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Sermon for September 13, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7 and Mark 10:27

Genesis 18:9-15

They (the Lord) said to him (Abraham), “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Genesis 21:1

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.

Mark 10:27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

         A Promise to Remember

It’s been a little over twenty-five years since an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. It's hard to imagine the anguish, the pain, and the suffering that began in those four brief minutes of time.

In the midst of chaos and destruction, a father kept his promise to his son. He rushed to his son's school. But instead of a school, he found a shapeless heap of rubble. Imagine what went through his mind. What would have gone through your mind? Perhaps, shock would have crippled you as it did the other parents who were walking around dazed, clutching at their hearts and calling out their child's name. But in the case of this father, the sight of rubble and ruin only made him spring into action. He ran to the back corner of the building where his son's classroom used to be and began to dig. Why? What real hope did he have? What were the chances that his son could have survived such destruction? All he knew was that he had made a promise to always be there for his son. It was this promise that gave strength to his body and motivated him mentally.

As he began to dig, well-meaning parents tried to pull him out of the rubble saying: "It's too late!" "They're dead!" "There's nothing we can do!" The fire chief tried to pull him off the rubble by saying, "Fires and explosions are happening everywhere. You're in danger. Go home!" But this father had made a promise, and he was going to keep it!

The love this father had in his heart for his son kept him digging for eight . . . 12 . . . 24 . . . 36 hours. Then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his sons' voice crying for help. Immediately, he screamed, "ARMAND!"

He heard back, “Dad? It’s me.” There were fourteen kids left out of a class of 33, trapped in a triangle of safety amongst the rubble. “ The boy later told his father that he knew he would come for him, because he had promised.

         God’s promises are like that. God keeps God’s promises because God said God would.

We know that people do not always keep their promises. We’ve lived long enough to know that there are promises we’ve made that we did not keep. We’ve lived long enough to experience disappointment by someone who promised something to us that they did not do. We’ve lived long enough to know that not every expectation we have of others is something promised to us or that we have coming. We may not always know what we can count on from one another. But one thing we know for sure. God always keeps God’s promises.

Today we remember that God kept God’s promises through Abraham and Sarah. Our story from the book of Genesis is a hinge in history. Three faith traditions: Moslems, Christians and Jews, all claim the story of God’s promises through Abraham, considered by all as the father of faith. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have children as numerous as grains of dirt, but first they would need to travel to the land of Canaan. Already Abraham was in his seventies, but he and Sarah trusted God and traveled to this new land. Fast forward to his last twenty years of life, and Abraham and Sarah are now quite aged.

         They have all but forgotten God’s promise when God comes to them in the guise of a visitor. After Abraham extends middle-eastern hospitality of food and drink, God reminds Abraham once again that the promise will be fulfilled and his heirs will be as numerous as the stars.

         Sarah, to put it delicately, long past the way with woman, heard that the promise of God would still be fulfilled. And Sarah laughed. I’m not sure in another thirty years I’d think being pregnant was all that funny either, but Sarah laughed, whether in delight or disbelief we can’t be sure. Nevertheless, when she became pregnant and her son was born, she named him Isaac, which means laughter.

         And Isaac had sons, and his sons had sons, and daughters and the generations became as numerous as the stars, as God had promised, on down through the generations to a son named Jesus, born of promise.

         God keeps God’s promises. Let’s take a few minutes to consider what promises we can expect God to keep. Our Bible is filled with the promises of God. Today we’ll consider just a few of them.

In the Old Testament:

God promised to bless Abraham and, through his descendants, the whole world.  (Genesis 12:2-3). This promise, called the Abrahamic Covenant, pointed to the coming Messiah for whom Abraham looked (John 8:56).

God promised that if we search for God we will find what we’re looking (Deuteronomy 4:29). God is not playing hard-to-get. “Our God is near us whenever we pray to God” (Deuteronomy 4:7).

God promised protection for all God’s beloved children (Psalm 121). “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not be afraid.”

God promised that God’s love will never fail (1 Chronicles 16:34). God is faithful in every way.

God promised our sins can be forgiven, our prosperity restored, and our nation healed when turn away from selfish ambition and return to the promised blessings our God. (2 Chronicles 7:14).

In the New Testament:

God promises that all things work together for good to those who love and serve God faithfully (Romans 8:28). This is the broader picture that keeps us from being dismayed by present circumstances.

God promises new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away, the new is come.”

God promises peace when we pray (Phil 4:6–7). God’s peace will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ.”

God promised to supply our needs. Not that we get everything we want, but we are more valuable than the birds, and our Heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6:26).

God promises freedom from the tyranny of temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to humankind, but God is faithful, and with the temptation will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Through the Gospels:

God promised to be with us through the Word of God made flesh. Jesus came into the world bringing God’s rest and relief from life’s sufferings. “Come unto me”, Jesus said, “all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus promises abundant life to those who follow Him (John 10:10). Following Jesus brings us unimaginable fulfillment.

Jesus promises eternal life to those who trust Him (John 4:14).

There are many more promises of God that find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

God's promises never fail. In a world where family betrays family member, spouses cheat on one another, business owners cut corners, and some corrupt elected officials lie in order to manipulate what they want, it is encouraging to know that God never leaves us or forsakes us. We sometimes break our promises to one another, and we sometimes forget God, but God’s love never fails. God never gives up on us.  God’s promises encourage us and give us hope.

         When we trust God to keep God’s promises, our lives are transformed. We want to be worthy of the unconditional love that uttered us into being and that accompanies us still. God’s promises make it possible for us to live as our best selves, and that changes everything. We see God’s possibilities all around us. For example:

         A man named Chuck Ritz said he made a promise almost 14 years ago never to forget the victims killed on 9/11 and the sacrifices made by the first responders and so many others on that infamous day in U.S. history.

That promise is on full display along Putty Hill Avenue in Parkville, Maryland. Along a 3/4-mile stretch from Harford Road to the fire station, a "Path of Honor" has been decorated with 2,977 flags, one to represent each victim of 9/11.

"Everything we do is in remembrance of 9/11," said Ritz, the founder of the Hope and Peace Foundation” "Our motto is 'keeping the promise.' Right after 9/11 we made a promise never to forget not only the lives on that day but also of the first responders and those that worked on the piles in the months that followed."

Chuck Ritz kept his promise to always remember the sacrifices made on 9/11. He’s a person of integrity and his word. Because God keeps God’s promises to us, we can keep our promises too.

Consider Alex Sheen, the Founder of “because I said I would”, the international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept. Sparked by the loss of his father, Alex began sending promise cards to anyone who requested them at no cost. Since his father’s passing on September 4th, 2012, “because I said I would” has sent over 3.1M promise cards to over 150 countries. Alex’s commitment to the betterment of humanity has inspired millions around the world.

Alex’s promises include:

1  Walking 245 miles across the entire state of Ohio in under 10 days to fulfill a promise to the three Cleveland women who were held captive for 10 years.

2  Committing to volunteer at 52 different nonprofit organizations in a single year and honoring his word.

3  Promising children with cancer trips to Disneyland and personally delivering 100 tickets.

4  Driving through the night to deliver disaster relief aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Volunteering in Ferguson, Missouri on Thanksgiving after looters destroyed small businesses.

         How will you respond to God’s promises?

Today you have received a promise from God. It may have been a promise from scripture that you were eager to hear. It may have been an envelope with resources that God promises to multiply. God’s promise may have come through prayer, that God will respond to that which most deeply troubles you. Though God’s promises are numerous as the stars, know this.

As God kept God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah, God will keep God’s promises to you. As Jesus looked at his disciples with love so long ago, Christ says to us still, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Thanks be to God. Amen