It is said that a promise made is a debt unpaid.To promise to do something is to commit to make it happen, it puts a seal on an undertaking. We shoud be careful about making promises that we cannot keep for as Jonathan Swift said, ‘promises like pie crust are made to be broken.’
Fr Jack McArdle, of the Community of the Sacred Heart in Dublin, searched through the gospels and counted the promises made by Jesus. He found 157 different promises, with not one, ‘might’, ‘maybe’, or ‘perhaps’ among them. He wrote a book about them that rejoices under the title ‘Jesus said it……….and I believe it.’
The gospel reading today (John 14.23-29) is replete with promises:
-Jesus promises that he and the Father will love and abide in whoever keeps Jesus’ word.
-He promises that God will send the Holy Spirit to teach us everything and remind us of the words of Jesus.
-He promises to leave his peace with us.
-He promises that he shall return.
These promises of Jesus give us great reassurance.They can take away anxiety, and strengthen faith.We can trust that the promises of Jesus will be kept.
How beautiful is the first promise: if we keep his word, he and the Father will dwell in us. They can do this throug the Holy Spirit, as St Paul says that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are rough clay jars that hold a great treasure when the Spirit is inside us. The word of Jesus is his commandments. The Ten Commandments are referred to in the Book of Exodus as the ‘words of God.’ God comes to us and lives in us when we keep his commandments, when the gospel is lived out in us.
In the Book of Common Prayer Evening Prayer Service, we implore God to ‘Make clean our hearts within us , take not your Holy Spirit from us.’ The dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, is vital if we are to be in tune with Jesus, for the Spirit is what reminds us of him, what unites us to him. The Spirit continues to teach us, above all through prayer, if only we will listen for his quiet promptings.
Fr McArdle advises that in order to learn one needs to listen. If the student doesn’t listen to the teacher, they won’t learn anything.Prayer, he says, is not so much talking to God who does not hear us,but God speaking to us, who do not listen. We can experience the ongoing revelation that comes from the whisperings of the Spirit.
It is the quiet restraint of the Spirit that leads us towards a state of peaceful demeanour. Jesus bequeaths his peace to his disciples and to us. St Luke said that the risen Christ breathed on the disciples and gave them his peace. The Spirit is indeed often depicted as the very breath of God. As the hymn says: ‘Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew.’
The peace that is of Christ is not that the same as that which the world gives. His peace comes from a suppression of our ego; from not always having the last word; from accepting that we are not always right, that we do not always have to get our own way. Serenity comes from an honest acceptance that there are some things we cannot change; it comes from knowing our weakness and our need of God.
What a wonderful inheritance he has left us if we can aspire to peace of mind. To have that peace, we have to let in the Holy Spirit to whatever stressful, difficult situation we find ourselves in, to let the Holy Spirit breathe in us, to make all well.
The willful breaking of a promise is a sad thing, trust is breached, faith in humanity undermined.To believe in the keeping of a promise is a foundation for hope and confidence. Jesus makes his promises in good faith, may we have the good faith to accept them.