Monday, June 18, 2012

ToThe Stars!

Genesis 15:1-6
June 17, 2012
The Installation of the Reverend Matthew Perkins
Cathedral of Hope UCC, Oklahoma City

                In case you haven’t noticed Matt likes Star Trek.  I realize that there may be people in attendance tonight who don’t know this fact about Matt.  But I assure you that you don’t have to spend a very long time with him to discover this particular interest.  He likes Star Trek.  Let me rephrase that.  He loves Star Trek! 
                Matt probably wouldn’t consider himself an overly hard core Star Trek fan.  But he has attended a Star Trek Convention.  Sorry Matt, I hope you weren’t trying to keep that a secret.  And he does have a lot of Trek paraphernalia around the house.  We have Star Trek drinking glasses, two sets.  A starship Enterprise pizza cutter, and some uniform shirts along with various and sundry Star Trek related items.  And if you’ve visited his office, I know you’ve seen the large amount of Star Trek novels that he has on his shelves.
                I would say that, hard core or not, Matt is a Trekkie and a proud one at that.  You can’t live with a Trekkie for as many years as I have and not learn something about Star Trek and the Star Trek universe.  That includes Gene Roddenberry, the creator and genius behind Star Trek and its many manifestations. 
                Matt and I are not in complete agreement about Star Trek.  While I’m a bigger fan of The Next Generation and Matt’s first love is the original series, we both have a profound respect for Gene Roddenberry and his vision. 
                As I understand Roddenberry’s own story, he didn’t write Star Trek just because he wanted to see things happening in space.  Roddenberry was a pilot and was a proponent of the NASA space program; certainly he loved Science Fiction as a genre.  But Roddenberry wanted to tell stories.  Not just any kind of stories, but stories that had meaning and purpose; stories that not only addressed the fundamental problems and questions of human existence, but also stories of hope.   In essence Star Trek was a series of morality plays. 
                The challenge for Gene Roddenberry was that morality plays don’t always make it as general entertainment.  But set those stories in space, and people might just listen.  In fact they might even learn something without even realizing that the learning is happening. 
                I don’t mean to imply that space was incidental to the stories Roddenberry created.  I think he saw space exploration as a way to overcome the differences that divide us on earth.  The characters were intentionally diverse.  They encountered a multitude of problems and generally resolved them in creative ways.  Sure, in the original series that meant that Kirk kissed a lot of females, some human, some alien, but a captain’s gotta do what a captain’s gotta do 
                The real point I’m making is that Gene Roddenberry looked to the stars, not only as the vehicle for humanity’s stories, but as a way to show the very best that we humans can be. 
                In our passage from Genesis, Abram is also told to look to the stars.  This was not God’s way of creating science fiction.  But it was the beginning of a story, a great story, about God, about humanity and about promise. 
                Abram has a vision from the Lord reassuring him that there is nothing for him to fear.  God said, “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 
                But Abram takes issue with this.  In spite of the promise that Abram’s descendants would be as many as the dust on the earth, he and Sarai are still childless.  A slave born in his house will be his heir, not his own progeny.  I doubt that Abram saw this as a purely spiritual matter.  Inheritance and the rights of the first born, the continuation of the family line were important factors in that time and context.  Yet those very earthly concerns do not take away from the promise that God then makes. 
                God takes Abram outside and tells him to look to the stars.  Count them, if he is able.  Think about that.  Think about how many stars would have been visible in the night sky above Abram.  There was no artificial lighting to subdue the heavens’ own glow.  There was nothing else to spoil Abram’s view of that starry expanse. I imagine the stars would have seemed to stretch on into endlessness.  Of course there was no way to count them. 
                That, God tells Abram, is how numerous your descendants will be.  They will be as many as the stars.  That is my promise.  Abram believed God.  Abram believed in the promise God made; he trusted in the covenant and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abram’s faith in God’s promise was recognized.
                Realistically speaking, however, this was crazy talk on God’s part, wasn’t it?  Abram was an old man.  Sarai was an old woman.  They were childless.  Child bearing at their advanced ages was impossible.  Telling Abram that his descendants would number as many as the stars seemed more like a cruel joke than covenant.   But God wasn’t joking.  The stars were an indication of how the story of faith would unfold.  The story that began with Abram and Sarai, and includes all of us gathered here tonight. 
                We are inheritors of that story, that covenant, that promise, are we not?  We may not be actual DNA descendants of Abram and Sarai, but we are spiritual descendants.  We claim the covenant God made with Abram and continued through each generation, until the coming of the Word, God with us.  We claim the promise of Jesus and the new life that we find through his death and resurrection.  We claim the promise that the Holy Spirit continues to blow through our midst bringing change and transformation whether we are ready for it or not. 
                We claim these promises and that’s why we’re here tonight.  Viewed in our more narrow human terms, the promise of God always seems a bit far-fetched, ridiculous even; most likely impossible, definitely improbable.  Yet through the lens of faith, we remember that with God nothing is impossible.  An old woman can bear a baby that will be forefather to the world.  A young woman will bear a child that will save it.
                Through the lens of faith we trust that with God nothing is impossible.
                This church and the church that I serve in Shawnee are, on the surface, very different from one another.  But look beyond appearance and you’ll see two small congregations with the same goal.  We don’t just want to survive.  We want to thrive.  We don’t just hope to grow so we can keep our doors open; we hope to grow so we can reach even further into our communities, into the world at large and share the good news.  We trust that with God nothing is impossible, so we continue to worship in the present and pray for the future.  And we take steps, small steps sure, but we take them trusting that God is with us, past, present and future. 
                Just being the church, any church, large or small, in this day and age is a statement about promise; about faithfulness.  Not our faithfulness, God’s.  The fact that you, a small church, have taken the extraordinary step of calling someone to be your pastor shows your faith.  You trust that even though the realities of being a church in 2012 means the odds are stacked against you, against all of us, calling Matt is the faithful thing to do.  You believe that God’s promises are sure.  You believe that God is faithful.  You believe, even though it sounds a little nuts, that God’s promise to Abram abides today. 
                We are only a few of the descendants Abram saw in the stars that night.  I have no doubt that just as we stand on the shoulders of the faithful who came before us, others will stand on ours.  There will be more.  So like Abram, we look to the stars.  We look for God’s story, our story in the heavens.  We trust that the story continues.  We look to the stars because that is where we find our hope.  Our hope, our faith, our foundation of love lies in the promise of God.  God’s promise is true.  Look to the stars.  Count them if you are able.  The story goes on. Amen.
Look to the stars.  Count them if you are able.

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