Sunday, September 18, 2016


Genesis 15:1-6
September 18, 2016

            The Grand Canyon has recently been designated as a Dark Sky site. Like a place that has an historical or a wilderness designation, a Dark Sky certification means that this is a place where the problem of light pollution has been addressed; where artificial lights have been changed and refitted so that the night sky, the dark sky, can be seen in all of its glory. Light pollution is so ubiquitous that two-thirds of the world’s population has never seen the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. Light pollution not only affects our vision of the night sky, it causes havoc with the instincts of nocturnal animals and other creatures. Light pollution is wasted energy. As the journalist, who reported on the Grand Canyon’s Dark Sky designation, said, light pollution is one of the easiest fixes. You change the lighting and you fix the problems associated with it. It took two years to find all of the lights installed in and around the Grand Canyon. It will take a few years more before all of the lighting is updated to the right kinds of lights that prevent light pollution. But as a Dark Sky site, a clear night at the Grand Canyon means that stars, planets and the glow of the Milky Way are visible. A Dark Sky gives us back the night sky.
            Abram would have not understood our contemporary problem of light pollution. Everywhere he went was a Dark Sky site. So imagine, if you can, the multitude of stars that were visible to Abram and the glow of the Milky Way that shone down on him when God instructed him to look up at the stars. A lot has happened since the beginning of Chapter 12 when God first spoke to Abram and told him to go.
            “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make you name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
            God said go. Abram went. He went with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, and their households. The journey to this land God promised was not an easy one. They ran into trouble in Egypt, when Abram told Sarai to tell the Pharaoh that she was his sister, not his wife. He and Lot parted company. God promised Abram again that he and Serai will have a child; they will be the patriarch and matriarch of a great nation. Lot got stuck in a conflict between different kings, and Abram rescued him. Years passed. Many years passed. But God’s promise of a child had yet to be fulfilled. Abram and Sarai grew older and older and older. It was inconceivable that Sarai could ever conceive.
            We come to our moment in their story and the Lord spoke to Abram again. The Lord came to Abram in a vision, a dream, and spoke the words that will be spoken to God’s children again and again. “Do not be afraid.”
            “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
            As I said, years had passed, yet God’s promise of children and nations and blessings must have seemed more distant and more unlikely to Abram than ever. I have no problem believing that Abram was wrestling with doubt. He voiced that struggle to God.
            O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”
            One commentator wrote that God’s reply to Abram was as good as saying, “You better change your will.” God reiterated God’s promises of blessings and descendents. Not only did God speak these promises to Abram once again, God employed an object lesson.
            “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” “So shall your descendents be.”
            This was a Dark Sky. Abram would never have been able to count all those stars. It would have taken more than lifetime for him to count the stars that shone above him. That was God’s point. You can’t count the number of stars in the heaven; you won’t be able to count the descendents I will give you. It will be more than you can count, more than you can fathom, more than you can imagine. God’s promise to Abram exceeded the boundaries of Abram’s imagination.
            The final verse of our passage is one that has been quoted and quoted again. “And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
            God reckoned Abram’s belief to him as righteousness. God credited Abram with righteousness. Abram believed. God gave him credit for it. It seems simple enough. If we only believe and trust in God’s promises, as Abram did, then we will have righteousness credited to our cosmic account.
            However as I understand it, the Hebrew in this sentence is ambiguous. It could also read that Abram reckoned it to God as righteousness. Our first response to that might be indignation; who is Abram to reckon God with righteousness?! Yet, isn’t that what we do when we take the leap of faith and believe God – when we trust and hold fast to the assurance that God keeps God’s promises. We credit God with righteousness. I believe in God’s promises, even though those promises seem a long time in coming, because I trust that God is righteous. God’s promises are trustworthy. I trust God because God is righteous.  Still, Abram is not perfect in his trust. It will be over a decade before Isaac is actually born. In the next chapter, Sarai gives Hagar to Abram and Ishmael is born to be Abram’s heir. Abram and Sarai give into the temptation to take matters into their own hands. Just as we do. I think the major obstacle we have in trusting God’s promises, in trusting that God is righteous, is that these promises seem situated far off in the unknown and murky future, and they seem in direct conflict with the reality of today.
            Today, it can be hard to trust in God’s promises. Today, it can be tough to credit God with righteousness. Everywhere we turn there is suffering and hatred, warfare and pain, destruction and death. God is righteous, but the present world is not. Yet it is this present that we live in. It is this present that drives us. It is much more expedient to take matters into our own hands, and make our own future. But it seems to me that the opposite of trust is not disbelief, it is control. To trust God does not mean that we just sit around and wait for something divine to happen. Trusting God is not passive. But when I try to control everyone and everything around me; when I try to control and manipulate and dictate how I think my life should be, God very kindly and very firmly lets me fall on my … face.
            Be honest, if you were to look up in the night sky would you believe that the descendents of this congregation will ever be as numerous as the stars? Will we be a church filled with children and young people and new generations once again? Or will we continue childless?
            Maybe we will. Maybe we won’t. I’m not convinced that God’s promises are tailor made to suit an individual congregation, or an individual for that matter. But I do believe that God’s promises are for all of us – all of God’s children. I do believe that God’s promises are bigger and more expansive than anything we can imagine. I do believe that God refuses to give up on us or abandon us or leave us to our own deficient devices. I do believe in the goodness and trustworthiness of God’s promises, even as I struggle with my own doubt. I believe in God’s promises for the future because I remember the ways God has kept His promises in the past. I struggle with doubt, and I wrestle with my faith, and I question God. But when all is said and done, I move forward step by step believing, hoping and trusting that God holds our present and our future in His hands; his righteous, gracious and loving hands. Look into the night sky and know that God’s promises outnumber the stars. May we all reckon God with righteousness and trust in God’s promises.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!”


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