(sermon note: 09-20 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/bcHgYlKKFVg)
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who got pulled over by a cop for driving with a rhino in his car. “Sir, are you aware that driving with a rhino in your car is illegal?” the cop said. The man looked bewildered. “Really? I had no clue!” The cop stared at the man long and hard. “Well, I’ll let you off this time, but only if you promise to take it straight to the zoo.” The man agreed and the cop let him go. A week later the cop spotted the same man driving with the same rhino in his car. “Didn’t I tell you to take this rhino straight to the zoo?” asked the cop. “I sure did, officer,” the man replied. “We had a great time. This week we’re going to the movies!”
We can make some pretty funny promises sometimes, can’t we?! That man did follow through on his promise though, didn’t he? He did take that rhino to the zoo just as he promised. I guess that’s one way to fulfill a promise without actually fulfilling it, by messing with the promise’s interpretation. What that cop intended with the promise was grossly misinterpreted by that man for great comic effect. Who takes a rhino to the zoo to do a little sightseeing? Better yet, who takes a rhino to the movies to catch a flic? Sheer absurdity! It goes to show that it’s important to understand the exact nature of any promise before giving or receiving it. Otherwise you might have some smart aleck pull a stunt like that one with the one rhino.
People are people, though, and they’re always eager to find a way to fulfill a promise without actually fulfilling it. Promises are oftentimes hard to keep. Life is always changing and one never knows if they’ll have the ability to keep a promise in the future. Times change, resources dwindle, abilities fade; few things in life ever stay the same. And yet the assumption behind a promise is that it will somehow be fulfilled regardless of the changing times. Both the one giving the promise and the one receiving it expect it to be fulfilled. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a useless fantasy. Promises should be kept! Don’t make a promise unless you’re intending to keep it. Don’t accept a promise unless you’re certain the one who’s offering it will keep it. And be very clear about the nature of the promise…what both the giver and receiver expect out of it.
Promises are sometimes hard to keep but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be offered. They can be great tools for creating and nurturing trust between two people. There are few things more encouraging or hopeful than a kept promise. Both the one giving it and the one receiving it feel validated and appreciated. It feels good to keep a promise! It feels good when someone keeps their promise! And isn’t that the main benefit of interacting with others…to feel good? Keeping promises spreads goodness and love in the world, both of which are greatly needed in the world. There is far too much selfishness and unkindness in the world. Far too many people are only looking out for themselves in this world and there just isn’t enough love and goodness. Perhaps because too many people don’t believe in the importance of keeping promises. People need to trust before they can love and be kind to each other and promises are a sure, quick way to build trust. They might be hard to keep but boy, the benefits of trust and love and goodness far outweigh their sacrifices or costs! Want to trust someone or be trusted by someone then make a promise and keep it!
And just because they can be hard to keep sometimes doesn’t mean they should be ignored either. Few things convey such heartlessness and lack of empathy as broken promises. All that hope, all that faith, all that love just thrown away with a broken promise! Not to mention all that potential trust and assurance. Such a waste! Relationships might not grow without promises but they’re not hurt as much as by broken promises. Far better to not make promises than to break them! The damage is often irreparable so make ‘em and keep ‘em!
Which makes our reading for today all the more relevant to us today. We live in a growingly distrustful and fearful world perhaps because we lack the faith and trust of people like Abraham, or Abram as he’s referred to in our reading. God hasn’t changed his name quite yet in the biblical narrative but know they are the same person. In a few chapters before our reading, God convinced Abram to leave his country and go into a foreign country so that he might become the “father of many nations.” Abram trusted in God and did as he was commanded. But then the logistics of such a promise started to sink in. How could Abram, a childless old man married to a barren woman, expect to be the “father of many nations” without a legitimate heir? God came to him again and reassured him that his descendants will number as many as the stars of the sky, all stemming from a legitimate, blood-related heir. Rather than scoff at the notion, Abram had faith in God and God’s ability to provide and Abram is declared righteous before God. Where did Abram’s deep faith and trust come from? Nowhere but the deep and abiding faith of God. God is always faithful in keeping his promises! Abram knew God would somehow keep his promise to Abram because He had always kept his promises before. Why wouldn’t God keep his promise to Abram? That is the God Abram knew, a faithful promise-keeping God.
And that is the God that we are called to know. People might avoid keeping promises. People might “keep-yet-not-keep”l promises. God always keeps his promises even if it means making the impossible possible. Abram and Sarai physiologically should not have been able to have children yet they were blessed with Isaac. The impossible was made possible! God keeps his promises! We can trust in God keeping his promises. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “for in him [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a ‘yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” (1:20) Again God made the impossible possible. Our infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing God entered into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ. Why? So that his full glory might be revealed to us. Recall what Joshua said to the elders of the Israelites. He had led them through the wilderness after Moses had died and gathered them once again right before his own death. Joshua said, “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.” (23:14) God led the Israelites out of slavery and through the wilderness, both seemingly impossible things to do. Why? To fulfill his promise to Moses.
Friends, we ought to make and keep promises because that’s what God does. It’s a quick and sure way to instill trust and love and goodness in all of our relationships. No matter how hard it is to keep them, no matter how tempting it is to avoid keeping them, stay true and faithful in keeping them. And by all means make sure everyone is clear about what keeping them entails! Let us be faithful to building our relationships with each other and with God through promises. Hebrews says, “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” (10:23) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.