Count the Stars, If You Can

Meditation on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

March 17, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Abraham

 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ 2 But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ 3 And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ 5 He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ 8 But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ 9 He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…

 

***

 

Were any of you alarmed on Friday afternoon by a dark minivan driving slowly past your home? It was the Ann Leppla tour bus, navigating the streets of Coshocton, assisted by longtime resident storyteller, Chuck Snyder.  Did any of you see us?

I could not have had better tour guides than Ann and Chuck! I wanted to see Coshocton from the perspective of those who have lived in this community a long time and love this town; those who know many names and faces and all the important and perhaps lesser known places.

Ann told me at the beginning of the tour that there would be a quiz at the end. I said I hoped it would be multiple choice! Don’t worry—I probably won’t remember any of the embarrassing personal stories Chuck and Ann told me about you! Just kidding. Of course, I will remember the embarrassing stories, but I will probably get the names and details mixed up! This is all part of the delightful, small-town ministry experience.

It is easy to see the Body of Christ connected and at work in a community of this size. I have already seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, as the psalmist declares in Psalm 27. Every day, you demonstrate God’s love to one another through your caring words and gentle ways.

And I don’t have to tell you that I have had some challenges since I’ve come—and you have helped me with them. The latest one was this week, when my mom had surgery and you prayed for her! Then Dad had a fall that led to a trip to the ER, X-rays and discussion about how we can make his living situation safer. The hard thing for me was that I wasn’t well enough or free to travel to be with them. I wrestled with doubts and anxiety—not about my call to ministry but about how I should respond as a good daughter. Ultimately, I came to trust that I am where God wants me to be, and I am doing what the Lord wants me to do. I can’t and shouldn’t try to do anything more than that!

We can learn from the call of Abram that sometimes God wants us to leave our hometowns and our kin—everything comfortable and familiar—to go to the place that God will show us and do what the Lord says. And sometimes, all God wants us to do is wait, hope, trust and pray.

 

***

When we encounter Abram in Genesis 15, he has already heard the voice of God for the first time and responded obediently. He and his wife Sarai and nephew Lot pack up all the people and stuff they have acquired in Haran to go the place that God will show them and make of Abram a great nation. In him, all the families of the earth will be blessed. But at the time of his calling, Abram has no children and Sarai is elderly and barren–unable to conceive. Abram and his family are natives of Ur, an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf in what is today Iraq. Ur is a sophisticated, prosperous urban center of culture and commerce.

Abram, Sarai and Lot have had some adventures. After the first call to Abram at age 75 in Chapter 12, a severe famine forces them to live as aliens in Egypt, where Abram, fearing that he would be killed for his beautiful wife, persuades her to lie and tell Pharaoh that she is only his sister. In actuality, she is his half sister, the daughter of his father but not his mother.  But she is also his wife. In exchange for her moving in with Pharaoh, Abram receives many sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels and slaves. But the Lord afflicts Pharaoh with great plagues because of Sarai. Finally, Pharaoh learns that Sarai is Abram’s wife. Instead of seeking revenge, Pharaoh tells Abram and his family, “It’s time to go.” By now, Abram has become very rich. He and Lot have so many animals, possessions and people between them that the land cannot support them both living together. So they separate; Lot pitches his tent in wicked Sodom, and Abram moves to Canaan, where the Lord promises Abram land as far as he can see for his offspring, who will be like the “dust of the earth; so that if one could count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” Abram pitches his tent by the Oaks of Mamre at Hebron, where he makes an altar to the Lord.

But soon Lot is taken captive in Sodom and Abram leads 318 trained men, born in his household, to rescue Lot. Then Abram receives the blessing of King Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, and Abram gives him a tithe—one tenth—of everything he has.

That brings us to today’s reading in Gen. 15—when Abram has everything he could ever want except for the one thing he has always wanted—a child, preferably a son. And he’s getting anxious and beginning to doubt God’s promise to him. Years have passed, and he and Sarai are still childless! So God grants Abram a vision in which the Lord says to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great.” For the first time ever, Abram engages in dialogue with the Lord. “But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’” Abram doesn’t wait for God to answer; he goes on to accuse the Lord, “You have given me NO offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  But that’s not what God has planned. The Lord says, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue—(your biological child)—shall be your heir.”

A beautiful thing happens next. God brings Abram outside. Night has fallen, and God tells Abram to look toward “heaven,” and “count the stars, if you are able to count them.” It’s like the earlier promise of the dust and the promise of descendants as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea in Genesis 22. You can imagine a long, breathless pause, as Abram considers the wonder of God’s creation—the reminder that God is GOD and we are human beings that God has made for God’s own delight, companionship, and joy. If the Lord could make countless stars in the night sky, couldn’t the Lord also give Sarai and Abram one child of their own? As Abram counts the stars, God says, “So shall your descendants be.” And Abram believes the Lord—and God sees him as righteous.

 

***

God continues to be patient with Abram, though his doubts don’t end with the new covenant of Gen. 15. Sarai, in Gen. 16, will come up with the idea of “helping” God’s promise come to pass by having Abram sleep with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, so he can have a son and heir through him. It ends badly, with Hagar and her son with Abram being banished from the household.

How important is Abraham for Christians today? Scripture says that through one miracle child named Isaac, all the families of the earth are blessed. Abraham is mentioned 74 times in the New Testament—twice in the first two verses of Matthew in the genealogy of “Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In Galatians and Romans, the Apostle Paul calls him the “Father of the Faithful.” James calls him, the “Friend of God.”

Like Abram, we all have trouble waiting on the Lord and believing in God’s promises. It isn’t that we can’t believe in the goodness of God. It’s that we can’t believe that we are good enough for God’s promises. Well, we aren’t good enough. But Jesus has opened the way for our adoption as God’s children and heirs, joint heirs with Christ, says Paul in Romans 8:17, by the grace of God!

And frankly, we just aren’t good at waiting. I’m not! We want to do MORE than what God wants us to do, when what God often wants for us is simply to wait and hope, trust and pray, though there may be NO evidence that what God has promised will come true. Friends, this is the very definition of faith! Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the “assurance or confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT seen!”

But the kind of waiting that Psalm 27 is talking about is active, not passive. While we wait, we move forward in our journey of faith, seeking spiritual growth, asking the Lord to teach us his way and engaging in honest, open, and fearless prayer with our Heavenly Father. We need to tell the Lord exactly how we feel—like Abram did! “You have given me no offspring!” “You didn’t keep your promise, though I did what you told me to do!” But be prepared to be humbled, as God brings to mind the wonder of God’s creation.

The One who created the stars in the sky—can you count them?—you know you can’t—is the One who created you and me to serve the Lord faithfully!

Let us believe in the One who kept his promises to Abraham and will keep his promises to us, though we struggle with fear and doubt!

Wait. Hope. Trust. And pray!

 

Will you pray with me now?

 

Holy One, we struggle with fear and doubt every day, so we seek your face. We cry out for help for our loved ones, healing for the sick in our families and congregation. Lord, teach us your way. Thank you for your love and your grace, hearing and answering our prayers patiently and kindly, like you did with your friend, Abram, the Father of the Faithful. Lord, we aren’t good at waiting. We aren’t patient like you. Open our eyes to see your goodness in the land of the living, to notice the signs of your Kingdom promises coming true. Build up our faith and guide us to walk this journey obediently every day, trusting in you, holding on to hope, being courageous in prayer. Through your Son we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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