Promises

Lent 2 – St. John 3:1-17

Historically, many Christians have taken the time of Lent as a time to give up something.  Have you taken up such a practice?

Perhaps you are avoiding chocolate for Lent, or even soda.  Or maybe you are limiting your social media access.  Less television, or not eating out are also popular things to give up for Lent as well.

Of course, I said that it was a historic practice because it is hard, and therefore not as popular today as it once was.

And so to make things easier, we have modified the practice ever so slightly, so that instead of giving something up for Lent, we instead add something for Lent.  Why give anything up, when you can add something new to your day?  It is not quite the same idea, but there are benefits nonetheless.

And so perhaps you have added praying the Litany daily to your devotions; or perhaps you are striving to attend every midweek Lenten service; or maybe your goal is to keep pace with the Lutheran Hour Ministries Lenten devotional.

No matter if you have given up or taken up, the concept is the same, for the time of Lent, from Ash Wednesday on March 1 to Easter Sunday on April 16, you have promised to do something that will yield positive benefits to your life, whether they be financial, or physical, or spiritual.

So how has it been going?

After all, we are only on the Second Sunday in Lent, surely you have been able to keep your promise for 2 weeks.  Surely you have managed to not eat chocolate or drink soda for this long.  Surely you have managed to find the 5-7 minutes each day to do those daily devotions.  Surely you have been faithful for what adds up to less than 2 full weeks.

Or perhaps not.  Time slips away, temptation sinks in, and pretty soon you notice that it has been a day or three since you prayed the Litany; or that it is still Lent and you are on your third can of soda.

And suddenly you realize why so many do not give up something for Lent or pick up a new practice for Lent: because it is hard.  Because just like the rest of life, promises are easy to make, but hard to keep.

You promise the doctor you are going to lose weight; but that never happens.  You promise your spouse that you are not going to fight, and that lasts until the next argument.  You promise that you are going to clean your room, until you realize how messy it really is.  You promise that this year, you are finally going to complete those projects; and then the year slips away with hardly any progress.

We make dozens of promises throughout the day; some of those promises actually last all day and into the next; others barely make it to the end of the conversation.  We make promises to family, promises to friends, promises to businesses, promises to the state, promises to ourselves, we even make promises to God.  And in the end, how many of those promises end up being nothing more than empty words?

The Second Commandment speaks to this; telling us not to make vain promises to others, not to take frivolous oaths, not to attach God’s name to our worthless words and promises.

And so what do you do?  You promise to do better; that there will be no more making of promises that you know you cannot keep, or that you have no intention of keeping.  And that is well and good, until the next promise comes along and you break that one too.

The breaking of promises is so frequent and so common, it hardly even surprises you when others break theirs, or when you break your own.

After all, doesn’t everyone break a promise at one point or another?

In fact, breaking promises is so common, and done with such ease, that it is actually more surprising when someone actually keeps their promise.

Take our reading from Genesis, God promises Abram a plethora of things: land, a righteous name, and even descendants.

Surely Abram could have easily shrugged this promise off; after all, he was 75 years old, how could he possibly have children?  And if that promise were going to be so easily and expectedly broken, who is to say the others would not be broken as well?

And yet, to the surprise of Abram and Sarai, God keeps His promise.  15 years later, at the age of 90, Abraham and Sarah have a son; and their descendants will receive the land that is promised and this new nation will be a blessing to all who encounter it.

Easy enough you say?  Perhaps, but God does keep His promise to Abraham, just as He kept His promise to preserve Noah and his family through the waters of the flood; just as He will promise to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt; just as He will promise David that his heir would always sit on the throne; just as He promised through Jeremiah that after 70 years in exile, the people would return.

God has a long history of keeping His promises.

Yet there is one promise that lingers longer than the others.  Last week, we heard in Genesis 3, how God promised to Adam and Eve a savior who would crush the head of the serpent and undo the curse that their disobedience had ushered in.

And God makes the same promise to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob; to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, to Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel; and He makes the promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and to Mary and Joseph and to John.

Surely when a promise is made that often and over that long a period of time, there is the assumption that it will never happen.  That God is promising even more than He can deliver; that God has spoken more than He should have; and like the modern day doom-sayers, He is just repeating it over and over, but it will never actually happen.

And yet that is what sets your promises apart from God’s promises.  Your promises to do better are for your own benefit, or at most for the benefit of a few other people around you.  And if they benefit you or those around you, than perhaps there will be a reward for you; your change will make your spouse happier, or your children more obedient, or will gain you the envy of the community.  Your promises are rooted in selfish desire for your own purposes.

And yet, today, we read that God makes His promise to send His Son into the world to redeem the world, not out of a selfish nature for what you might do for Him, but He does it out of His great love for you.

God’s promise to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac and Jacob, to David, to the kings and prophets, to the people wandering in darkness, to Mary and Joseph, to you who sit here today, God’s promise of a Savior, to redeem the world, is a promise made out of His great love for you.

For God so loved you that He promised to send His son into the world to redeem the world, so that you might not perish eternally, but might have eternal life.  God promised to do this, and He does.  Jesus is the long promised one, who has come to save you from your sins of making and breaking your promises.  Jesus is the long promised one who has come to open the gates of heaven for you.  Jesus is the long promised one who has come for the salvation of the world.

God keeps His promises to you.  God promises that salvation is found in Christ alone, and it is.  God promises that Baptism and Lord’s Supper are His gifts given for you, and they are.  God promises that when your sins are forgiven, they are truly forgiven; and they are.

In a world where so many so often make and break their promises for no other reason than purely selfish motives, God makes and keeps His promises out of His great love for you.

And so as we continue our march through Lent, do not neglect those devotions or those habits you strive to maintain; keep at them.  But do them with the faithfulness your heavenly Father craves from you; for that is the true goal of our Lenten disciplines: not so that you might have a few extra dollars in your pocket on Easter; not so that you might be admired by one and all; but so that you might glorify the name of your Father in heaven.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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