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Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Mar 17, 2019

Passage: Genesis 15:1-18

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Category: Lent

Detail:

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent (2019)
March 17th, 2019
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35

 

"Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.”

Growing up along the coast, I quickly learned that if you wanted to see the stars, the best place to go was the beach. I can’t tell you how many times I went with my family, with my friends, and even by myself down to the beach to walk along the shoreline and look up at the stars. On especially clear nights, you could even dimly make out the light of the Milky Way. But I was wrong about the beach being the best place to see the stars. 

I first appreciated the effects of what’s called “light pollution” after I lived in rural Michigan in a place that was a good 10 miles away from even the closest small town. Up in Michigan, it seemed like the visible stars in the night sky had doubled, and whenever I revisited the southern coast, I realized that the effects of light pollution meant that I couldn’t see as many stars. And when I moved to a place in rural Tennessee that was even more remote than where I was in Michigan, I well remember marveling at just how many stars I could see in the night sky. It was breathtaking.

 

If you’ve ever lived in a remote place that doesn’t suffer from the ill-effects of light pollution, then you’ll likely be able to relate to the kind of awe that I’m talking about. Especially if you’ve been out in the desert on a clear, moonless night. So the story from Genesis about God telling Abram (soon to be named Abraham) to count the stars is a story that I think most of us here can relate to. If you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and been amazed by how many little points of light there are out there, then you can identify with this story from scripture and maybe even imagine yourself in Abram’s shoes. Staring up at the stars with a sense of eager hope that all those lights represent promises that God will one day fulfill. 

As you recall, the promise that God made to Abram on that starry night had to do with descendants and land. And the promise was made at a time when Abram had given up hope of having even one child, let alone scores of descendants. Yet, as the story of scripture bears it out, God makes good on the promise: Abram’s descendants become too numerous to count and wind up possessing the land which God promised. Only things did not go according to plan.       

 

And, as the scriptures tell us, over time the descendants of Abram lost the thread of why they were supposed to possess the land in the first place. They were supposed to be a people known for their love of God; for their righteousness, their fair dealing, their generous treatment of the poor and the stranger, and for their care of the land that God had given them. They were supposed to shine like stars. But as the story goes, by and large, they failed. And instead they began acting just like all the other nations and peoples around them. They began oppressing others and playing power games with other kingdoms and empires. And though they possessed the land as Abram’s descendants, they forgot the story of their ancestor Abram, who looked up to the stars in awe and hope.     

 

Time and time again, some of Abram’s descendants stood up to call the people to account and to remind them of who they were supposed to be - and these figures became known as prophets. The prophets reminded their fellow descendants of Abram that the land of promise was intended as a means to an end and never as only an end; that the land of promise was to give them a place where things like the love of God, and mercy, and justice, and kindness could shed light in the midst of the world’s darkness. But usually these prophets were ignored during their lifetimes, and often, the prophets were denounced and imprisoned, exiled, or killed; just for calling their fellow descendants of Abram to return to their true identity as children of God.

For many in power, the trappings of power meant that the prophets were seen as an outside threat that needed to be neutralized, lest their message spread and the descendants of Abram begin to look again to the stars and hope for the promises of God. And on through the centuries, this story rang true, to the end that Jerusalem, the capital city of the promised land became synonymous with the violent rejection of God’s desire to restore the promise once made to Abram. 

 

And then one day, a descendant of Abram, Jesus of Nazareth, began to preach the old prophetic message about God’s love and God’s kingdom and to call the descendants of Abram to remember their identity. Only this Jesus was not just a prophet. He was the very incarnation of God’s promise to Abram. But still, he posed a threat to those who were in power. And the age-old story of what happens when power is aligned with fear played out, and Jesus wound up on the cross. When he had been killed, those in power who had been afraid of him thought that they had won. Only, his resurrection showed that fear and the possession of power could not, can not, and will not ever defeat the promise of God. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.   

 

This past Friday, we witnessed once again what happens when fear is allied with power. And fifty of Abram’s descendants were killed as a result. And it might seem like there are now fifty fewer stars in the sky. Certainly the world is a darker place for what happened. 

 

And, once again, we are left asking what, if anything, we can do when hatred and bitterness and fear give rise to darkness and evil. It’s an especially hard question when evil seems to be striking with such horrifying regularity. But here is the lesson of Abram’s story. Abram thought that all hope was lost when God told him to count the stars. And after telling Abram to count the stars, God said, “So shall your descendants be.” In number, yes. And in brightness. 

Do not let fear and bitterness and hatred gain a foothold in your heart and convince you that all is darkness. If you are a descendant of Abram - and by the grace of God, you ARE - then shine. Continue to show love and faithfulness. Be kind. Welcome the stranger. Care for the poor and the oppressed. Even when the world seems full of darkness. Especially when the world seems full of darkness. And continue to look up to the stars in hope.

God save us.