Look at the sequence: Hannah cries out to God and makes God a promise. God answers Hannah's cry and makes it possible for her to keep her promise. Hannah, finally, keeps the promise that God has made possible to fulfill. Keeping promises begets keeping promises; faithfulness engenders faithfulness. You and I are here because people kept their promises. Veteran's Day this week celebrates people who kept their promises to defend us, so we could keep our promises to live out the promise of this nation. Our parents promised to feed us, clothe us, love us, teach us, care for us. Many of us were baptized as children: our parents promised to raise us in the faith. Some of you are living on Social Security or Pensions; Medicare or health insurance plans. I'm paying for your Social Security and Medicare; we're all paying for the health insurance for our retired preachers; many of us have benefited far more from our medical insurance plans that we ever paid into them; we keep our promises to them, and hope in a few years people will keep some promises to us. We worship in this beautiful building because for a hundred and fifty years people kept their promised to build and maintain the property, to teach and care for each other, to share the gospel of Jesus with us. More than that, United Methodists all across Virginia and all across the country kept their promises to plant and maintain colleges and seminaries, write Sunday School materials and Bible Studies, train clergy and lay leadership, offer retreats and conferences and seminars. In a million ways, you and I are here today because people kept their promises. And when people keep their promises, miracles happen everywhere. I continue to marvel at those of you who have kept your marriage vows for forty, fifty, sixty, or more years. In the thirty-sixth year of our marriage, Vicki and I know that the more practice you have keeping your promises, the easier it becomes. Faithfulness begets faithfulness: children of long marriages are more likely to have long marriages themselves; children of parents who live healthy lifestyles are more likely to have healthy lifestyles themselves; children of parents who are life-long learners are more likely to be intellectually curious all their lives; children of parents who have been faithful to their church commitments are more likely to be practicing believers themselves. Keeping promises begets keeping promises; faithfulness engenders faithfulness. It is so with God, the Bible declares. Hannah makes a promise -- God is faithful to her -- Hannah responds by keeping her promise. God promises Abraham and Sarah a son -- Abraham and Sarah trust God's promise, even when it appears that God is going to kill their child -- God keeps his promise. Jesus promises to obey God's will, not his own, and God keeps his promise of resurrection. And Peter and Paul and the martyrs and fathers and mothers and saints of the church promise to love and serve God, and God keeps promises to them. You and I are the fruit of the faithfulness of God and of the saints.
All of you who are married -- hold up your wedding rings. Why do you wear them? They are "outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace," reminding us of the promises we make. Every time we touch water, we are called to remember our baptisms -- of the vows that we made, or were made for us, to love and serve God. The reason we say grace before we eat is not to make the food holy: Jesus said whenever you eat bread and drink the cup, remember me. Every doughnut in the gym is a reminder that God is keeping promises to love us, feed us, and be in us. Every single one of us is here because at some point or another, we made a promise to God. The reason we're still here is because, in one way or another -- maybe not exactly the way we expected or thought -- but in one way or another, God answered our prayers. God got us through. God didn't give us what we wanted -- God gave us what we needed. God blessed us with family and friends and health and grace and love and mercy. God kept his promises. Now -- are we going to keep ours? Are we going to keep the promises we made to God? Are we going to keep the promises we made to each other? Test me, Malachi 3:10 says. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down an overflowing blessing. The question isn't whether God will answer our prayers: the question is whether we're going to keep our promises.