And he believed…

Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 & Luke 13:31-35

Originally Given on February 24th, 2013 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY

It is possible that Abram was just beginning to feel his age. Perhaps he had gotten out of bed and felt just a bit stiffer than he should have. Perhaps he had been traveling for many days and was tired of moving. Perhaps he had begun simply to do the math and realized that his numbered days were getting smaller, he had a few more gray hairs in his beard, maybe a few less hairs on his head, maybe he was just getting tired. But one way or another, Abram was beginning to feel his age. And with this new awareness, perhaps a bit of doubt had begun to creep into his mind. You see, at the point in the story at which we arrive this morning, Abram has already been through quite an adventure on this Divinely inspired trip. He has already begun to mark the area of land with which God has said he will be blessed. He has already traveled down to Egypt during a time of famine only to have an unfortunate run in with the Pharaoh. He has already separated from his brother Lot and yet it is still not apparent to Abram how it is that God will make a great nation out of his offspring. He still didn’t have any! And I wonder if maybe on this day, this day when just maybe, Abram’s advanced age had begun to catch up with him, I wonder if he was beginning to have a bit of doubt creep into his mind. And I wonder if this doubt had driven him out of his tent on this morning and sent him for a walk in the wilderness to try to work these things out in his head. You know, some folks are like that. Some folks, when they need to think, when they need to pray, when they just need a few moments of silence, they go for a walk. I do that. Often times when I am in the office working on a sermon and I hit a wall, I take my ball and walk around the building. Sometimes I am wrestling with a passage of scripture. Sometimes I use the time to escape from the heaviness of the scripture and think about anything else. Sometimes I just want to watch the Littlest Angels play in hopes of seeing what is really important in life. And so, in my head, when I read this passage, I imagine Abram going for a walk. And maybe it was on this walk that he began to talk to himself, began to wonder whether all those folks, who told him he was crazy when he announced sometime ago that he was leaving everything he had ever known to follow the call that God had put on his heart, were maybe right. Sure God had spoken to him all that time ago and talked about a new land for his people and talked about a mighty nation, as countless as the stars or of the grains of sand on the beach arising from his lineage but he was getting older and still had no lineage upon which to rise up a family, much less a nation. He, Abram, a man of great means and faith, still had no heir to pass on his wealth and faith. And I wonder if it was into this doubt, into the conversation that he was having with himself, into the silence of solitude that God’s voice rose up again. “Fear not, Abram. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.” But Abram, wasn’t so sure this time. Abram wasn’t sure what the value was of all his possessions, all his riches, if he did not have a child with whom to share it. To whom to pass it on. And God directed Abram to look into the sky, perhaps it was early in the morning before the sun had risen, while the ground was still wet with dew and the moon still provided all the light Abram could need. Abram, look into the sky and see how many stars you can see. It’s nice, living in a place without much ambient light in the evenings. It’s nice living out in the country where you can go out on your back porch at night and look up into the black night sky and see stars. Hundreds, thousands, millions, completely unhindered by the bright lights of the city. It is a little like when God directed Abram to look up. All those stars you see, they will represent your offspring. Your lineage. Your family. And we are told, upon hearing this, Abram believed. 

But as we know, belief is never a simple thing. It is never a one-time acceptance. It is never without struggle. And so we are told that Abram looked to God for a sign, looked to God to offer concrete proof. “O God, how am I to know that these things you say are true?” And with that, Abram learned a powerful truth about belief. Belief requires that you sacrifice just a bit, that you move out in faith, that you step off the edge just an inch in hopes of God catching you. And so we have this beautiful passage. That follows Abram arranging his sacrifice to God. This beautiful and chilling passage. We are told that after gathering up his sacrifice and protecting it from the animals of the air that sought to consume that which is God’s, Abram fell into a deep sleep and a “deep and terrifying darkness fell over him.” And Abram found himself in that space between the jump and the catch, that space between belief and assurance, that space in which you hang in the air unsure whether the next thing you will feel is the ground below or the comforting hand of God. And maybe he stayed there all night, maybe he was just there for a instance, a split second, but when he awoke the Word of God came upon him again and he knew. “On that day, God made a covenant with Abram, giving he and his descendants the land between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates.”

In the weekly Bible study we have here at the church, and you know I have to get a plug in for that whenever I can. In the weekly Bible study that we have here at the church, we spend some time talking about the manner in which the Bible that we remember often is a cleaned up version. A version with the stories we learned as children, learned and then stored in memory as tales primarily with happy endings in which we don’t often bring to mind the struggle of the faithful both with and for God. In our Bible study we have been reading though the life of David and too often we remember David as being a great king, a man of faith, a man who sat squarely in the lineage of Jesus and perhaps some of the more salacious details of his life but too often we forget that he was a warrior king who killed thousands, who sent someone to be killed on the front line of battle. Too often we remember Abraham as a person of faith, as one of the parents of a whole community of faith, a whole new religious group and if we jump ahead that is what we see. Ourselves along with our brothers and sisters collectively called the Abrahamic faiths share this image of Abraham.  And yet, his story is a story of struggle. A story in which on two separate occasions he lies to folks about his relationship with his wife offering her up to the rulers of two different countries. A story in which he stands over his child with every intention of offering him back to God. A story in which many times he goes back to God uncertain of the future or the present, uncertain if he can go on, uncertain if this move from the place that he had known, the place in which he felt comfortable, the place that was his home, uncertain if that was really God’s plan for the world.

In our second scripture for the morning we see Jesus, reaching out to the people of his community, reaching out in the midst of the threat of death, reaching out though he knows that Jerusalem too often turns those away those who want to help the most, those who want to challenge the prevailing sentiment, those who love deeply all God’s children, all God’s stars in the sky, all those this Lukan passage calls God’s chicks. Jesus, filled with the love of the Holy Spirit desires to reach out to all those he sees and bring them under his wing like a mother hen would do with her chicks. Protect them. Love them. Feed them. Shelter them.  Jesus came that all might know life and know it in abundance. He came that we all might be redeemed from ourselves. he came that we might inch-by-inch break the power of the old order of the world that demands selfishness and apathy towards the plight of others and instead calls us to be as Jesus, to be as mother hens, to be a bright and shining star in the horizon. Jesus came that we might be reborn.

Brothers, sisters, those here and those apart from us today who we wish were here. Allow me to tell you the best news you’ve ever heard. You are the stars that Abram stared into the deepest dark of the evening sky and saw. Your are them. And friends you are the baby chickens that Jesus wanted desperately to protect from the brokenness and injustice of the world. You are them. And you are living in a time in which the ravages of the cycles of brokenness continue to plague our existence whether it is shootings in school, or bombs dropped by drones, or greed in our systems that deems some folks worthy of life and others of starvation. We are living in times of great darkness for a great many people, and yet. And yet we also live in a time pregnant with hope. A time in which all that is going on, all that we struggle against in ourselves and the world, all the that is just the birth pangs of something new, and reborn, and beautiful.  The redemption of Jesus, that event that we prepare for that frees us from our burdens, from our fears, that event in which the deepest darkness was pierced with a blinding light, frees you today, all you have to do is step into the light. It has already happened and all we have to do is faithfully step into this moment. And this one. And this one. The one who traversed through the countryside calling out the poor and the dispossessed. The one who reached out to grimy fishermen and broken tax collectors and turned them into pillars of the faith. The one who loved all people unconditionally even though he demanded that we give it everything we have to be better tomorrow than we were today. In that one, we find freedom. We are free, free from trying to find meaning in the stuff of this world, free from serving any powers and principalities but God, free from getting lost in the brokenness of ourselves if we will but only step out of the darkness and into the light. It is that easy. A hand is extended with the greatest gift we could ever imagine. A voice pierces the cold and unfeeling silence of the world with the greatest message ever told. “You. Are. Loved!” No matter who you are, no matter what you have done or left undone, you are loved. That is the whole of the scriptures brought together. If you wanted to study the depth of the universe or of God you could spend a lifetime pondering those words. You are loved. If you want to challenge the power structures of every dominant culture in the world they can all be brought down to their knees with the words, “you are loved.” If you want to pierce the most cynical parts of yourself, wipe away the apathy of unconcern that so many of us battle everyday simply repeat the words, “you are loved.” And we are called to share that message with everyone we meet.

And so what now? We may, allow the darkness of the world, the brokenness of the world to overwhelm us. We may leave this place and return to life as normal with the old order of the world still in place, still cycling unchallenged through our world and our creation. We may choose to be unmoved by the plight of those who search in vain for hope and peace and love and acceptance. Or we can be the stars that we are. We can be those baby chickens, gathered under the loving wings of our mother. We can be beloved children of the most High and we may, follow the footsteps of the one who was born in utter disgrace and disregard, the one who was beaten, spat upon, cursed and killed but who brought a message of radical love that continues to infect people. A message of love that breaks the barriers that too often tear people apart. A message of love that can bring joy eternal to you this moment and every moment. We can choose  at this moment to no longer be imprisoned by the brokenness of the world and then we can reach out and touch the love of God and never be the same. And then we can go out into the rest of the world, obeying all that Jesus told his earliest followers and show people how they too can touch the boundless love of God. The choice is yours, and mine, and ours. Amen.

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