The Power of a Promise           The Rev. Brian E. Backstrand                     July 27, 2014

I’m not going to say much about the on-going reading that we are doing of Genesis, except to point out that you’ve got to watch it when the lights go out. Hopefully we don’t live in that kind of world.

Here is Jacob working for seven years for the hand of Rachel in marriage and at the end he gets Leah.  So he works another seven years for the hand of Rachel and finally gets to marry her.  That’s the overview.  But underneath we see other things at work.   Women here are not a part of the transaction, men are the power-brokers and women are promised property.   Servants—often overlooked and invisible and unnamed—are named in this narrative and point out the roles of many in any society who work invisibly,  like the people who pour the coffee and wait on tables and fill in potholes and pick up garbage. We see eventually two women,  sisters, placed in a difficult situation of being both wives of Jacob.

If there is anything, however, that I would like for us to carry away with us into the rest of this sermon from this story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah and Laban, it is the power of promise.  The power of a promise.  Laban makes a promise to Jacob that he will marry one of his daughters—a tricky promise that makes Jacob work for 14 years instead of 7 but a promise indeed.

Then here comes along our reading from Psalm 105 today and we encounter the power of another promise—this one remembered from generation to generation.   The Psalmist proclaims of YHWH:

                       He has always been mindful

                        Of his covenant, the

                        Promise he made for a

                        Thousand generations:

                         The covenant he made with

                        Abraham, the oath that he

                        Swore to Issac,

                        Which he established as

                        A statute for Jacob, an

                        Everlasting covenant for


                        Saying, “To you will I give

                        The land of Canaan to be

                        Your allotted inheritance.”


 The promise of Rachel.  The promise of land.  The promise of generations.

Another promise surfaces in our Gospel reading this morning.  Here we have a series of little images all of which are prefaced by a phrase that contains another promise made by a loving God to faithful people—a phrase from the lips of Jesus.  The phrase that contains another promise and the power of promise is simply this:   The kingdom of heaven is like.

The kingdom of heaven.   Nothing much really,  just the notion of a radical way of living with a purpose—a radical way of being claimed by the Eternal as an invited member of a great family.   Just the notion of living within the boundary of a powerful new dimension of existence, a dimension that comes to us when we stretch a bit,  when we reach out,  when we see things from another point of view,  when we encounter the holy,  when we evaluate what we are up to as individuals—the kingdom of heaven,  God’s kingdom.

And what is it like?  The kingdom of heaven is like

  • A mustard seed (the smallest seed of all) sown in a field
  • Yeast, mixed into flour, that leavens the whole loaf
  • A hidden treasure found in a field that then is purchased by selling all the rest of one’s possessions.
  • A merchant finding one great pearl that is purchased by selling all he has.
  • A net thrown into the sea bulging with fish of every kind.
  • A master of a household that brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

What is it then?   This kingdom.   Beyond Jacob’s love for Rachel and beyond the promise of land to Abraham and his descendants, here is the power of another promise.

To me it looks like the power of being transformed and renewed.  It has a joy to it.  And it is so small.   Yeast.   Mustard seeds.  One pearl.

Yes,  it starts small, but then it begins to show itself and its power.   The yeast leavens the whole loaf.   And the mustard seed becomes a veritable tree—a place where birds build their nests.

It seems as though Jesus is telling us that  the kingdom of God,  a promised kingdom, is all around us and perhaps we cannot see it.   Not necessarily around us in might but in perhaps a very small presence.   Overlooked perhaps, but waiting with power.   Waiting to transform us when we are  willing to search and look and find.   In at least two images,  the kingdom is found after searching—found with great joy.

And so we have another example of the power of promise.   Here,  the power of a kingdom promised that needs to be searched for,  that needs to be sought out and recognized.   It is a place of vindication,   a place of great joy,  a place of reordered purpose in living,  a place of finding in life what is important.   It is God’s eternal kingdom brought into the context of ordinary living of ordinary days.   The Kingdom of heaven is like….

When promises are remembered and honored and worked for, they become powerful dimensions of life.


Betty Jo gave me an assignment a while back in the form of a book, a follow up to Tuesdays with Morrie written by Mitch Albom, an Ophrah Book Club selection entitled Have a Little Faith.    It is a story about Albom’s connections to two men,  one his childhood Rabbi (whom he calls The Reb) and the other a criminal turned Baptist preacher;  one man living in New Jersey and the other in the inner city of Detroit.   Albom goes back and forth in this book,  from the Reb to the Rev and along the way includes some excerpts from some of the Reb’s sermons.  One in particular caught my attention—a story that the Reb had gotten from a military chaplain–and here it is.

A soldier’s little girl, whose father was being moved to a distant post, was sitting at the     airport among her family’s meager belongings.  The girl was sleepy.  She leaned against the packs and duffel bags.  A lady came by and stopped and patted her on the head.  “Poor child,” she said, “You haven’t got a home.”  The child looked up in surprise.   “But we do have a home,” she said, “We just do not have a house to put it in.

This story reminds me of Family Promise and the promise of having a home in the midst of being homeless.  The power of a promise,  a promise grasped and lived out. A promise made and a promise remembered.   A promise grasped.   A promise lived out in terms of one’s own life.  Land,  mustard seed, and now the biggest promise of all.

If God is for us, who is against us.  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?   …  It is God who justifies, who is to condemn.  It is Christ Jesus who died, yes who was raised, who is at the right hand of God who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. … No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rules nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the big promise.   It is the promise of a Love that will pursue,  defend,  vindicate,  heal,   redeem,   restore,  reorient, claim, renew,  redirect, refuse to quit.  What are we to do with a love like this?     Believe in it surely.    Open our hearts to it.    And live with it in the new world of the biggest promise of all.  It is a promise of a kingdom and the promise of love and the promise of both an existential and eternal home—all three woven together.  Grasping this great promise we can join the little girl at the airport.   On bad days when our vision dims and when things look difficult, we too can say “But we do have a home,  We just do not have a house to put it in.”

The power of a promise:  Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the name of God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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