissioned Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep - three times. (Interesting link between the trice crowing rooster and the triple call to feed sheep.)
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
That same passage restores us and any promises we may have broken with or to God. A much loved-minister of God once carried a secret burden of long-past sin deep in his heart. He had committed the sin many years before, during his Bible school training. No one knew what he had done, but they did know he had repented. Even so, he had suffered years of remorse over the incident without any sense of God's forgiveness.
A woman in his church deeply loved God and claimed to have visions in which Jesus Christ spoke to her. The minister, skeptical of her claims, asked her, "The next time you speak to the Lord, would you please ask Him what sin your minister committed while he was in Bible school." The woman kindly agreed.
When she came to the church a few days later the minister asked, "Did God visit you?" She said, "Yes." "And did you ask God what sin I committed?" "Yes, I asked," she replied "Well, what did God say?" "God said, 'I don't remember.'"
God forgives - and forgets - our broken promises, and not only forgives, but recommissions us to do the work in the kingdom God has for us. Thing is, sometimes we forget to ask to be forgiven, or we think the “crime” too big or maybe not important enough. Sometimes we allow promises made to us and then broken to collect on our soul and it weighs us down, like wool on a sheep that isn’t regularly shorn. (To see such a picture, check out our March newsletter.)
So we have this season of Lent to clean out the drawers and closets of our heart, so that when Easter comes, we can fully celebrate Christ’s unbroken promise of resurrection to flood all the places that became full - one way or another. Let us - like so many of you have done at home in this long season of snow and cold - do a little drawer and closet cleaning.
God, sometimes we make promises - intentional or unintentional - and for whatever reason, we break them. Whether we are the breaker or the receiver of such promises, they tend to cause more pain than we realize. We can’t give up on promises, because they are important. So when they are broken, remind us not to give up on them, because you don’t give up on us and your promise to be our God and we your people.
Sometimes it’s hard to let go of broken promises - whether we break them or they are broken on us. So for those of us that need to let go of that which clings to our hearts and souls, we confess them to you in the silence of our hearts. ________________
We thank you, too, Gracious God, that you forgive us - and you don’t keep records of wrongs, sins, or broken promises or trust. Thank you for recommissioning us and repurposing us to do work that is not only important, but necessary for your kingdom. So help us to grab on to these days as important ones to do important, life-saving and life-changing work for you. And all in your forgiven flock say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.