Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

Look Up to the Sky!” (Gen.15:1-6 and Ps.27 and Phil.2:13-16a)

Once again, we have a story of faith & trust, a welcome message for the journey of Lent.  Seems the authors of the Bible must have known how much we need to hear such stories, again & again & again.  For it’s hard to hold on to hope, when life just doesn’t look like it’s going the way God promised.  So often we’re called to believe something very different, than what we’re experiencing right now, in the moment.  Take Abraham, for example.

He & his wife Sarah had followed his father’s dream, to move from Ur near the Persian Gulf, all the way to Canaan on the Mediterranean, but halfway there, his father had died.  So Abraham found himself settling into life in the north near what is Turkey today, in the town of Haran.  But then, he too heard God’s call & promise himself = Move again, Abraham, to a land I will show you, and there you will make a home for many descendants and become famous and be a blessing for other nations all around you.  So they went south, with their nephew Lot, and when they arrived in Canaan, this time God appeared to Abraham, saying – here is the place.  So they settled there, expecting all would be well.  Instead, there came famine that drove them to Egypt, where Abraham would trade Sarah for security & wealth, until the Egyptians got fed up and drove them all back to Canaan, where Abraham & Lot would part ways, until Lot was enslaved by local kings and Abraham would come to the rescue, and other nearby kings were so grateful, they gave him even more wealth – – I guess all this was the “becoming famous” part of God’s promise – – a lot of living packed into these 10 years.  Abraham now had land and a lot of servants & livestock, but still no descendants of his very own, which in Jewish culture were the only things really worth having, someone to give it all to when you’re gone, so in the generations to come your memory would live on.  I’m childless and downsizing, so I know how that feels, sweeping away your life’s memories into the dustbin, as if none of this matters at all.

In that context, we have today’s word in Genesis, a cloudy vision this time in which Abraham only hears God’s voice.  “Fear not, Abraham, for I will shield you from danger and give you great reward.”  Anyone else would surely love to hear this, but on the heels of his military success & great bounty of riches already received, a frustrated & hopeless Abraham answers God with a big “so what!”  I’m in my 80’s and another decade has passed.  Where ARE the descendants you promised us?  And Sarah’s now in her 70’s.  So what good are your promises when they never come true?

I’ve felt that way about many things.  I’m sure you have too.  Does God even hear my prayer, and is the answer always NO, or just wait & wait & wait & wait?  My life is so small and God is beyond huge, so maybe God’s forgotten me or just letting me learn from suffering.  Nah – I don’t believe that.  Scripture teaches us that God is love – and love is kind.  And as we’re studying this year in the Presbyterian Women’s circle, the promise most often given by God to us is this = “I will be with you.”  For in some form or another, it’s the word of the Lord in most every story of the Bible.  So I’m not surprised that God hung in there with Abraham’s seemingly ungrateful response, and I’m amazed and thrilled at the way God reveals his promise again, to this child of the covenant.  For God took Abraham outside, out into creation, out into the irrational night when things are not always what they seem, not always what they look like in the harsh light of day.  And God said – Look up, Abraham.  Look into my endless sky.  Wipe the tossing & turning sleep from your eyes and see what I’ve already done.  Just TRY & count all the stars I’ve created.  You can’t even begin to see them all, but hear my promise.  You will have as many descendents as all those stars.  What a comeback, God.  What a deep impression your glorious creation makes on Abraham.  He will not soon forget this promise again.  For his hope is restored, his place in the universe assured, and he immediately responds with simple trust, which is your deepest longing, what you need from us, O Lord, to make your heart sing.

What a gift is this nurture we receive from nature, if we but stop our busyness & worry and remember who we are & whose we are.  As we look with the heart, we see in nature God’s power & creativity & the joy God has in our existence, for all that God has made is a great tapestry, a great weaving together of life that had its beginning with God’s very breath & voice, wanting to be in relationship with us.  So God’s call to Abraham “to look at the sky” was just what he needed, beyond mere words, to stir his spirit and reunite him with his Maker.

In worship, most all the time, you’ll find me looking up and out these windows, into the wild blue yonder, seeking the “otherness” that is God, seeking a new perspective on my life.  I think our technological culture today makes us hungry for such mystery and awe.  Remember the scene in the Pixar movie “WALL-e” that pictures our rescue from such focus on keyboards & productivity, when we finally realize the amazing life just outside our windows if we but look up & see it & remember our humanity, our connectedness to creation & to each other.

Of course, as children of God, the perfect window to our souls is the life of Christ, the One God gave us to teach us who we really are, the life so filled with the Spirit of resurrecting power that he senses our depths with but a look into our eyes or a healing touch.  For it was He who brought the glory of God down from the distant heavens and into our hearts & hands, showing us how we too can be such messengers of new life, one for another, as the Spirit of the Lord not only rests upon us, but within us, fleshing out what seems so far beyond understanding and making it tangible & caring, for the good of all creation.

So we seek with all our heart & mind & strength to follow Christ, to reflect God’s love in all we say & do, for as Abraham, we too are children of the covenant, receiving God’s same promises fulfilled = a place for our hearts to call home, where everybody knows our name, and a Spirit-filled connection to the community of faith who came before us & descends from us.  And as Jesus reminded us in his Sermon on the Mount, both now and forever, may we be so blessed and pure in heart that we do see God – – everywhere we go, in everyone we meet, in all life that surrounds us and lifts us up, as we encourage one another for the living of our days.

Thanks be to God for the everlasting hope and trust such blessings bring, as we shine like stars in God’s sky.  Amen.

Beecher Mathes