READ: Genesis 15.1-12, 17-78

I love stargazing. Anyone else? I mean, I don’t own a big telescope, and I don’t trek to the farthest reaches of the land to find the least amount of light pollution to look at the stars. And I don’t know all the names of the stars and constellations and galaxies… But on clear nights, I often take time to walk out onto my back deck — usually while letting the dogs out — and I look up to see the stars. It’s a blessing where I live at the top of Blanchard hill there. There’s really only one streetlight, and it’s on the other side of the woods. So it gets pretty dark there at night. In the summer, I’ll sit out back for hours sometimes, thinking, praying and looking up at the stars. There’s something about meditating on how much bigger everything is in the universe, and just how small and insignificant we seem to be in the universe that God created. Just for fun, does anyone know what the closest star to the Earth is? It’s Alpha Centauri. Y’all have at least heard of that, right? Three stars actually compose Alpha Centaur, but they’re so far away, they look like one. Does anyone know how close is the nearest of the three are to Earth? 4.22 light-years. How far is a light year? (remember, a light-year measures distance, not time) There are approximately 24 trillion miles in a light-year! If that doesn’t seem significant to you, let’s reframe it: If we were able to travel to Alpha Centauri — the closest star to Earth in our solar system — it would take us 1.2 billion hours. Ok, if that doesn’t seem like much to you, then let’s reframe that: 1.2 billion hours equals 137 thousand years! We’d arrive at Alpha Centauri in the Year 139,019. It’s just unfathomable, isn’t it? And that’s just one star in an estimated one septillion that we know of! A septillion is 24 zeroes to the right of the numeral 1: It’s unfathomable! It’s unfathomable to think of the God who made the all stars and calls them by name (Psalm 147) not only made us, too, but sees us, hears us and knows us not just by our names, but knows every hair on our heads. Our names are engraved into his hand. (Isaiah 49). The God who made the entire universe as complex and amazing as it is also made us. And he has a plan for each one of us. Abram In our reading in Genesis 15 today, we see God’s plan for Abram’s life. Abram, who eventually will be renamed by God to be Abraham. We meet Abram in a very difficult moment of his life. Abram is living comfortably with his father’s family in Canaan, and God calls to Abram and tells him to leave and God will guide him. God tells Abram he will make him a great nation and give him countless offspring. He will be respected and honored and blessed. And Abram takes his wife, Sarai, and his brother, Lot, and some others, and he obediently leaves, not knowing where he’s going. The end up in Egypt, run into trouble with Pharaoh, gets expelled from that country, separates from his brother, Lot, gets caught in a war, has to save his brother and then ends up back in a different part of Canaan near the evil city of Sodom. At this point, Abram’s just made an enormous circle that seems completely fruitless, and it cost him some of his family and the comforts and security of home. All for a God whom he really doesn’t know all that well but is trusting and obedient to. One night, Abram is sitting there contemplating just what it is he’s doing here. God just made him journey for years and nothing has happened. He’s only gotten into trouble, been put through trials and just continues to age. He wants tangible proof — something to physically hold in his hands — to know that God’s word is good and that he’s not insignificant. That’s he’s not simply wasting his time. And it’s there, when Abram is at his emptiest that God fills him. In a vision, God speaks to Abram: Beginning in Verse 14: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? “ You see, Abram wants what God promised him. A physical child — an heir to establish the nation God promised! In Verse 5, we hear God tell Abram: “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. This is how many children you will have.” We’re told Abram trusted the Lord, but he still wants evidence. Verse 8 “But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?” And it’s there that God tells him to make an offering — a sacrifice. God wants to ready Abram, but first, he must give something. He must sacrifice something and fully TRUST God. And he does what he’s told. He sacrifices a calf, a goat, a doce and a pigeon. Abram splits them in half on the altar. But did you hear what happened next? After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A deep darkness settled over him, and a fiery flame passes between the sacrificed animals. In the ancient near east, the animals were often split with the two people making the covenant walking between them to show they would take on the fate of the sacrificed animals if they violated the covenant, or agreement. In other words, if one violates the agreement, it’s death for them. God passes between the sacrificed animals as Abram is asleep. What two parties are there if one party is asleep? What this means is that God ALONE takes the full responsibility of the covenant for Abram. God acts alone for Abram. Living out the covenant What does this account tell us here today? First, that we’re covenant people. People who have been given a life with God NOT because of what we’ve done to earn it, but what God has done. We — little insignificant us — don’t make the covenant with God; God offers it to us. God made and honored this covenant. But second, that we do have to be obedient and faithfully follow what God wills for our lives. But God’s part and our part is not equal. It’s God who takes on fulfilling the covenant! Our role is much, much, much less significant. When Abram is told to come outside and look up at the stars, it is so that Abram — and us here today — understand how much bigger God is; how much more God loves us; how much more God has given to us; and how God exponentially blesses us. We look up at the stars tonight, and we may feel incredibly insignificant. Imagine asking God for something. Praying and pleading for something, and God tells us to go outside and look up at the stars. Our immediate reactions might just be, “Yeah, Lord, I get it.” “You made all of this, and I’m just a speck here in the universe you had created.” “Sometimes, God, I feel like I should be the center of your universe.” “I feel like everything revolves around me, but I am just a speck of dust — if that.” I imagine that’s how Abram was feeling when God told him to look up at the stars. But God doesn’t do that, does he? He doesn’t necessarily bring Abram outside under an amazing canopy of stars just to make him feel insignificant. Although Abram probably is humbled at that point. But God says this to him: “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. This is how many children you will have.” The Journey God calls to us today in the same way. That covenant is God’s plan for each of our lives. It’s a promise to be held and to be loved eternally. What is it that God is calling you to trust in? What does God have for you? What journey are you traveling today, or what wilderness do you find yourselves in? God’s answer is the same. Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. This is how many BLESSINGS you will have.” So what is our role in that if God’s the one who created Alpha Centauri and Abram and each of us? What are we asked to give or be obedient to, so that when we are called out to count the stars, we, like Abram, can trust in God’s word? * We’re in the midst of the Forty Days of Lent, and we are walking toward the cross with Jesus; * We are walking the wilderness with the Israelites; * We are awaiting God’s word on Mount Sinai with Moses; * And we are wandering obediently and counting stars with Abram. …Or we’re not. Instead, we’re passively listening to the Passion story again and focusing more on Easter dinner and our guest lists; We’re trivializing our ancestors’ forty-year walk to freedom, and inso doing, re-enslaving ourselves into the bondage of disbelief and complacency; We’re ignoring the voice from on high, calling to each of us; and we’re failing to look up, to count the stars, to trust God, live in loving obedience and reap the fruits of our faith. This Season of Lent is the time to break from our disbelief, to grow in strength by becoming weak, to fast or give up something or take on something that we better understand God’s sustenance in our lives. We want to see the covenant in a tangible, physical form. For Abram, it was to hold his promised child in his arms. What is it for us? We can only discover this when we give to the Lord what the Lord asks of us: Obedience. Emptying ourselves. And letting God fill us. Stargazing Abram could have sat despondently and depressed beneath the galaxy of stars on that holy night. He could have wallowed in the experience of feeling so insignificant under the weight of all of God’s creation. But it was his obedience in his sacrifice — in his obedience to do God’s will — in which the promise was seen, the promise was made, and the promise was kept. This very night, we could maybe look up in the sky and see Alpha Centauri. We could see it and think how insignificant we are. That would be a bad thing if that’s all we thought. Instead, like Abram, we could see the stars and understand that while God hung them all there and knows them by name, that God made a covenant with us — his children. And that he honors those promises. They are there before us, and the only thing they cost us is our obedience; It just takes us saying, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you.” The sacrifice he asks of us is to simply open our lives to him, which means emptying ourselves — especially in this season of Lent — so that God can fill us. Letting go of what’s in your hands that blocks the way for God to fill them. Giving of yourself for him. Picking up our cross beam and walking beside Jesus in these forty days. And beyond. Looking up to the the septillion stars and letting One Star — God — guide us. In full obedience. In full trust. In full significance.

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