Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it. - Ecclesiastes 5:4b-5 (NRSV)
We only make vows on special occasions. Weddings, ordinations, baptisms. A promise to God is serious business.
Carmen was a member of our church, an older man who usually wore sweatpants and a Florida Gators hat. He sat in the back of the sanctuary, and every Sunday he complained that it was too cold. (It definitely wasn’t.) One spring Carmen got cancer. It was aggressive, and he was gone in just a few months.
Before he died, he gave the church a bag of his prized possessions. At the bottom, beneath a pile of Christmas cards and family photographs, was a yellowed envelope. Inside was a certificate of baptism issued by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1942.
The certificate reminded me of the promises we make at baptism. Every time I sprinkle water on one of our kiddos as an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace, I ask the congregation to promise their support and care “on behalf of the whole church, wherever the child may grow and search for love and for God.”
We have been making promises on your behalf. Sorry. We probably should have asked first.
But now that they’re made, would you mind...
If your beloved children show up in our church, whether as slightly older children or as slightly grumpy old men, we will love and care for them as our own, as God’s own. Will you please do the same? We kind of promised you would.
Covenant Maker, may I recognize each stranger as a child I have promised to love.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.