Sunday, February 28, 2010

Starry, Starry Night

[God] brought [Abram] outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to count them." Then [God] said, "So shall your descendants be." And [Abram] believed the LORD and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, NRSV)

One... Two... Three... Crunch! Three! How many licks does it take to get to the chocolaty center of a Tootsie Pop... No, no, no... Concentrate. One... Two... Three... Four... No, wait I counted that one twice! Or, did I? Oh, I've got to start over again. Man, there a lot of these stars... "Starry, Starry Night..." Now , come on, I've got to be serious.

God, how come you had to make so many? Seriously, would space be any less with bright, with, say, a few hundred thousand less stars? Ah, space... Space, the final frontier... Enough! I've got to concentrate here. Okay... Now we're really going to do it this time. One... Two... Three... Four.... Fiiive..... Siiiiixxxx............ Zzzzzzzzz!

Oh, this is impossible, God. I'll never be able to count all of these stars. Even if one of my future relatives invents the Hubble Telescope (whatever that is). But I suspect you already know that. I suspect the plans for that Hubble thingamajig are already rumbling around in your immense mind. There are certain things that I just don't need to know. Only trust... Only trust...

For instance, why me God? Why did you go and chose me of all people? I'm nothing special. Just the son of a maker of idols. There is nothing that particularly distinguishes me from my kinsmen. Good old "Average Abe" they call me. I know a little about a lot, but nothing, surely, to merit the attention of the divine.

Then of course, there's this whole childless thing. Sarai has been so embarrassed and ashamed. My heart goes out to her. She has felt the eyes of the small town market crowd upon her everywhere she goes; their hushed whispery tones echoing, accusing... "Poor old Abe. Such a great guy and he's going to die without an heir. Sarai cannot give him an heir. The gods must be really upset with her. Wonder what she did..." It got so bad, that there were days she absolutely refused to go to market and I had to do the shopping or we'd go hungry. Many the day I'd come home to find her curled up in a ball on the floor, vegetables scattered everywhere from when she came home and collapsed under the weight of her grief and shame. And I would just hold her and rock her and sing to her, whatever I could do to reassure her, but it never felt like enough.

And it's not that we haven't tried to have a child... It just doesn't seem to be in the cards for us. And although Sarai really dosen't believe it, I don't blame her. I really don't. She is the love of my life. I blame the gods and their maddening meddling in the affairs of mortals. They're gods, for crying out loud. Don't they have better things to do; their own affairs to meddle in? Why do they have to meddle in mine?

Then along you came, LORD, and you tell m e to pick up stakes and leave it all behind. You tell me that you will give a land and descendants more numerous than the stars. And, well, a fresh start sounded good. And it wasn't like there was a whole lot keeping me in Harran anyway, but it still was not an easy thing to leave behind everything I've ever known on nothing more than the Word of God. Who knows if these promises aren't simply a figment of my imagination, a fantasy of wish fulfillment, a bit of undigested cheese...

But Sarai and I, we talked it over, and we trusted you. And now here we are, a gazillion miles away from any signs of civilization. Just us and the stars. The dusty desert as dry and barren as Sarai's still lifeless womb. Kind of hard to be a great nation of two. Just saying. Looks more and more like the undigested cheese theory was correct and Eliezer will get all that isn't blown away by these dry desert winds.

And my dear Sarai... She cries herself to sleep most nights... She doesn't subscribe to the undigested cheese theory. She thinks it's all her fault that we are out here, just us and the stars, with little hope in sight.

As for me... I just try to believe, try to trust. There is nothing else I can do. I just sit out on these cold, clear nights, and try to count the stars that are splattered across the heavens. I try to imagine each one of them as one of my heirs... each one an heir who will birth great things into the world and carry on my legacy long after I have returned to the dust. Each star a promise, your promise, O LORD. Your promise to me, your promise to Sarai, your promise to the world. Your promise in which I trust. Your promise in which I hope.

Okay, now back to work... One... Two... Three...

Abram is a model for all of us who are his heirs. Even those who know what the Hubble Telescope is all about. Maybe we haven't had to pick up stakes and risk everything, like Abram, and maybe we haven't been promised descendants as numerous as the stars (three are quite enough for me, thank you kindly)... But, we are all recipients of God's promises. We are all asked to die daily to self -- to leave behind our own self-conceived, hopes, dreams, and visions -- and to rise each day to walk in the newness of the Spirit of God living within.

We don't have twinkling stars to hold onto; but, rather listening water droplets sprinkled upon us and the sign of the cross marked upon us. These, these are the signs of God's promise to us. Signs which are promises to the world which is to be blessed through us. Signs which are reckoned to us as righteousness. Signs in which we trust and which become the basis of our life and the source of our hope.

Perhaps we can look up at the night sky and imagine each twinkling star as a glistening water droplet... A glistening water droplet of promise. One... Two... Three... Amen

Sermon for Lent 2C (RCL)

I am the unlikely pastor. Welcome to my world.

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