WAITING FOR GOD’S PROMISE
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, Quebec. March 16, 2003. Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22.
When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.
– Genesis 17:1-2
I wonder how many of us here have ever had a sense of being promised something by God, and wondered when it would come about. Has this ever happened to you? At some time in your life did you feel that God was making a promise to you? I don’t know what that promise might have been. Perhaps it was for a child, such as Abram was promised. Perhaps it was for a job, or a spouse, or deep faith, or something else. And I don’t know what form the promise would have taken – whether, like Abram, a promise of God being present and talking with you like one person to another, or perhaps hearing a voice, or seeing writing in the sky. Or maybe it was simply a dawning awareness of God’s message for you. It may have come during a time of prayer, or in some special spiritual experience, or even in the mundane moments of the everyday.
But however it may have happened, is it something that has taken place for some of us here? You know, I think we might be surprised how many people have had some such experience of God.
Now let me ask you another question. If you are one of the people who has had some sense of God making a promise to you, let me ask you: Was that promise answered, or are you still waiting for the answer? Has the promise been kept, or are you still waiting? Here again, I think that Abram’s experience is not too unusual.
You see, Abram and Sarai were not able to have children, and we know that in those times there was a stigma that went with people – with women, in particular – who didn’t have or couldn’t have children. We can imagine their desire for a child – their wanting to be parents, and in those days your security in you old age also depended on your family. And God had promised them a child. In fact, God had promised that their descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.
Well, we don’t know how long they had been waiting for the birth of a child, but if we flip back to Chapter 12, we read that Abram was 75 years old when God spoke to him and promised a child. And so God’s promise had been made to a couple of senior citizens that we would think were well beyond the age of procreation.
But Abram had believed God, and had continued to believe him as the years clocked by. We can imagine Abram and Sarai wondering when this marvelous promise would be kept, when they would finally have the child that God had promised them. And we can also imagine that after a few years Abram might think that he had not heard right, or that he had been dreaming, and it was not God speaking at all.
And now our reading today begins by saying that Abram was ninety-nine years old, and God again came and made this promise. And God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah – which at that time was an indication that something important was happening in your life. But when God came to Abram – now Abraham – and made this promise again, what did Abraham do? He laughed. We read in verse 17 that “Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”
Abraham had been waiting for 24 long years for God’s promise to be fulfilled, but it seemed that all he was getting was to hear the promise repeated. And yet, that promise was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac – whose name means laughter. It was fulfilled in God’s time and after both Abraham and Sarah no longer believed it was possible.
You know, there are times when it is like that with you and me. There are times when we give up on ever seeing God’s promise fulfilled – when we too find it laughable to even consider it any more. But in God’s time and in keeping with God’s purposes, that promise is kept. It is not kept on our timetable, but it is kept in God’s time. And it is not kept in the way we might imagine, nor perhaps in the way we might like, but it is kept. It is kept in God’s way, in God’s time, and according to God’s purposes for our lives. The challenge for you and me is to recognize – to discern – when and how God is keeping his promise.
In the reading from Romans, it is stated that God kept his promise because of the faithfulness of Abraham and Sarah. After all those intervening centuries, it was their faith that was remembered and valued. And this faithfulness is the legacy that you and I can participate in today, and that we can pass on to others.
In the devotional book called The Upper Room Disciplines, a woman named Cecile Adams suggests some things for our reflection based on this scripture. I would like to share some of them with you now. She asks,
“What does God keep repeating that you have difficulty hearing?”
“What promise of God do you find most laughable?”
“When do you find yourself doubting what God will do?”
“What blessing are you promised about your role in God’s future?”
And in our prayers, she suggests,
“Quietly listen to God’s response to the question that is the most difficult for you to answer.”
“Confess God’s promise that you find the most difficult to accept. Ask God to provide what you need to live as if that promise is already being fulfilled in your life. Listen for God’s response, and close the prayer as you choose.”
May these suggestions be helpful to each of us as we wait for God’s promises. Amen.