What promises have you made to the world? To this place? To this people? To yourself?
These four questions are from last October in one of my early sermons. On April 30, the installation marks our shared ministry. It seems like a good time to revisit promises we make and what it means to be in covenant with one another.
Most of us grow up being told that a promise not be broken. As a parent, I tried very hard not to break any promise I made to my kids. As most of us do, there were times I was failed. My strategy became to make very few promises beyond, “I’ll do my best…”.
I don’t know about you, but I have found again and again, whether it has to do with parenting, or just this messy endeavor of being human, even if I don’t use the word, “promise,” I am not always able to keep them, even if it’s just the ones I make to myself.
Promise is another word for “covenant,” which is core element of Unitarian Universalism. With our dynamic history that gave up dogma a long time ago, Unitarian Universalism has at its center the process of covenanting. It is not belief that binds us together; it is our covenant to return to the common table of intentional community and shared values that makes us who we are.
We trace this back to our Puritan ancestors. While their theology may seem unrelated to us today, their notion of covenant is the very ground we gather on. As Unitarian Universalists, we know who we are because choose “walking together,” (a Puritan term) choosing continuous consultation when things are going smoothly and when there is conflict or disagreement. This is how we govern ourselves. This is how we know who we are. UU minister Victoria Safford has this to say about covenant:
A covenant is a living, breathing aspiration, made new every day. It can’t be enforced by consequences but it may be reinforced by forgiveness and by grace, when we stumble, when we forget, when we mess up.
According to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, humans are “promise-making, promise-breaking” animals. Big sigh. Actually, Buber didn’t stop with just those two phrases; there is a third: promise-renewing. This is what it means to be in
covenant with one another: to join together, to know that there will be disappointments, even broken trust, and that we come back to renew through acts of acknowledgement, accountability, forgiveness, and love.
We are a promise-making, promise-breaking, promise-renewing people. I am blessed to be on the journey with you, my people.