This sermon was preached by Minister Erica Brooks of Liberation Christian Church at University United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 22, 2014.
This is the second Sunday after Pentecost, and I’m following along in the Lectionary of the Universal Church. I selected one of the Old Testament Scriptures, a story of which I was familiar, but for some reason, it read differently than it did before. It’s amazing how Bible stories we know so well can speak to us in such different ways. I attribute that to the Holy Spirit who illuminates these Scriptures to give the message I need, and I would like to share one with you this morning.
For those who are not familiar with this family matter, Sarah and Abraham was an elderly couple, well beyond child bearing age. Sarah herself was barren even as a young woman, as she never bore children. But God promised them a son. But out of doubt, mistrust and impatience, Sarah instructed Abraham to conceive a child with the maidservant, Hagar. As a result, Ishmael (who is never called by name in our Scripture reading) is born. Sarah and Abraham eventually have a son, Isaac, about 10 years later. So here, Sarah has become intolerant of the situation because it has become uncomfortable and threatening. She sees Isaac, who is in his mid-teens now teasing his little brother…well, Sarah’s son who is a toddler. Not even sure if she truly acknowledge them as brothers. From the bit of history of this situation, there is a lot of underlying bitterness surrounding this particular incident. The situation has become quite intolerable. It’s like when you’re fine with your brother-in-law staying with you for a while then it becomes uncomfortable and threatening. Furthermore, Sarah doesn’t want Isaac to share in any of her son’s inheritance.
What we have here is situation that originated with a promise but took some twists and turns before it would be fulfilled. There are many lessons that could be pulled from this story, but I was led to highlight the power of promises.
A promise is defined as “an agreement to do or not to do something; indication, as of a successful future.” My eight year-old daughter defined is as “when someone tells you that they will do something, and if they don’t do it, you can’t trust them for a while.” Promises aren’t necessary for mundane agreements. There is a higher level of meaning, expectation and commitment when something is “promised.” But any of us who have been on this Earth for any amount of time knows that promises can be broken. And there are very few experiences that are as painful as a broken promise.
As Believers, we know something about never-failing pledges that brings us comfort and joy. We know something about “flawless faithfulness” that allow us to rest with blessed assurance. We know about unwavering objectives that always result in our higher good. As Believers, we know something about the promises of God.
Scriptures supports the character of God when it comes to promises.
Psalms 145:13 tells us that “the Lord is faithful to all of His promises and loving toward all He has made.”
2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
Hebrews 10:23 tells us to “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.”
These are just a few Scriptures that display God’s consistency and commitment to us through promises. Promises and covenants are meant to enhance and protect relationships. That’s good news to me when I think about my relationship with God. The more of His promises that come to fulfillment, the deeper my relationship with Him goes and the more secure I feel. But we may know a few people whose relationship with God might have been negatively affected or altogether disconnected because they failed to see the consistency or feel the commitment He made. Oftentimes this occurs during that waiting period that feels like forever.
Our process of experiencing God’s promises sometimes begins with a petition. We boldly come to the throne of grace and lay our needs before Him. This isn’t the only thing we must do. We have to actually claim the promise. This response is rooted in our faith. And whether you claim it or not, it still exists. Ever hear about unclaimed lottery winnings or unclaimed prizes? They are still there whether claimed or not. Except with God, we don’t need a claim ticket to receive His promises. All we have to do is trust, believe and be patient with His timing. The promise is ours. We have to consider our whether or not our need is in alignment with what God wants to fulfill. Is it a legitimate need or a selfish need? Will it bring Him honor? Will it encourage others? Has the Holy Spirit given you peace about it? These are all important questions to consider. What’s also important is what you do between claiming and receiving the promise. This is where many people struggle because doubt, mistrust and impatience. Sound familiar? It is during this time when some step out of the will of God and try to help God along with fulfilling His promise. These times may come in the form of a transition, a loss, a lack, a change, an unexpected circumstance. We might refer to them as “desert times” or “wilderness experiences.” There uncomfortable and threatening. But we don’t realize that these are opportunities for growth. God is here, is with us, and hears our cries. He promises to never leave or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
But we have to be careful that we know the difference between our promises and the promises for someone else. Again, it is in alignment with God’s will for YOUR life. Worked with a 5 year-old who was disappointed that his wish for a superhero costume didn’t magically appear after tossing a penny in the fountain. I didn’t quite know what to say to this lil one, as I didn’t want to rip his lil hope in wishes to shreds so off the cuff, I told him that only OUR wishes come true and that he wished someone else’s wish. Mom gave me a high five with her eyes. In that moment I learned something too. “What God has for me IS for ME!” Some of you might be familiar with that expression. God had a son for Abraham and Sarah, but they wanted to help God along with fulfilling His promise. And what a mess that created, but God will bless our mess sometimes, won’t He? Bless our MESS! He will still bless that which was done outside of the covenant…outside of His will. Now this doesn’t mean that we make a habit of making a mess and looking for God to bless it. But what God did for Abraham, (as one commentary states) was took the “tangled thread of Abraham’s life, weaving them into His own Divine pattern and overriding everything for good.” I have had tangled thread in my life a time or two…or much more than two, and God wove them into His Divine pattern for which I am so grateful. I’m sure some of you may be just as grateful for the untangling of your threads.
Let’s go back to our Scripture. God agrees with Sarah’s jealousy over Hagar and Ishmael, as noted by His instruction to Abraham to send them away. Although, it was Sarah’s bright idea for Abraham to go to Hagar since she couldn’t bear children? I’m sure regretted that poor judgment everyday of Ishmael’s life. But God wove that situation into His Divine pattern. And in the end, He still honored His promise. He knows what He has promised, He can't lie, and He can't forget. He delivered the promise on time…in His time, as He does with all of us. Who else can make promises like that? Yet God still found favor with Ishmael despite not being a part of His original plan, but still a part of A plan. Ishmael is blessed by God as indicated in Genesis 17:20. He receives his inheritance. But the covenant was established with Isaac. He was the promise.
To illustrate that Ishmael was still part of a plan; his life was spared while literally in the wilderness with his mom. Hagar left him under the bush to die, but God (being the protector that He is) heard both of their cries and provided for them. He had to open Hagar’s eyes so that she could see the well of water. While in our own wilderness experiences, we fail to see that God has fulfilled His promise. He has to open our eyes so that we may see. And regardless of what see or fail to see, we know that by faith and by Divine will, we have a Promise Keeper in God.
Copyright Minister Erica Brooks, 2014.