My sermon title comes from the closing lines of Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Today we are celebrating your coming of age – a step in your life-long journey of becoming a person. Today we’re acknowledging that you are stepping away from early childhood and moving toward adulthood.
We’re affirming that each of you is a unique, individual, one-of-a-kind person.
But you are also one of the 6.7 billion humans that inhabit this planet of ours, this common home we share.
We haven’t told you what you should believe, in terms of a particular theology…things about God or the gods. We haven’t provided you with a GPS that maps out all the streets you’ll travel; we haven’t tried to give you answers to the big questions that religions are generally expected to hand out at the door when you’re leaving.
There is, however, something implicit in the religious education you’ve been part of – not stated in words but clearly understood.
Of course it all boils down to being a good person, of using good judgment, making responsible decisions.
We haven’t asked you to sign something ‘on the dotted line,’ but we expect you to be honorable…to respect your parents…to be helpful…to be responsible in your dealing with others and to be responsible in taking care of yourself.
The narrator of Frost’s poem takes a moment to enjoy the silence, to notice the new snow falling, to listen to the bells on his horse’s harness. By stopping for a few brief moments he’s turning his journey into a religious experience, appreciating the beauty in nature, suggesting that there’s something sacred in life.
Then he says that he has to get moving, again – this is a nice break, a brief meditation, but I have to get home…I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
Part of his religious experience is to appreciate the quiet and the snow and the sounds of the bells.
An alarm clock has a different set of bells to remind him us of something else, something as sacred as the silence – our promises. The narrator in the poem tells us that there are people at home who care about him, who will be relieved to see him come through the door, who will not sleep comfortably until he is at home, safe and sound.
Every parent knows that feeling!
The surest way of moving from childhood to adulthood is to keep your promises, not only the explicit promises that are sometimes part of the negotiations between you and your parents, but the implicit, unspoken promises…and by keeping those promises you enhance your own sense of dignity and self-respect.
Part of a parent’s love is unconditional – they love you as you are, flaws and all. (They may secretly love the flaws!) But part of love is a result of keeping your promises, and that takes effort and intentionality on your part.
Keeping your promises is part of what is sacred in you – don’t treat it lightly. You have promises to keep and miles to go…enjoy the journey!