When was the last time you saw a night sky filled with stars? I took a star filled night sky for granted most of my growing up years, in fact I took northern lights for granted. We lived on air force bases that were often further north than Nova Scotia and not usually close to a major centre so light pollution wasn’t an issue, if it was even a concept that was around then. That changed when I moved from Labrador to Toronto and I didn’t really see the night for a couple of years.
Then when I visited a small Manitoba town for my grandparents 50th wedding celebration, and looked up one evening, the stars seemed close enough to touch. This dome of light, that stretched across the prairie sky from one horizon to the other, was filled with blazing, sparkling, dazzling light. Almost more than my adult mind could comprehend. Because I don’t think I had really ‘seen’ it as a child, it was simply there. The starry sky pictures on the slides this morning are ones that my son took at Cape Split this summer.
Todays readings is about Abram’s vision of the night sky. I can only imagine the night sky in the desert. But before we get to that, we have jumped over about twelve chapters in the book of Genesis and I want to fill in some of the gaps!
Last week we had one of the stories of creation and of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. There are a number of things that happen in between that and todays reading:
• Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden
• They have children
• Noah builds an ark and God promise never to destroy the earth again
• The tower of Babel is built and then the people scattered
• There are LOTS of generations born
• And we wind up with Abram and Sarai who settle in Canaan, and God promises Abram descendants.
In chapter 13, it is written:
14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring[a] forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks[b] of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.
Today, I am not going to focus on the colonial aspects of moving into land that already had people living on it, but focus on God’s promises.
Teri Peterson writes, “When God called Abram and Sarai to leave their home in Ur and go to a new land, they went without question, believing God’s promise of descendants as numerous as grains of sand, trusting that God would use them to bless the whole world. When the camp grew too large for the land to sustain all the herds and people, Abram’s nephew Lot took his part of the family and animals, and went to settle in another area. During a war between Canaanite tribes, Lot was kidnapped by raiders. Abram took his men and went to battle the hostile tribe, rescuing Lot and all his family and their possessions. Abram then refused to take any of the spoils of war, returning home having received only a blessing from the high priest of the area where Lot lived. We pick up the story from there, in Genesis 15: 1:6
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?”[a] 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 toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And Abram believed the LORD; and the LORD[b] reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Even today, people struggle with infertility; it can be heartbreaking. But in the world in which Abram and Sarai lived, not having children meant not having anyone to care for them in their old age. It meant your name disappeared… it as if you never were. For Abram and Sarai, it also meant that God had not fulfilled God’s promises. That God was absent. When have you felt that way? Are you feeling that way now about 2020? That God is absent.
• Remember back in January, it started with horrific wildfires in Australia; I can hardly remember that now.
• Racial tension that has always been there, but is being uncovered
• Police that respond with excess force
• Mental health issues on the rise
• Wildfires in the western part of the continent
• Clearcutting in Kejimikujik
• Political unrest in the USA
• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying last night
• Rents on apartments out of control
• Economic uncertainty
• Deaths of friends
• How many other things can we add to the list
Perhaps you are feeling that way about the church? Perhaps you have said, at least in the silence of your heart, “God, I have done everything you have asked, I have worked at church suppers, I have taught Sunday school, I have baked and shoveled snow and counted money and read scripture and yet my children and grandchildren are absent, it’s like we never even had them at all.”
We could be very discouraged. I can be very discouraged. But a number of things struck me about this reading this week:
• Did you notice that God take Abram outside to show him the stars?
• Is God inviting us to look outside our churches for our blessings?
• Is God inviting us to see the people in the neighbourhood as our siblings?
We sometimes glibly say that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and I am going to try and be more intentional about using the word siblings so that in includes those who don’t identify as either gender. But if we say we are all siblings, then the people we meet in the neighbourhood are part of God’s inheritance just as much as we are.
We used this piece of scripture as our spiritual grounding piece at the executive meeting on Tuesday evening and over and over again, the members of executive said to continue in faithfulness, even against seemingly insurmountable odds. That there are blessings to be found even in Covid… that God is faithful.
You know how I have been preaching on Holy Currencies and the Cycle of Blessings and how they all flow into one another. In one of the chapters the author writes about how he sees abundance where others see scarcity. For instance, when he sees unemployed people, he sees a resource rather than a burden. This was demonstrated one morning at the Food Bank. Sam was telling the clients that they were working on what needs to happen in order for the clients to be inside as the cold weather starts up and one of those needs is for more volunteers. Without a moment’s hesitation, one woman put her hand up. I am not sure we often think of our food bank clients as people who have something to offer us. Usually we think of them as receiving things from us.
God took Abram outside his tent and showed him the vast array of blessings that are his IF he can count them. God takes us outside our church and shows us the vast array of blessings that are ours IF we can count them.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of living the blessings. Amen.
Genesis 13: 14-18 & Genesis 15: 1-6
September 20, 2020