As my wife and I work to instill good values in our son at this formative time in his life, teaching him to keep his word is of exceeding importance. We want him to be a person of character—someone others look upon and come to as trustworthy that he will do just as he says he will. I believe most all of us are taught this value at one time or another in our lives, and want it to continue onward in and through our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. We strive to be congruent in our words and actions—knowing that anything less corrodes and undermines our mutual relationships and the fabric of society we all share with one another. It pains us when we encounter a word unkept, either intentionally or by accident. As important as this value is in our secular doings, it is just as crucial if not more so for our life of faith.
As the church, we our founded on the hope and promise that God keeps God’s word, and as God is always faithful so also God calls us to live likewise. Our faith heritage is rooted in the promises God makes to Abram (before he is later renamed Abraham)—to make of him a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great, and to make Abram himself a blessing for others (Genesis 12:2). Again, atop Mt. Sinai, God makes promises to Moses and the Israelites as a covenant relationship is established—binding each side to keeping their word. The whole journey of the Israelites throughout the Hebrew Bible hinges on the trust—though waning and waxing from time to time—that God will remain faithful to God’s chosen people, keeping the promises made to their ancestors. Whenever a leader (Saul, David, Solomon) fails to keep their word, consequences come forth—affecting not only the individual, but all others as well. Affirming the Torah, Jesus tells his disciples that they should not swear, but rather: “let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). In the Acts of the Apostles, when husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, fail to keep their word regarding the profits acquired and secretly kept from property sold, the ramifications of their actions is death for both!
Congregational life continues in this ongoing tradition of keeping one’s word. When we gather together for worship, beginning with Confession and Forgiveness, we confess our sins before God and our neighbor trusting that God keeps God’s word and will forgive us each and every time—no matter what. If we lose sight of this promise, the practice becomes difficult if not impossible to engage honestly and wholeheartedly. When we recite the Creed and enter into the Lord’s Prayer, we profess God as one who in Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit keeps God’s word—always remaining faithful to us. Holy Communion is the promise that daily God gives us the sustenance needed for the journey ahead. Even in the sacrament of baptism—whether it is of a child or adult—those of us gathered: parents, sponsors, and congregation, make promises to nurture and support the individual in their lifelong journey of faith. You and I commit and are expected to keep our word in nurturing and supporting each person whom we witness begin their new life in Christ.
We proclaim that in Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Christ, God remains faithful to God’s promises to us. Christ calls us to be truth-tellers, meaning we keep our word for others as we trust God does for us. If and when the church fails to keep its word, in one way or another, we therefore fail to live as the Body of Christ for the world. Do we, the church, always keep our word without fault? In the fervent words of the Apostle Paul: By no means! In such instances, however, the Spirit draws us to the cross to confess our sinfulness, repent, and receive new words of grace, love, and forgiveness to live by and carry out into the world. Avoiding saying or committing to anything, itself, does not solve the problem. Cleansed, claimed, and called by the Word of God, Jesus, God the Son incarnate, we cannot escape or avoid our identity as People of the Word. Our words have the power of spreading the gospel message; and they also have the power, as The Epistle of James reminds us, of creating great harm. How is our word being kept in this community of faith? Do others outside the church agree with our assessment?
Critical reflection is crucial, both individually and communally. Am I keeping my word? Are we keeping our word as a congregation? Do our words and actions reflect the promises we proclaim? We trust God keeps God’s promises to us, but is this representative in our words and actions with others? When we say we forgive someone, are we remaining faithful to that word? In the commitments we make to one another, are we following through with our actions as we say we will? What do we do when a person, or we as a whole, fail to keep our word? How are we teaching those new to or young in the faith through modeling that keeping our word is a fundamental part of new life in Christ? In both our diligent practice and reflection of being true to what we say, we serve to point faithfully to the God who remains faithful in all times and places. Perhaps in keeping our word, we spread the word—pointing to the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ, who keeps his word when he says to us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ;)