And God told Abram, “So shall your descendants be.” And [Abram] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. And as P.T. Barnum would say, “There is one born every minute!”
Can you imagine the scene? Abram, standing out in the desert, looking up at the sky. It would be similar to the sky of today except for one big thing, there would be more stars. Not that the number would change, but since there would be no city lights, the sky would be aglow with stars; more stars than we can even imagine. And Abram would be there, looking, trying to count them all.
Then God tells Abram that Abram’s own descendants will be as numerous as those very stars that Abram now sees. How absurd is that? Here is the Barnum moment. There is no way that Abram could have that many descendants! Abram and his wife are old! And have no children! And they are not just “mid-life crisis old” but they are Willard Scott old! Abram is 100 years old, and Sarai is 90. (Although friends tell her that she does not look a day over 83.) They are old, and they don’t have any children, and “no children” means “no descendants.” In fact, Abram reminds God of this very fact. But God promises Abram the he WILL have heirs and assures Abram that Abram’s very own son will be his heir. And what is most amazing about this whole thing is Abram believes God’s promise.
What kind of fool would believe something like this? It may seem sacrilegious for me to speak of one of the patriarchs of our faith as a fool, but really, the whole thing seems kind of foolish. Even today, with our advanced medical knowledge, we couldn’t succeed in making a 90 year-old woman pregnant! And this was thousands of years ago in the desert! But in the face of what Abram “knew” to be true by worldly standards, Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
I am guessing we all know the end of the story. We know that God follows through on the promise of descendants. The descendants of Abram ARE as numerous as the stars seen on that night so long ago. And we know that one of those stars that Abram was looking at all those years ago was for you, and one of them was for me! God certainly does follow through on God’s promises! Abram had faith, Abram believed, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Our second reading today, the reading from Hebrews, tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We need to remember that in the Bible, hope is more than just a pious wish; it is a deeply held conviction. Bram had that assurance from God that this impossibility, this child in his old age, would be a reality. And this impossibility came to pass; what the Lord promised held true.
Do we have faith? Do we have the assurance of things hoped for? Do we have the conviction of things not seen? Do we really believe that God can do those things we consider impossible? I know I have encountered many people who entertain the possibility of God doing the impossible when they are faced with the death of a loved one; but when faced with our day-to-day lives, we really don’t expect miracles. We are not the ones that P.T. Barnum spoke of, we are not the ones born every minute.
In our day to day life, we find it hard to have faith in God’s promises, don’t we? In our daily life, we want to be in control of the situation. We want to be able to look at what was happening, size up what is going on, and then make things happen. Now, wanting to control things is an ok way to function in our world, but it is not what God is asking of us. God is asking us to look into the sky and dream of the possibilities. God is asking us to suspend our disbelief on the miraculous and have the assurance of those things we hope for and the conviction of those things we do not see! God is asking us to suspend our grasp on the things that we can see and open our hands to God’s reality!
I had read a book a while ago with the interesting title of “Entertainment Evangelism.” This book was written by Pastor Walt Kallestad. Now this is not a name that I would expect you to know. I would be very surprised if you had heard of him. But that aside, Walt is a highly controversial person in the Lutheran Church, he is the senior pastor of the largest ELCA Lutheran Church, Community Church of Joy in Phoenix. Now the one thing that is interesting is that Joy was not always the big congregation it is now. At one point, the congregation had almost folded. When Walt started there, the congregation was about to close. It was all primed to be a vital congregation, but it just seemed to keep shrinking.
The problem was that the congregation did not have a vision. They did not believe that God could or WOULD work a miracle in them. They were looking at their present situation and not looking up at the stars. They were looking at their feet and what little they had around them instead of looking up into the sky and seeing the vision that God had prepared for them. When the Community Church of Joy started to look at the stars and had the assurance that in God they hoped for dream of bringing the love of Christ to all people WOULD be a reality, things began to change. The people began to envision a new way of being the Church. They began to return the Joy to the Community Church of Joy. They became so much more than they ever dreamed. And now, they almost number more than the stars.
Now I am not suggesting that we here at St. Swithin's are supposed to grow to the size of a mega church, and I am not sure we even what to entertain that possibility, but I wonder what could happen if we looked up at the stars and dreamed? What are the things we hope for here at St. Swithin's? Are we ready to bring the Gospel to those who many not be able to see the world in the same way we do? Are we ready to look foolish in the service of the Lord?
Yep, look foolish, just as Abram looked foolish. Look foolish just as Noah looked foolish. Look foolish just as Simon looked when he gave up the fishing business and follow Jesus. Are we willing to believe that we, in the service of God, could become so much more than we ever dreamed?
So often what looks foolish to the world is the great wisdom of God. What the world sees as impossible, God sees as possible. Jesus rose from the dead! God doesn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible.”
So if we can see all these things that God has done, why do we still doubt? Why do we limit our vision to only that which can be seen? Where is our conviction of the things not seen? I think God is asking us to look to the stars! God is asking us to dream! God is asking, “What can become of ST. Swithin's?” Do we have faith enough to look to the future and dream of a future that may be impossible to us but possible through God? Do we have faith enough to dream the dream of Abram? Are we willing to look foolish for God?
Abram believed God, and this was reckoned to him as righteousness. I think God is asking us to believe. God is asking us to move beyond our doors and see what miracles we could find. God is asking us to not just believe in miracles but to rely on them! I have found that God is so much more willing to provide miracles than I am willing to accept them. We all just need to trust. To have faith! To look to the stars! God says to Abram, and Jesus says to us, “do not be afraid.”