Word of the Week

A sermon preached at Springfield Christian Church on Jeremiah 33:14-16

How many times in life has someone made a promise to you?

It happens every week, if not every day, doesn’t it?

We’re at the dry cleaners and the woman behind the counter promises our clothes will be ready on Thursday.

We’re at work, and a co-worker promises us an expense report document by Friday.

We’re at home and our spouse promises to take the garbage out during a tv commercial break.

AND how many times in all of this promise making do we find ourselves disappointed?

Our son promises to meet us for dinner at 7 but calls at 6:30 to cancel.

Our best friend promises to come visit us for Thanksgiving but emails us a week before to say she has made other plans.

Our mother promises to stop nagging us about the way we clean our house and then gives us scrubbing brushes for Christmas.

Promises broken.

And in many relationships the cycle continues and continues and continues.

I have a friend who always makes big promises to show up to help me with projects only to be at least an hour late. Sometimes she’s two hours late and even more often a couple days late.

It’s gotten so bad that now we refer to her as the girl who “will be late to her own funeral.”

Promises, you see, can be so easily broken. Our word (as much as we say it is our word) is not always our word.

And with this true, it can be difficult to internalize scripture passages like the one before this morning as it begins by saying “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made.”

Yet, we aren’t so sure about this type of bold faith.

We aren’t so sure about a message of restoration on earth.

For our world is just too unpredictable when tragedies like Paris happen on average Friday nights.

It’s just too scary when civilian planes get shot down in Egypt just because.

It’s just too full of broken dreams when national and state borders remain closed to refugees out of fear.

Our world, as we are experiencing it right now is not a place that naturally breads a lot of hope in promises when politicians and world leaders make them every day and break them the next.

To this sentiment, the original hearers of this text would be right there with us. They’d been beaten down in hopelessness too. For these hearers were a ragged, scattered group of Jews living during the Babylonian exile. And it was a time in Israel’s history when a mood of despair was much more the norm. They were refugees.

Their homeland was in ruins.

Their temple rituals no longer drew them together.

Their God, who used to be the ONE consistent thing in their life, felt distant and angry.

So for Jeremiah to speak in the positive about the fulfillment of a promise (when his previous messages were all about judgment) was unbelievable.

And Jeremiah said: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The specific word of promise came to the house of Judah (known as the good child gone bad) AND to the house of Israel (known as wayward son) saying:

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up from David.”

Or as commentator Kate Huey puts it: “Jeremiah doesn't say that things might get better, or could be better, or that [they] should be optimistic about future possibilities. The prophet says that the days are surely coming – and you can count on it because God is the one making this promise.”

I want to pause here and say this, when we read text like this, especially during the Advent the temptation is to immediately skip to talk about the coming birth of Jesus. And it wouldn’t be Advent, of course, if we didn’t read scriptures like this. But how much do you and I miss out on IF we don’t stay with the text as it was created for it’s first audience.

And what a HUGE promise this was for the Israelites! For much like we all have our own version of “the good ole days” and longing for it, Israel’s good ole days was and always would be the reign of David.

So to promise that a righteous branch would come from David’s line was equal to THE best possible future these hearers could have imagined!  For throughout the Hebrew scriptures being blessed from David’s line was THE chief sign of God’s favor.

So, wow!

And verse 16 tells us by which what time this branch will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Or in other words, the way the promise is going to be fulfilled through your merit, Israel. God is going to fulfill this promise through righteousness that could only come from the Lord.

PAY-RainbowAs I was working on this sermon on the plane on Friday, coming home from Kenya heading back to the US, I was struck by the beauty before me at the moment of take off.

As our plane was descending into the clouds, a rainbow appeared just off in the horizon. It was a glorious, beautiful, rainbow, one of the most glorious ones I’ve ever seen.

And as I looked at it, with the word of “I will fulfill my promise” from Jeremiah 33 in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the story that begun in Genesis 6 that is probably very familiar to us. God sends floods to all the earth. God saves one righteous man, Noah and his family through that giant boat. Then after the flood is over says this to Noah, “Let this rainbow be a sign unto you of my promise that I will never send a flood to destroy the earth again.”

And it’s a promised fulfilled until this day, isn’t it?

A flood has never destroyed the earth again.

You see, in the eyes of God, a promise is a promise.

It is a serious thing. Promises given by God are not like the promises that fellow human being make to us and break so easily to us. Promises given by God are for reliable.

And just like it was a word for the Israelites, I believe there’s a message right here for us. To all of us today struggling with broken dreams, unfavorable lots and fair weather friends, God’s heart says to our hearts:

I will fulfill my promise to never leave nor desert you.

I will fulfill my promise to never tempt you beyond what you can bear.

I will fulfill my promise to never stop loving you.

And the list could go on with all the other promises made throughout scripture.

But here’s the thing about the timing of the fulfillment.

I am about to say something that I don’t like very much and I can imagine that you might not like either . . .

God’s promises are often not fulfilled in the time-table that you and I want them to be fulfilled in. But this does not make them any less true.

I’ll say it again. God’s promises are often not fulfilled in the timetable that you and I want them to be fulfilled in. But this does not make them any less true.

Again this is where faith comes in.

This, my friends is exactly what the season of Advent is all about, pausing to remember God’s timing—and it’s completely countercultural to what is going on out there on the city streets and in the malls which already pronounced Christmas over and put out Valentines decorations yesterday.

No, in the church during this season, we stay close to every moment, making the most of every single moment of what can be learned while we are:



And believing that God will indeed fulfill ALL of God’s promises to us.

For what we see in front of us is never the full story.

IMG_7741On Thursday, my husband and I shared a Christmas party (a little bit early) with the 100+ children who are a part of an orphanage in the Dagoretti sums of Nairobi.

One of the things I like best about the programs run by this children center is they believe that no child, no matter their age or disability is ever to be left behind.

There’s a group of young men, mostly in their 20s and 30s who have aged out of the residential center for younger children but are unable to care for themselves because of their extreme disabilities. So, a new house was created for them called the Hardy home.

One of my favorite of the members of the Hardy home is a man, Martin who is legally blind.

Over the past several years that I have gotten to know Martin, he’s always asked for one thing when it comes to Christmas presents with a bright smile on his face. “I want a talking watch,” he says. “I want a watch that tells me the time.”

Of course, my husband and I were listening to Martin’s repeated requests for a talking watch. But come to find out they are hard to find.

No shop in Kenya sold any. And no jewelry store I ever went into in the US ever had one in stock. So years passed. For the past several years, I kept asking Martin, wouldn’t he like something else. Actually trying to prod him toward something easier to find like cologne or a computer game . . .

“No.” He kept saying, “One day I’ll get a talking watch” he proclaimed.

So we kept looking. And finally, this year, thanks to an extensive online search, we found one. We couldn’t believe it. It was a battery operated, talking watch.

So when the moment came to present the gifts at the Christmas party, you should have seen the joy on Martin’s face and all of his housemates when the watch box was opened and it resounded, “It’s 2:30 pm.”

Martin so proud. We could hardly keep him sitting down. For all Martin wanted to jump up and down and up and down and say, “My talking watch, my talking watch.”

So for many of us participating in this moment of this gift, we also felt hope born in us anew.

If a young man with disabilities in a remote part of Nairobi with no means of income can wait and hope and ask for what he wants with such clarity, believing in his heart that ONE DAY it would happen, so could we!

And so can you, my friends!

We serve a God who fulfills all God’s promises.

We serve a God who never lets even death be the last word.

We serve a God who brings light to even the darkest of nights.

We serve a God who gives our terror filled world hope.

The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill my promise.

So let’s not stop waiting, waiting and praying. It’s such an important season of the year to practice this kind of hope.

For as Edward Hayes wrote in A Pilgrim’s Almanac, "Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace."

Do you desire more peace, more love, more joy for our world?

For the days are surely coming! Let us hope together believing in the One who will and does fulfill promises.

Thanks be to God.


Promises in the Night Lent Sermon Series

I Will Remember You: Genesis 9: 8-17 with Mark 14:10-21

Can you remember the last time you got forgotten, left out of something you should have been included in or felt altogether betrayed by someone you trusted?Anyone experience such this week? There can be no more lonely feeling when someone acts without concern for your feelings, especially in a public forum.

And, if we were to take time this morning and share such stories, all of our tales would be different. But, there would be one thing in common and that is, we all have "I was not remembered" stories. Somehow being mistreated by those who love us most happens to be part of what it means to be human-- a world where all is not as it should be.

And, certainly Jesus-- as we examine his life as it was lived here on earth-- 100% identifies with us in his shared humanity. Though he was called, "Emmanuel, God with us," Jesus was not a man immune from some of life's deepest pains of betrayal.  He certainly knew what it was like to feel left out.

In the gospel lesson we heard read at the beginning of the service this morning, taken from Mark 14, we read of one such moment in Jesus' life when he experienced a great loss. And it is in the moment  of our text that we begin to see Jesus' dark night of the soul unfold.

For three years of learning, of traveling and of serving alongside of him, Jesus particularly chose each companion for the journey. No choice was random. No choice was made without care. No choice came from Jesus simply picking just anybody he saw when he woke up one morning.  No, there was a greater plan. Each disciple came to the super 12 dream team with just the right gifts for the tasks at hand. And most of all, when Jesus called each, he loved each one. He loved them so much that he desired to take the time to invest in their lives in a deep way.  In particular, with the disciple, Judas, Jesus trusted him enough to make him the chair of the finance committee-- a great responsibility.

And it would be Judas, a leader among the group,who went to the chief priests and promised to help plot Jesus' death. (And we all know that dreadful things can happen when money and power begin to mix). No loyalty. No remorse. No gratitude for all that Jesus had done for him. Simply, Judas, a close friend would betray him. Therefore, Jesus' last supper with his followers, a meal that we remember and celebrate to this day, would become tainted by Jesus' words of, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me-- one who is eating with me."

Hear this: Jesus did not even get his last supper in peace-- even death row prisoners get better than this! Judas-- not a naysayer in the crowd, not a haughty religious teacher, not even a Roman solider, but one of Jesus' beloved sitting around his supper table turned against him. Betrayal ran deep. It was a dark night. It was a very dark night indeed for Jesus.

Over the course of the next couple Sundays throughout the season of Lent, we're going to sit with Jesus in some of these very dark moments. We'll do this to see what we all can uncover about the "nights" in our lives too. 

We began this conversation, if you were able to make it, almost two weeks ago at our Ash Wednesday service. We began by sitting in the darkness. Realizing that as we turned out the lights and sat in the pitch dark, past sun down, that even in a sanctuary with little natural light-- there was still light. Even if light was faint or seemingly small-- light was still with us.

With this metaphor as a guide for us today and for the next couple of weeks, let's ask ourselves, as we sit with Jesus in this moment of betrayal, is there any hope for us in such similar experiences? Or are there times in our lives when we are simply screwed and without hope at all?

Using our Old Testament lesson as our "promise text" for today, let's uncover how in the most desperate of life-destroying places, we serve a God who says to us always, "I will remember you."

What we get as we dive into the lection taken from Genesis 9, is the happy ending of a story which I believe most of us know.  When I say, Noah you say, "ark?" Right? If we spend any time in church as children, the Noah story is one that we most certainly learn if not from popular culture or even the recent movie, Evan Almighty.

In the "kids version" of this Bible tale, we learn that God loved Noah and though he was going to send a flood to destroy the whole world, Noah and family would receive protection.  Not only was Noah's family saved, but 2 by 2 of every living creature. For their salvation, they all piled into the ark the length of several football fields that Noah and his sons had built for this grand adventure of faith. It's a sweet story about God's love for those who love him back. The end, right?

Well, the more you and I really dig into this text, the more, I can imagine that you'd say like me that Noah is no Bible story for kids. It's no Bible story that is all about the beautiful murals that we paint on church nurseries. Genesis 6-8 are chapters of the Bible that we should actually place age limit on before teaching it. For within, it's a pretty scary tale of divine anger, abuse, destruction and eventually of new beginnings-- if we can stomach it long enough to get to the end.

And this is the real story: for much as creation began with God's desire to "make man in God's own image" and to be in relationship with a beloved creation called man and woman-- things did not go as planned in those early years of the earth. God wasn't very happy. No, God was not happy at all.

No need to watch soap operas, for in fact, Genesis 3 through 6, gives you all the juicy drama you need of creation not exactly respecting their Creator. Man began to hate woman. Woman began to hate man. Sons became jealous of one another and lives were taken in anger.  Everyone on the earth began to do what was right in their own eyes. God's grand plan of peace, harmony and love all was awry. You could say in fact, that God felt betrayed. What God expected from humanity, what God longed for in humanity simply was not.

And, so we see God becoming angry-- a view of God that we often don't like to admit or even talk about is there-- saying to Noah in Genesis 6:13, "I am going to put end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them."

Yes, we read of a very direct God who wants creation gone. It was not a game. No, not a game at all. We hear words of regret that creation happened at all by our Creator."What a mess has come of my world! Why did I need humanity in the first place?" God says. Scary words, if you ask me.

And, so the flood waters come and they come. And, after the 40 days and nights of rain, we learn that only Noah, his family and the ark full of animals is left on the earth.  But this is the grace: the flood becomes the re-creation moment for God to get the do-over.  God is up for trying again.

Theologian Elizabeth Webb writes this about the state of things after the flood waters begin to reside, saying this: "All of creation is given a new beginning, a new opportunity to live in the harmony that God intended. Note, however, that this new beginning is also a continuation; God does not create new beings, but begins anew with a remnant of the beings created in the beginning."

And these are the new beginning words scripture tells us came from God in verse 8 of Genesis chapter 9, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals and everything animal of the earth with you. . . . I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."

And so an agreement between two parties (God and humanity) for  God not do something ever again is established.  We call this agreement a covenant. And, while there will be other covenant giving moments as the story of scripture goes with folks like Abraham, it is important to note here how unique and special this particular covenant was. And, not for the obvious reasons of this covenant coming with a sign-- a rainbow in the sky-- but because of what was asked of humanity in this covenant making story.

And the answer is nothing. God asks man and woman to do nothing in return as this covenant was made. God will do all the work. It's not a conditional covenant, an "if/ then" promise that we will see later on in the history of the nation of Israel, but with Noah and all of us-- it is an eternal covenant. The "I will never send a flood to destroy the earth again" promise is a statement that God is making and says will be kept forever. Forever.

Hear this again, only God has a responsibility. Only God.  Which is a another way of God saying to all of us, "Ok, human beings, in my effort to be in relationship with you in the future, I am not going to go the route of total destruction again. I am going to work with you. I am going to be with you. And no matter how many different ways I have to try and no matter how suborned and disobedient you become toward me, I am going to keep at it. I am going to keep pursing you. Why? Because I love you. And, I won't let you go."

Several weeks ago, as several of you might know from reading my blog, I sat glued to the television set for four hours as singer Whitney Houston's funeral went on and on. In this "world goes to church" sort of experience CNN broadcasted the entire service without commercial interruption. As the memorial came to a close as a family friend, Marvin Winans, offered a homily. Though I struggled to follow his train of thoughts at points, one message of he offered mourners has stuck with me ever since. In referring to some words of the Apostle Paul when he writes that God shall supply all of our needs according to God's riches and glory in Christ Jesus-- Pastor Winans says, God is telling you today, just as he told Whitney over and over in her life, "I've got this." "I've got this and so you don't have to worry about the rest." Just trust me. "I've got this."

And, I think in many ways, this is what God was saying to all humanity in the covenant making of the rainbow-- "I've got this. I promise you. I will stay in relationship with you my beloved children no matter what." Every time you look up at the sky and see a rainbow, know that "I've got this."

What balm, then this is to our weary selves who are sitting in the dark, crawling in the dark, wandering in the dark if God had lost God's mind-- like I'm sure Noah and family felt as they de-boarded the ark that day. That to us, that to all of us, God promises this eternal good: "I will be in relationship with you. I will remember you, no matter what."

It's hard to accept such a light into the dark parts of our lives, isn't it? Because it is rare if ever that we receive such a gift of a promise kept that we are remembered, that we are loved,  that we are seen  even when it feels that everyone else has tossed us away and thrown us aside. Even our most beloved friends and family sometimes turn their backs on us. If it happened to Jesus, it most certainly will happen to us.

But, "I will remember you" is the promise that God offers us today-- a promise as bright as a radiant rainbow on an afternoon of summer rain. It's a promise that no matter how abandoned we feel, no matter how dead our most important dreams seem, and no matter how dense the fog is around us that we couldn't possibly even stand without help-- God will remember us.

God will guide us to light. And, no we are not going to have to stay in the darkness forever. For we serve a God made known through Jesus Christ-- who too once cried out from the cross, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" and rose to life on the third day.

And, what a gift to our Lent waiting in the dark this year. Because if you know anything about the dark nights of betrayal-- often it is at these low points of our own lives that we can't even fathom moving an inch. But, we need not worry. God is with us and says what? "I will remember you."

Today we have the opportunity to eat of this supper that the Lord persevered through-- even as it was that night for Jesus that a friend became an enemy-- and eat of the bread and drink of the cup, that our Lord drank. For we are remembered forevermore.

Let us taste and see that the Lord is good as we go to the table.