Sermon Text: Genesis 12:1-9
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
Let us pray… Lord God, bless your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a word of power and peace to convert those not yet your own and to confirm those who have come to saving faith. May your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as you have promised, your Word may achieve the purpose for which you sent it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
When Beth and I were married we made promises to each other as a part of our marriage vows and I believe that we have been faithful to those promises. However, I also know that I have made promises at other times in my life and have not kept them.
We live a world filled with promises and although I would like to believe that people make promises with the intention of keeping them, I also know from my own experience that mostly, these promises are quickly laid aside. In fact, we have ditches filled with broken promises to repay debt, promises of children to do their homework or clean their rooms, promises to fix something in the house when you get around to it, promises to visit people or spend more time with the family. Broken promises litter our lives.
Is it any different in the Church? In the Church we also make promises. In baptism parents promise to faithfully bring their children to the services of God’s house, and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Confirmands and members of this congregation all promised among many things, to be here to live among God’s faithful people and to hear his Word and share in his supper. Last week elected Council members promised to accept and faithfully to carry out the many duties to which they were elected. However, many of these promises also find themselves lying in the ditch, discarded.
Now when we make these promises before God it is with the understanding that our relationship with God is not defined by our promises to God or our ability to keep them, but rather by God’s promises to us and his faithfulness to them. Yes, God is faithful and we, on the other hand, are too often faithless. Even with best intentions we will give less than our best to the work of His Church while God will always work for our good.
Someone once counted how many promises God has made to us in the Bible and this person came up with the number 7,487. I’m not sure whether this number is right or not, but I do know that all of God’s promises can be summed up under one promise: the promise to deliver us from the power of sin, death and the devil. This promise was made at the very beginning when God said to Adam and Eve:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15
This promise is known as the “protevangelium,” the first Gospel or Good News message. Here God promises to Adam and Eve and to us, that through the seed or offspring of Adam and Eve God would come between Satan and us and reconcile all people to Himself. It is this promise that runs through the entire story of the Old Testament. We heard this promise repeated today as God called Abram and said to him:
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3
This promise was made to a seventy-five-year-old, childless Abram and Abram heard this as a promise of a child for him. Even so, it would also become the promise through which the Messiah would come to save all people from their sins.
Now if you’ve ever read through the Old Testament you might quickly begin to wonder whether this promise would ever unfold given all the problems and horrible situations people got themselves into and yet, God works through even the worst situations to unfold His promise of salvation.
It is God’s desire that all should be saved and in John’s Gospel we hear of how God does this:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
It is God’s desire to bless every person with the forgiveness of sin, life and salvation through Christ and yet by nature we’d rather have almost anything else than this promise. Just think about your own life and what it has focused on. Has it been centered on God’s forgiveness in Christ or have your priorities, like most people, been focused on getting a good education, a well-paying job, saving money, building security, and maintaining health? Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. – Matthew 6:24
However, to obtain our goals we place our trust not primarily in God but in government, banks, insurance policies, schools, jobs, pension plans, families and well, mostly ourselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, these created things are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, they can be part of God’s blessing to us, but too often we fail to see the Creator who stands under them, sustaining them and instead, we place our trust in the created things. We see their idolatrous value to us especially when they are taken away. What would happen if these things were ripped away from us as happened with Job? How many us would turn against God? Or what will happen if the current Coronavirus arrives at our doorstep, taking our health away or the life of a loved one? How will we look at God then?
Or what if God called you to pick up and move halfway around the world? Would you? Many of our ancestors did. Perhaps it was the poor conditions of the day and the promise of a better land that led many them to leave the country of their birth and take that long arduous journey to this country. Even so, this was no easy journey, leaving behind what they knew, taking very little with them and for many, trusting God to go with them to this new land.
What if God would say to some of you, who are in your seventies and eighties, like He did to seventy-five year-old Abram (Genesis 12:1), “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you and the only promise you had was God’s promise to bless you. Would you go? Or how would you respond? Would it be with the same laughter that filled Abram and Sarai’s tent after they had heard this promise, the promise of a child in their old age?
On the other hand, did Abram really understand how big God’s promise was to him? Did he envision that pulling up stakes in Haran and moving to some promised land would four thousand years later result in people here in Ponoka calling him Father Abraham?
It was Abram who carried the Seed of Promise, the Christ in whom all nations would be blessed. Did he understand this? I’m not sure Abraham really saw anything more than the son God had blessed him with and yet Scripture says that Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham may not have been able to see the big picture, but he trusted God’s promise.
It is within the strength of God’s promise and God’s faithfulness living through the faith of Abraham that God prepared the way of salvation. Yes, Abram and Sarai would wander, as would their families and from them, the nation of Israel would arise, and a land would be given them. And within that land, in a tiny, insignificant family, living in a small town, Jesus Christ would be born. He would grow, be baptized, would call people to repentance and faith in the Gospel, but then he would die on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. On the third day though, he would rise and call his disciples to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. They would go and preach:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” – Acts 2:38-39
God’s promise – God’s plan of salvation has been unfolding throughout history, even using history at its best and at its worst. God’s promise of salvation, the Gospel of God’s mercy in Christ toward sinners has been fulfilled and is preached to all people, even to you here and now.
Do you realize that you are part of that great promise? You are part of the elect whom the Holy Spirit has called and gathered together, enlightened with His gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith so that you might live under God’s promise in Christ forever.
I know that some days its hard to believe this, especially when bad things happen. Abram at times certainly wondered whether he would ever have an heir. There may be days when you are depressed and angry, wondering whether God has forgotten you, whether God really cares about you.
That is why we return every day to God’s Word and why every Sunday we are gathered around the proclamation of that Word. We need what God is serving; this ongoing reminder of God’s promise to us; that God is in control; that He is faithful. Yes, God is at work and as God’s Word says:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
If there’s a Bible verse we all need to memorize it is the one from Romans 8(28):
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
What is God’s purpose, His plan and promise for you? It is to save you through the death and resurrection of Jesus, not so you can have all that this life has to offer, but that you may be rescued from sin, death, and the devil; from the condemnation of the Law, and from the wrath of God. God desires to save you that you may inherit all that God has for you in His eternal kingdom.
Abram and Sarai left Haran and went forward in faith so that today Jesus may come among us in Word and Sacrament in order to deliver His promise of grace to you whom the Holy Spirit has called and gathered here at Trinity ELC. Here Christ brings you the food of His body and blood that will preserve you in His promise unto life everlasting.
I wish I could say we will never break any of our promises to be here or to love God with all our lives and to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we will. But thanks be to God, He is faithful and He will never forget His promise to us; the promise He made to Abraham and his children forever; that promise He made to you in your Baptism; the promise to forgive your sins in the name of Jesus Christ and to raise you from the dead to life everlasting.
Trust in God’s promise in Christ and may it be counted to you as righteousness. Amen.
Grace be with you,