“Problems, Promises and Possibilities”Dr. Jeffrey “Chad” Fetzer Genesis 15: 1-6 Year C – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – (Proper 14)
On the last September Saturday in the small town of Wetumka, Oklahoma a festival is held to commemorate a broken promise. The annual Sucker Day Festival celebrates the city residents and leaders who were “suckered” by a swindler selling tickets to a non-existent circus.
In the early 1950s, a man named F. Bam Morrison entered Wetumka and persuaded residents to put up front money on the promise that a traveling circus was coming to town. Morrison sold advance tickets while citizens prepared for the crowds with the purchase of food, beverages and souvenirs. The citizens of Wetumka lined the streets on the morning the circus parade was scheduled to march down Main Street. Nothing happened!
As it turned out Morrison had left Wetumka the night before, taking all the money he had collected from the unsuspecting townsfolk. Though there was no joy in Wetumka at the time, today Sucker Day allows folks the opportunity to chuckle at themselves and, in a larger sense, at how easily we can be can be taken in by a false promise.
Not all broken promises are deceptive in nature. The promises we make can be fractured for a variety of reasons. Regardless, some unfulfilled promises are easier to dismiss than others are they not? If I were to ask each of you to recall a promise broken to or by you it wouldn’t take long for a memory, perhaps several, to pop into your mind. Perhaps there are some memories that never leave.
Some may remember the time a parent promised to be at a ball game, but for whatever reason, they didn’t make it. Others might recall a promise of fidelity in a school-age relationship that was not kept. Still others might think of the promise to simply “do better next time” that never came to pass. There’s a problem with our promises. Many of our promises are hard to keep.
The problem is not limited only to personal relationships. Our business culture struggles with problem promises all too often. Recently, a major computer company introduced a new model of their popular tablet without a street mapping application from another company they had used in the past, promising that their own map application would be just as good, if not better. After millions of complaints of missing cities, inaccurate locations and blurry satellite imagery, the company reluctantly admitted that perhaps their promise of a better application was a bit optimistic.
Today there are even niche consulting firms that work with the concept of “promise management,” in order to help businesses stay consistent in how promises are used both inside and outside their organizations. Their rules for promise-making include:
1. Don’t over-promise. Promise just a little.
2. Get it in writing.
3. Provide a margin of error. “We’ll deliver in 2 weeks +/- 2 days.”
4. Be ready to fess up if you can’t follow through on your promise.
(The Ganssle Group, Promise Management, http://www.ganssle.com/articles/Promises.htm )
In this type of climate of spin and lowered expectations it should come as a surprise to no one why the word of a promise can carry so little weight in our world. It seems we tend to believe the old proverb by an unknown author that “A promise is a comfort for a fool.” Which is what makes this brief exchange between God and Abram in Genesis 15 all the more powerful and challenging for us to grasp.
It had been a difficult period of time for Abram as the narrative of chapters 13 and 14 suggest. In Genesis 13, Abram and his nephew Lot had chosen to go separate ways in order to keep the peace. Not only was this an emotional separating of kin for Abram, Lot chose to settle himself the lush river bottom country around the Jordan, leaving Abram the more difficult scrub country of Canaan to scratch out an existence. Then in Genesis 14 Lot and his family were taken captive by a group of foreign kings and Abram felt compelled to take a group of men and fight a pitched battle to secure Lot’s freedom.
By chapter 15 it had become all too clear to Abram that living in the “promised” land was not necessarily going to be easy. Promised Land living would at times be dangerous, and fulfillment of all God has said might take some time.
Understandingly, Abram began to wonder about his future, his descendants. Who will carry on the Abram family name? The harsh reality was at this point Abram had no family heir, no branch on the family tree to possess what God had promised him. Though God’s promise was wonderful, Abram could not help but think the promise would surely end with him. Because he could see no future beyond himself, he was filled with despair.
And when “the word of the Lord” came to Abram, the reassurance of God as Abram’s shield and reward, Abram responded with the futility of a man with no hope. “What does it matter what you give me God? I’m going to die someday and there’s no heir to inherit what you’ve promised.”
And almost instinctively, Abram did what any of us do when we begin to wonder if God’s word on the future can be trusted. Abram began to settle for something less than what God promised. He planned a future based on what he could see. He constructed an alternate story involving his servant, Eliezer, as heir. It wasn’t uncommon during this time for a childless couple to “adopt” a servant into their family to care for elders until they died. Their estate would then pass to the servant. This was the best Abram thought he could hope for.
But this wasn’t the first time Abram had tried to forge a solution to God’s unfathomable promises. Earlier, when circumstances had forced him to take his family to Egypt, Abram lied to Pharaoh about his wife Sarai in order to protect his own hide – said she was his sister. And in doing so, Abram had put God’s promise in jeopardy.
Whether it is Abram or ourselves, when we attempt to create our own solutions according to the perspective of the life we see and know, when we decide that we have to make things happen ourselves because God can’t possibly do it, we will always miss out. Though we gain what we can provide for ourselves, we miss out on all that God has promised for our lives.
God had more in mind than Abram knew. Instead of Abram’s inheritance plan, God offered an alternative. God offered Abram a promise, “You will have an heir, an offspring of flesh and blood.” More than that, God had him go outside and look at the stars, not a look at the stars from our light-polluted perspective, but rather a look at the galaxy in its fullest.
On vacation once, we discovered that the big island of Hawaii has an infrastructure designed with as little light pollution as possible. All outdoor lighting is extremely regulated due to the presence of the large observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea. We thought little about this until one night my family took a look at the sky just north of Hilo. It was a truly a dazzling display, with more stars than one will probably ever see in the US. It was a truly humbling, sacred sight. Looking into that beautiful sky full of stars, God promised Abram that the numbers of his offspring would rival that of the dazzling display he saw that clear night.
What a promise! What possibilities! God promised Abram more than that which Abram could provide for himself. And in doing so, God broke every rule of promise managing. God didn’t promise a little, God promised a lot, with delivery on God’s timetable, and no need of performance cushions or apologies.
Abram didn’t even get it in writing. Abram found himself face to face with a promise of more than he could even dream of. God’s word didn’t contain an explanation of how the promise will come to pass; only the declaration that it would. But the promise contained a choice. Abram had to trade in the plan he could control for the promise that was in every sense out of his control. Abram had to choose to live life for a time with nothing in hand but God’s promise to provide.
So what did Abram decide? The decision in verse 6 seems almost anti-climactic. We are simply told what Abram did . . . and what God did. What did Abram do? Abram believed. He trusted in the God of the promise. He trusted enough to believe what God said would come to pass without any evidence to support it.
His trust was by no means perfect. Abram would still mess up. Even so, Abram chose to live in a relationship of trust in God rather than in himself. And God credited righteousness and right standing to Abram. Abram was declared righteous by God because he trusted in Him who was righteous. And in this relationship of belief, trust and love, all kinds of new possibilities emerged through which God worked that Abram never considered, including a heir, a son from a barren wife. It would seem that Abram hadn’t considered that possibility. . . .
Could God be asking you today to believe and trust the one who promises more than we can ever imagine or accomplish ourselves. God’s promises to us open up new possibilities of relationship to Him as he works in us and around us.
Perhaps it has been easier to trust in your own ability to make it through life. If that is so you are settling for less than what God has promised you – what God has promised every one of us.
Perhaps you’ve been hurt or disappointed in the past.
Perhaps you feel God let you down, and you are not sure you want to trust that much again.
God knows your pain and stands with you in your grief. God sees the hopelessness you might see, and asks you to believe that, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
God’s promises call us into a new way of thinking and living. They never leave us on the sidewalk waiting for a parade that never comes. The God of the unbounded promises and new possibilities is reaching into your life today. May you reach back!
About the Writer:
Dr. Jeffrey “Chad” Fetzer is Pastor of New Haven Church in Lawton, Oklahoma. A native of Shawnee, OK, Chad is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.), Southwestern Baptist Seminary (M.Div.), and Brite Divinity School (D.Min). Chad and his wife, Tammy, are the parents of two sons, Josh and Jonathan. He enjoys Oklahoma State University athletics, playing on the “wii” with Jonathan, traveling, food, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Scripture and Music:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Jesus Shall Reign
Whiter Than Snow
Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet
Trust and Obey
All My Hope on God is Founded
Faith of Our Fathers
How Firm a Foundation
Only Faith (Joseph Martin)
Sing and Be Not Silent (McDonald)
The Heaven s Are Declaring (F.J. Haydn)
Honor and Glory (J.S. Bach)
Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying (J.S. Bach)
Keep Your Lamps (Andre Thomas)
Take Time to Be Holy
Keep Your Lamps
Refiner s Fire