Sermon March 17, 2019
Everyone of us has had experience with promises. We have had times when promises made to us have been kept and times when the promise has not been kept. It is easy to make fun of the promises that are made by politicians. Bernard Baruch offered this suggestion “Vote for the man who promises least; he'll be the least disappointing.” I sometimes think that politicians really want to keep the promises that they make but the realities of office make it very difficult for them to keep some promises. Other times, I think they make promises just to get elected.
The impact of some broken promises can be significant. The Native American people share stories of broken promises that were made by the US government as settlers moved west. Red Cloud once said “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.” And Chief Joseph shared a similar view, “It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.”
I think about how determined we must be to keep some promises. Robert Frost wrote about this in a poem, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”. For me, that’s a verse about how dedicated we must be to our promises. It is also a reminder of how easily we can be led stray from keeping a promise. We are lured in by the beauty of nature or by any other temptation. I found many quotes about broken promises when I looked online and none about promises kept. Perhaps the broken promises are the ones we remember the best.
But we can trust in the promises made by God. Isaac Watts offered this perspective, “I believe the promises of God enough to venture an eternity on them.” God’s promises are mentioned often in Scripture. In Genesis 28:15 God said to Isaac, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God lived up to that promise and God kept all of the promises. I ask you to consider this verse from 1 John (2:25), “And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.” It is through the work of Jesus that we have the opportunity for eternal life. It is a promise that Jesus made to his disciples and one that carries over to us. I go to prepare a place for you he said. We anxiously await the time when we will receive the gift of that promise.
Today’s reading from Genesis is a good example of the promise of God. In this short passage, God promised that Abram will receive two gifts. One was the promise that he will have a child and the other is that he will receive land for himself and his descendants. The dialogue in the midst of these two promises from God is interesting. In each case, Abram counters the promise with a concern, a question or some doubt. After God told Abram that his reward would be great, Abram skeptically responds, but God, I don’t have any children. It is as if he doesn’t really believe that God will do what God said. Where was his faith? God reassured Abram by telling his that his descendants would outnumber the stars. The same sequence of promise, concern or objection and reassurance happened again. God said, I will give you this land to possess. But Abram is once more uncertain. He questioned God saying, ““O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” And God reassures him again using the sign of a covenant as found in the sacrifice of animals.
From our perspective, it seems that God has given everything to Abram. And yet Abram was uncertain. We know that God kept the promises because we know the rest of the story. Sarah bore Abram’s child Isaac and Abram lived on the land that we now call Israel. And many of us relate to Abram’s doubts.
We refer to our relationship with God as a covenant. We enter into an agreement with God. Each party makes a promise. Sadly, we are the ones who often fail to live up to our commitment to God. For some of us there is a certainty about God’s presence in our lives. They live in the first portion of Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” or “the Lord is the strength of my life”. For you, there is no question about what God has given you. But there are others who struggle with uncertainty. You reach out to God constantly. You believe that God is with you always. But you have questions. Maybe it is the condition of the world we live in where it seems that there is evil all around us and that bad people get ahead. Or perhaps you question how it is possible for a God who loves us so much and promises that God will take care of us, still lets bad things happen. You live in the second part of Psalm 27, “Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. You have been my helper; cast me not away.”
And for some, you live in both of these worlds. There are times for you when you are confident and times when you question. The first time I read Psalm 27, I thought to myself, how strange. It isn’t consistent throughout. But then, I realized that so many of us are just like that. One minute we live in the knowledge that God is with us, that God cares for us. In the next moment we wonder where God is, we wonder whether God will be there in time of need. Many of us are just like Abram, we need God to reassure us.
If you have questions or doubts, I believe that you can find comfort in this gospel. You may not hear that in the first reading of the gospel. After all, what we hear is Jesus berating Herod. What we learn is that Jesus is lamenting the lack of faith in the people of Jerusalem. I encourage you to listen instead to the determination that Jesus demonstrated. Jesus knew that he was going to Jerusalem to be killed, to be hung on the cross. But he was determined to go. Jesus demonstrated the fulfilling of God’s promise. Jesus came to earth as our God and our Savior. He came to show us that we can always count on God. Jesus chose the difficult way, the way of the cross, to lift all of us up. Jesus chose the way of pain and suffering to show us that God is with us and to lead us to salvation. He came to show us that he can defeat death through his resurrection.
We are only part way through Lent. It is a time to reflect on our temptations, a time to turn from sin and turn to God. It may even be a time to deal with our doubts. I would suggest that Lent is also a time to feel God’s consistency. God always lives into the promise that we have been given. God will love and care for us and if we are willing, lift us up to eternal life.
The second step of the way of love is prayer. Let us pray that God will help us to deal with our temptations. Let us pray that Jesus will help us in our times of doubt. Let us pray that Jesus will help us to follow his way. That means help us to be determined, that nothing will keep us from loving God. It means we know God’s presence in our lives and feel it as well. The third step of the way of love is to learn. We listen to Scripture and learn about God’s never-failing love for us.
Many years ago Dionne Warwick sang about promises. It is about a person who trusted in the promises of another human. It begins with the words, “Promises, promises. I'm all through with promises.” Later, she sang, “Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life. Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life”
We can be hurt by the promises that people make but don’t keep. The good news is that God always keeps the promise, God aways gives us joy. May you live in the knowledge of God’s love and may you commit yourself once more to live in covenant with God. May this Lent be a time when you are determined to always live in that promise. Amen.
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