and promises . . .
a reflection by Dea Podhajsky (Reflections are the opinions of the authors)
I am a Maytag; anyway that was the label my family used to tease me about being dependable Lonely repairman commercials were a large part of the Maytag corporation’s ad campaign. The premise was that Maytag washing machines were so dependable that Maytag repairmen suffered from acute loneliness.
The adjective dependable was not the label I wished others to use to describe me in middle school and high school. Exotic, rebellious, spontaneous were what I wanted to project. But I, was then, and am now dependable. When I make a promise or a commitment, I almost always honor it.
Scholars often talk of five key Biblical covenants. As children we were taught of Noah and the flood,” I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:13-17
The Abrahamic Covenant, found in Genesis 12 and 15, was between God and Abraham. God promised Abraham land, descendants, and blessings. In Exodus 19 and 24 we find the Mosaic Covenant. God supplied the law to Moses to govern and shape the people of Israel in the Promised Land. This law was not a means of salvation but was meant to distinguish the Israelites from the surrounding nations (Exodus 19:1-7). This covenant was conditional and defined blessings and curses based on obedience or disobedience. Understanding the Mosaic covenant helps us understand the cycles of blessing and curse in the Old Testament, the exiles of Israel and Judah, the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees and Paul’s pastoral teachings about law and grace.
In the Davidic Covenant. God promised that a descendant of David would reign on the throne of people of God. It is a continuation of earlier covenants in its promises of a king through whom God will secure the promises of land, descendants, and blessing. This covenant becomes the basis for hope of a Messiah and makes sense of the Gospels’ concern to show Jesus is descendent of David.
We are reminded weekly of the New Covenant revealed by Jesus. During the celebration of the Eucharist the priest says, In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’1 Corinthians 11:25
Just as God makes promises to us, we also make promises to God. The Baptismal Covenant is an example. Many, like me, were baptized as a baby, and lacked the intellectual maturity to enter a covenant. By renewing the Baptismal covenant during the Easter Vigil, we are freely making the promises contained within it.
A section of this covenant is often used as a justification for social justice work within the church.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Jesus also made us promises. One of my favorites is found in Luke11:9-13 So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
There are several caveats on promise keeping. The first deals with duration. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Change is a part of life and promises given cannot, not nor should not be kept when the circumstances of life change. One should not stay in an abusive marriage even if promises were made. One must also be careful to whom one makes a promise. Making a promise to the wrong person or ideology can have disastrous consequences.
I no longer chafe at being thought of as dependable. We take comfort in the promises God and Jesus made to us. Our faithfulness to our word should likewise be a comfort to others. We should embrace our inner Maytag.
Next week the final essay in this series will be posted: things we believe in. For now, take comfort in perhaps the greatest promise of all. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
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