Aching for the Promise

by Elaine Maust
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-17
Theme for Lent: Write on Our Hearts
March 12, 2006

Last Sunday I was playing Tia. Tia is Spanish for aunt, but in our family it means something closer to grandma. At least I have spoiling privileges with my little nieces and nephew. And when we are together, no one has more fun than I.

But things were not always so happy for my brothers’ families. Both my brothers and their wives struggled with the pain of infertility. I was fortunate that they let me in on what that was like for them. What baby showers, decisions about medical procedures, the unexpected pregnancies of friends, and Father’s Day are like. What it is like to ache for the promise of a baby.

Eventually both Craig and Shirley and Eric and Rachel had the good sense to adopt international. And they have had the grace to let me be part of that experience too. Lord willing, this summer Shirley and I will bring two more babies home from Russia for our family. In case you’re counting, that’s seven total in their two families; two from India, two from Guatemala, two from Russia, and one homemade. Today my sister-in-law Rachel says, “I thank God for infertility.”

For Abram and Sarai, the wait for a baby was the wait of a lifetime. How old is Abraham at the beginning of our text today (Gen. 17)? 99! That’s older than my Grandma Mary. That’s one year older than Duane and I put together. That’s really old, isn’t it? That’s a long time to wait for a baby, a long to time to wait for God to keep a promise, isn’t it?

Let’s look at the Bible… (v1) Abram is 99 years old and God appears to him. Oh wow! The Message says, “God showed up.” And God talked to Abraham, straight up! Imagine that. What did God say, “I am”? God starts off with identification. “I AM.” Where have we heard that before? The burning bush for one… Anyway, God says, “I am, El Shaddai, God Almighty, God who is irresistibly strong.” The God who can do anything. It’s not the first time God talked to Abram, but all the same, I feel like telling Abram, get ready, something serious is about to happen when God shows up saying, “I am strong”!

God tells Abram, “walk before me and be blameless.” Or live in a way that proves you know you are living out your life in front of God. “Abram,” God says, (v2) “I want to remind you of the covenant (or promise) I made between me and you. You are going to have a huge family.”

And Abram did the only reasonable thing to do in verse 3. He fell flat on his face!

Now this was not the first time God had promised a baby to this old man and his wife, Sarai. Back in Genesis 15:4, God promised Abram a baby. But this was many, many years later. And now that he was almost 100, Abram seems to have given up the hope of him and his wife having children. And what is God talking about? As John Gibson writes, “What in heaven’s name, the poor man might well have asked, was God up to?”

But God is still taking. (v4) “Here’s my covenant (my promise, my gift), you are not only going to have a baby, but you are going to be the father of many nations!” In chapter 15, God spoke to Abram on a walk outside at night. “Look up at the stars,” God told him (v5), “See if you can count them. It’s going to just as impossible to count all your children.”

Duane’s Maust side of the family is huge and loves to have reunions. I discovered over 30 years ago on my first trip to Michigan with Duane that this was not a family, this was a tribe. They have the Glenn Maust reunion, the Earl Maust reunion and the granddaddy of all reunions, the Joseph Maust reunion. Relatives come from all across the US and even from Canada; the California Mausts, the Virginia Mausts, the Kansas Mausts, the Arizona Mausts, and even the Red Neck Mausts. I mean the Mississippi Mausts. And hundreds of Michigan Mausts. There are lots of people there I love to see, like Duane’s first cousin who has multiple degrees and accomplishments but loves most to talk about her gardens. Or Duane’s father’s first cousin’s wife, the English professor, who is a Faulkner enthusiast and thinks I’m cool just because I live in the same State as Oxford, Mississippi. Anyway, you get the idea. It is a large and colorful family.

Well, God came to Abram, the man with no children, to tell him he was eventually going to have more folks in his family then there are Mausts in Michigan.

And God changed Abram’s name. Now his name must have been a source of embarrassment to him. Do you know what his name meant? Exalted Father. What’s it like to spend your life hoping for a baby while everyone who meets you calls you “Exalted Father”? Ouch. What do you think would be a better name? Hoping for a Baby? Well, God names him Abraham, which means “father of many.” It was like changing his name from Mama to Big Mama. Of course there was still no baby. Only a hope and the ache for the promise.

But wait, there’s more. God is still talking. Look down to verse 15. God changes Abraham’s wife’s name too. Her name was Sarai, to be changed to Sarah. “She’ll be the mother of your baby,” God told Abraham. (16)

Well, all of this seems too much for old Abraham, and he falls out laughing. He doesn’t say anything out loud, but he laughs to himself thinking this is way too crazy! Can an old man and an old woman have a baby? Be careful, Abraham…

Well, you all know the rest of the story. Abraham and Sarah do have a baby. (chapter 21) El Shaddai, God Almighty, God who is irresistibly strong, God kept the promise and gave them a baby boy. They call him Isaac. This means – you guessed it – “laughter.”

I wonder if things around that house that day were as joyful as the day when Reah was born. With Mike and Melody we prayed and hoped and waited for a baby. Aching for the promise. When the baby girl arrived, Mike and Melody named her Reah Lyndewa. Lyndewa is a Swazi name which the Clymers brought back with them from Africa. It means, “we’ve been waiting for you.” I suggested that their next baby be named Lannie, since she was their Lagniappe baby. But Mike had a better idea and named her Zoe.

Not all our stories of hopefulness have such happy endings yet, do they? What about our own hopes? What about desperate hopes? What about the ones that wake us up at night? What about the aching that we know may never be realized?

Barbara Bontrager’s testimony spoke to that. She talked about finding God in disappointment. About God being there for her when the promised seemed to fail, leaving her with only an ache.

And how are you dealing with the ache today? Are you falling on your face in awe of God Almighty? Or are you laughing at God right now? Or angry or disillusioned? Are you, like Abram did when he had a baby with Hagar (chapter 16), trying to take God’s business into your own hands and find a way to work out the promise on your own?

Wherever you are with your promise these days, God is with you. This Lent, let God write his loving promises on your heart. Promises like, “…the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 13:5) “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). Or from our memory verse last week, “Christ died for sins once for all… to bring you to God.” (I Peter 3:18)

Once during a personal time of disillusionment, Communion was a step back to faith. I remember taking communion and praying: “God, I don’t understand you. I don’t know how to carry so much pain. I don’t know what you expect me to do right now. But this is what I know. Jesus died for me. Seems like I ought to be able to trust someone who loves me enough to die for me.”

Today during our communion service, let God write a loving promise on the ache in your heart.

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