The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
July 29, 2018
“A Promise Is A Promise”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Karen Antico died on Wednesday evening. Karen is Sue Zander’s sister. Her mom is Velma Koinzan. Karen died from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.
It was a few years ago that after not seeing Karen for a number of Sundays in a row I gave her a phone call. Her response to me was quite direct, “I’m not coming back to church.” I asked why. Did something happen? She told me that she could no longer drive and couldn’t get to church. So I brought church to her.
When I saw her it was obvious that she was not as she had once been. But she could still walk. She could engage in conversation. She could tell me who were in the pictures near the fire place. But her ability to play a round of golf or take a trip to Arizona for the winter was over.
Over the last year, maybe two, her abilities decreased. She wasn’t mobile anymore. Her eyes didn’t focus. She eventually lost most of her verbal skills. The two way conversation became a one way conversation.
I spoke to her husband, Bill, after her death. I told him that he had shown me what deep love really is. Bill was Karen’s primary care giver. He moved her from the bed to the bathroom to the living room, or wherever she needed to go. He fed her. Bathed her. When he couldn’t be present he made sure another person was available to be with her.
I commended Bill for how he cared for Karen. His reaction, “Well, I promised her.” Everything that he had done was built on a promise. “Better or worse; richer or poorer; in sickness and in health…”, right? A promise is a promise.
But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes a promise is a promise if its convenient, if it is easy, if it works out. Have you ever had someone promise you something only to find out that the promise wasn’t going to be kept? They were just empty words. You might even have the courage to say, “Didn’t you say this?” “Didn’t you promise me?” “I didn’t really mean it.” “Sorry, It didn’t work out.”
But you know what hurts worse than someone not keeping their promise to us is when we can see, clearly, that we have not kept our promise to them. We didn’t live up to our word. We spoke but never followed up on what we said. Others can look at us and say, “You promised…” And we know that we didn’t live up to our word. A promise is a promise… but a lie is a lie.
These opening chapters of Genesis are passages of promises. Genesis 9, our text, following the flood that covered the world was God’s promise of what would happen next. “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth….I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:11,13)
He spoke a word of promise after everything He created. He said of it. “And it was good.” He promised that He had thought through with His genius and then made all things. He would say about man, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) He promised that He would make us to have great honor – to be made after His very image. A promise is a promise. He kept His word.
God’s promise continues through the book of Genesis. Later God would pick one guy, Abraham, and give him a promise, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2) And God did just that. The Old Testament is about God keeping His word to Abraham. The New Testament tells us that Jesus, who was a descendant of Abraham, came to keep that eternal promise.
But God’s promise isn’t just for good. Genesis 9 tells us about the covenant, the promise that He made that He would never destroy the world by a flood. But God also promises repercussions for lives that rebel against His will. He sent the rainbow only after He had sent the flood. His grace came after His judgment.
Genesis 6 is a picture of God’s heart, now broken. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7) A few verses later this was His promise, “I have determined to make an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13) A promise is a promise. God kept His promise. The whole earth, by a massive flood was changed.
When we find our self far short of being the person God has called us to be through loving Him with all of our being, making His will our very own, we find that God promises our end. When we find our self loving self and finding very little of it to give to others, we need to also know the promise of God concerning that life which is so far from what God has called us to be. “A man reaps what he sows. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from that flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7b-8)
A promise is a promise. When God speaks a word He truly means it. When He speaks a word about living by His will and gives a word of judgment, be assured He is speaking from a pained heart. But His promise of grace and forgiveness is much greater than His wrath. When you see a rainbow you can speak about God’s promise. But there is something much greater than the rainbow. It is the cross. There is the promise of love. There is the promise that God has entered this battle for man’s own soul. Before we have the promise of no flood in Genesis 9 we have the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3. God spoke to the devil, the serpent, after the devil had lied to Adam and Eve, and gave His promise, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)
This is the first promise of the Gospel!! The devil would strike the heel of the seed of the woman – Jesus – but He would take His foot and crush that serpent’s head. God promised it. He kept His word. On Good Friday we see a deadly bite from the devil but we see a crushing blow from Jesus upon all the lies and deception and accusations of the devil. A promise is a promise and Jesus kept God’s word.
Somewhere between 20-30 years ago I heard a sermon title that has stuck with me. Though I don’t remember the sermon and I don’t know who the preacher was, the title was catchy, “The Man Who Left With A Word In His Pocket.” It was based on Luke 7, the account of the faith of the centurion. A centurion, a leader of 100 soldiers, had one of his own who was deathly ill and this leader sent some folks to get Jesus to make his servant better. But then he sent another group to Jesus telling Him that he was not worthy of having Jesus come under his roof. Here’s where the sermon title came into play. “Lord, just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Luke 7:7b) The man who left with only a word in his pocket.
Isn’t that all we need? A word in our pocket? A promise from our God? A promise is a promise especially when it comes from God Himself. He can’t lie. He won’t lie.
Here’s a promise: “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Here’s another one: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)
Or, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16a) Here’s a promise, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)
Sometimes all you have to face the difficulty in life or the pain in your soul or the disappointment that exists is a Word of God that you stuck in your pocket. Put it there. It is God’s word to you. After all, a promise is a promise. God always keeps His promises to us!! Amen!!