In the beginning: God made a promise.
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Reading: Genesis 15:1-6
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to also live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in your son’s name we pray. Amen.
We’ve all seen the shattered hopes, dreams, and lives caused by them. We’ve even made them ourselves. Of them, the American poet David Kirby has written:
I have met them in dark alleys, limping and one-armed;
I have seen them playing cards under a single light-bulb
and tried to join in, but they refused me rudely,
knowing I would only let them win.
I have seen them in the foyers of theaters,
coming back late from the interval
long after the others have taken their seats,
and in deserted shopping malls late at night,
peering at things they can never buy,
and I have found them wandering
in a wood where I too have wandered.
This morning I caught one;
small and stupid, too slow to get away,
it was only a promise I had made to myself once
and then forgot, but it screamed and kicked at me
and ran to join the others, who looked at me with reproach
in their long, sad faces.
When I drew near them, they scurried away,
even though they will sleep in my yard tonight.
I hate them for their ingratitude,
I who have kept countless promises,
as dead now as Shakespeare’s children.
“You bastards,” I scream,
“you have to love me—I gave you life!”
We’ve all made promises. Maybe it was a promise to ourselves to “get more active and lose the extra 15 pounds we’ve been carrying around.” Maybe it’s a promise to a loved one to stop the busy-ness and spend more quality time with each other. Maybe it’s a promise to God to pray and read Scripture regularly. We’ve all made promises. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ve failed to fully live into. And, I think Kirby is right, we look at the broken promises we’ve made with disgust, feeling nothing but regret and remorse.
We’ve all made promises we can’t keep: promises that were unrealistic or so simple and easy that we forgot we even made them.
We’ve all broken promises. And, we’ve all been left dangling at the shattered end of a promise someone else failed to keep. Knowing what we’ve done—or, perhaps better stated, what we have left undone—and knowing what we’ve experienced, many of us find it difficult to trust a promise regardless of who makes it for fear of being let down yet again.
I’d like to think that Abram’s life wasn’t all that much different than our lives. He knew what it was like to pick up the pieces after a broken promise. He knew what it was like to live with the regret of having let someone else down by not fulfilling the promises he’d made. So, when God came to him and said:
I will make you a great nation,
And I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse him that curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.
I can only imagine Abram thinking, “Ya, right. Sure, God.”
I think it’s safe to say that Abram questioned whether God would be faithful to God’s promise, because God has to tell Abram no less than four times in our reading for this week alone what his promise is. He first makes the promises in chapter 12 (v.2-3), and then repeats the promise in chapters 13 (v.15-16), 15 (v.5-6), and 17 (v.4-8) to which Abram, after hearing for the fourth time that his family would be a blessing that touched every family in the world, “threw himself on his face and laughed” (Genesis 17:17a, Jewish Publication Society). God made Abram—by this time known as Abraham—a promise that he thought was utterly impossible. And yet, Genesis records that this improbable promise would in fact be fulfilled.
In the beginning, God made a promise: a promise that Abraham thought completely impossible. Between laughs, Abraham asked God, how “can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety” (Genesis 17:17b, Jewish Publication Society)? To which God replied, no matter how improbable you might think it, it will come to pass. In fact, says God, I will not break my promise with you or any of the generations that follow you. I’ll make good on my promise (my covenant) with you and the generations that follow you.
In the beginning, God made a promise that seemed impossible, improbable, and–even–laughable. And, God continues the same outstanding claims.
God promises that by losing our life, we’ll gain it (see Luke 17:33 and Matthew 16:25); that in death, we’ll find life (see John 11:25); that in giving we receive (see Luke 6:38). God promises to put the broken pieces of our lives back together (see Psalm 34:18). God promises to forgive what we perceive to be unforgivable (see Romans 5:8, 18). God continues to make promises that we all too often find improbable, if not impossible and laughable. And, yet, experience proves and Scripture records that God is always good on God’s promises no matter how impossible or improbable they sound to us.
In the beginning, God made a promise: a promise that seemed completely improbable, if not impossible. But, it was a promise God kept (and we’ll talk more about that, here, next week).
We don’t mean to be untrusting or disrespectful, but sometimes your promises just seem too grand for what we perceive to be our little lives. Open us to your improbable promises that we might live into them.
Help us, O God, not to hide behind your promises, but to stand firmly on them, trusting that you will fulfill the impossible promises you have made:
make us fruitful where we haven’t seen fruit in years;
forgive us for the things we find unforgivable;
help us to be generous when we don’t think there’s anything else to give;
and, show us the path that leads to life, even after death.
Give us the footing we need to stand firmly on the promises you’ve made. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 “Broken Promises,” by David Kirby as quoted at Poetry Out Loud <http://www.rs.poetryoutloud.org/poem/177573> Accessed May 17, 2014.
 Genesis 12:2-3, Jewish Publication Society.