Promises, Promises by Bill Clough

July 12, 2015

Genesis 12: 1-3 (1st call) Genesis 15: 1-6 (reiteration of the call)


Abraham was God’s friend, the pioneer of our faith.  The first real follower of God — and he had all kinds of trouble. 


God’s Call


God’s call to Abram (not Abraham yet) came out of the blue.  Abe was minding his own business; married, prosperous, living in Ur and God initiated a call, giving him a call and a promise. 


What was the call?  Get up and go!  Where?  “To the place I will show you.”  Why so undefined? 


Some things just can’t be told. 

E.g. marriage: If I ever hear somebody say “I now pronounce you man and wife,” I think, liar!  At least the ceremony I usually use only says you’re married according to the witness of the Church and the laws of the state – a little more qualified.  A ceremony does not make you married, what they’ve done is publically announce their intention to become married over the years. 

Raising children: Prior to having children I pictured my parenting as including patience with their stages, playing together, serious talks, modeling good behavior, taking advantage of teachable moments.  But parenting has to be done when you’re tired, distracted, stressed, not at your very best, over a long period of time, to people with minds of their own.  (Mike Tyson – “everybody’s got a plan, until they get hit in the face.”) 

The world of work, losing a loved one, getting fired, enduring illness, facing surgery. 

Nations can learn too.  I think it’s arguable that, from the Spanish Empire to the American Empire, we’ve become more humane.  American race relations certainly need work but I don’t think anybody would argue that they’re the same as they were just 50 years ago.  The book of Habakkuk opens this way:  Habakkuk says.  “2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted”.  And God replied, “5 Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded!  For I am going to do a work in your days that you would not believe even if I told you.” (Habakkuk 1:1-5)


The Church continues to struggle to learn.  It’s a lifestyle.  In the Catholic document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past they refer to the Church as “at the same time holy and always in need of purification and incessantly [pursuing] the path of penance and renewal." 


Trusting God, like repentance, is not a one and done sort of thing. 


— You can’t learn to be a Christian from a book – the Bible included. 

— You can’t learn to handle stress except by being stressed. 

— You can’t learn to trust God except by being put in a position where you must rely on God. 


You don’t learn virtues like lovingkindness, or trust, or justice, or perseverance so you can know about them; you learn them so you can practice them under fire. 


Which is why we should be careful what we pray for – prayers for patience, for example.  “I prayed for patience and my car wouldn’t start, there was a traffic backup on the way to work, my meeting was delayed, I got behind somebody with 500 coupons at Publix.”  When you tell God what you want, you get opportunities to practice.  And, when we fail, we get a chance to try again until it becomes second nature. 


God’s call to Abram was vague for another reason.  It wasn’t just spoken to him; it was spoken for your and my benefit too. 


Abraham set out not knowing where he was going and we do too.  All decisions of life are made on the basis of evolving conditions.  Nobody knows what any job is like, what a town is like, what a person is like until you’ve been there for a while.  And even then the job, town, or person changes.  You never arrive at life, life unfolds. 


Ah, but what about the promise? 


The promise was lavish — Abraham was already rich, but to riches God added immortality and worthiness.  “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” You will have more children than the stars in the sky.  The promise was extravagant, the delivery must have seemed pretty poor. 

No child.  1 yr, 2 yr, 5 yr, 10 yrs, 20 yrs — no child of promise. 

Finally, when Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100, God says OK now, 1 child.  Why so little so late? 

Partly for us.  For our encouragement, because we know the rest of the story.  When we feel God isn’t delivering on a promise remember.   

God promises Abraham more descendants than the stars in the sky.  On a clear night in the near east there are about 6,000 visible stars.  Today the children of Abraham are 50 Million Jews, 650 Million Muslims, 1.5 Billion Christians. 

Do not despair, if you give your life to God, God will come through.  If your career isn’t what you thought God will yet be faithful.  Maybe not the way you thought — which is probably a good thing — but God will come through. 


Jesus went through betrayal, arrest, torture, and execution believing the promises of God.  Anything really worth doing takes effort, struggle, work.  As Jesus said, it is in losing yourself that you find yourself. 


With the call of Abram a promise was made; the birth of Isaac was a major step along the way.  But God’s promise that, through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed continues to evolve.  With Jesus, the promise, the Covenant was extended to us, to the nations, the gentiles.  And with the resurrection, far off over the horizon, there was a convulsion in the fabric of the universe like the heaving of the bottom of the sea – and right now, from over the horizon there is a tidal wave of blessings building and the Kingdom of God rushing toward us.  There will come a day when it will hit like the blazing sun, like Christmas morning, like winning the lottery.


Don’t give up, don’t despair.  Someday, some way, God’s plan is working out — and by the grace of God it won’t be what any of us imagined.  It’ll be better.