There was a movie some time ago called “Liar, Liar,” starring Jim Carrey. If you’ve never seen it, or need a reminder, the movie involves a high-powered lawyer, Jim Carrey, who makes his living by lying. It’s not even close to how the legal system actually works, but that’s beside the point. Jim Carrey has a son, and he is constantly disappointing his son by making a promise about being there for this or that thing, and then some big case would come up, and the promise would be broken. So his son makes a birthday wish that his dad would be unable to lie for one day. And, naturally, shenanigans ensue.
Carrey’s character, unable to lie, botches his strategy in the courtroom. His inability not to be honest causes all kinds of chaos when he says things people just don’t say. And for his son, the most important thing is that he can’t make a promise that he won’t keep.
But that’s an important thing, isn’t it? When someone makes a promise, we expect them to keep it. And the more someone breaks their promises, the less we are willing to believe them when they make a promise in the future. It’s why someone who keeps their promises is considered so trustworthy. If someone does what they say they’ll do, we can trust that a promise made will be a promise kept.
And today’s Genesis reading reveals something really particular about God. More than God’s power in the universe, or God’s ability to provide or protect, or God’s compassion for the least of these, the Bible shows us a God who makes and keeps promises. Way back in Genesis when we first met Abraham, God made a big promise. It was the promise that Abraham would have descendants, that he would have a land to call his own, and he would be a blessing for the sake of the world. In today’s scripture, Abraham’s grandson hears that this promise is being passed on to him. God makes a promise, and God will not go back on it.
The thing is, Jacob didn’t do anything to earn that promise. He didn’t complete some task or show a particular strain of holiness. He didn’t fulfill a challenge or even start worshiping God until after the promise was made. He didn’t do anything except be the descendant of Abraham, to whom God made a promise all those years ago. And God doesn’t break promises. Ever.
So this is what we hear in this peculiar piece of scripture. Yes, there is the fantastical element of Jacob’s vision of a ladder. And yes, Jacob designates the spot as holy, renaming it from Luz to Bethel. It’s an important moment in Biblical history because it shows that when God’s chosen leaves the land of Canaan, God will bring them back in due time. But more than anything else, this piece of scripture is a reminder that God’s promises don’t end. When God makes a promise, God keeps that promise.
And if with God a promise made is a promise kept, look at the promise we’re given! God promises to be with us to the end of the age, giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us. God promises us that even if our work for justice, peace, and hope leads to death we will receive eternal life. God gives us a promise that all the things we have to fear in the world are no match for the hope and certainty of God’s own promises.
So we can do the work of the kingdom with that certain hope behind us. We can be bold in loving our neighbor, in caring for the least of these, in speaking out for justice, in naming hope in a hopeless world, knowing that God has made a promise to us that we will not be left alone in the work, and we will not be undone by the worst the world has to offer. Be bold, then, in the work of the kingdom. Be bold in your proclamation of justice and hope. Be bold in love, in generosity, in lifting up your neighbor.
Be bold, because God has promised you the kingdom, and nothing will take that away from you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.