Sermon August 7: As Many As the Stars in the Sky

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Faith United Methodist Church

August 7, 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Prayer of Illumination:

May the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Sermon:                              As Many As the Stars in the Sky

The past few days I have been camping at Half Moon Pond State Park in Central Vermont. My friend and I rented a tenting site for two nights and enjoyed canoeing, swimming, hiking and cooking over the campfire. On the first night we walked her dogs after dark before settling them into the tent for the night. When I looked up between the trees I saw so many stars. Of course the bright ones showed up first, but then there were layer upon layer upon layer of less intense but just as spectacular stars. In that moment I had a sense of what Abraham must have felt when God told him he would have descendants as many as the stars in the sky.

This summer our worship focus is Everyday Saints. Everyday Saints are people who, while living their every day lives, follow God in an inspirational way. Today we heard about Abraham and Sarah. You might think, “Their not everyday saints. They founded the national of Israel.” That is true, but they started out just like you and me….living their lives quietly in their community, going about their days, not expecting anything particularly spectacular to happen. Then they were invited to step out in faith.

As the author of Hebrews tells us, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “Faith is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It is our handle on what we can’t see.” Faith is our belief that the unexpected will happen….that the promise will come to life. The lesson then goes on to give examples of those who have lived life with such faith, and this is where we pick up with the story of Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah, we are reminded, were called from their homeland to a whole new place that they knew nothing about. They left a land of culture and good living for something completely unknown, and they did this because of a promise that God made to them.   Believing in the promise, yet not being given a time table in advance, they packed their things and headed out on their journey. Probably against the advice of some friends, and most likely with a little fear and trembling, they set off for an unknown place.

What did Abraham and Sarah look to in their journey, what assurances were they given, what kind of promise prompted them to make such a radical change, we may wonder? They weren’t promised riches or a life of ease or good health. What they were promised was a land where they would live, as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, and that through them all the families of the earth would be blessed.

So Abraham, with Sarah, followed the promise. Hebrews tells us, “By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents….” I enjoyed my camping trip, but I don’t think I would leave my comfortable home and travel many miles to live in tents.

Still, they followed the promise. This is not to say that Abraham and Sarah didn’t worry every once in a while and think, “Hmmm, it’s getting late…God better get to work on this promise.” Remember, Abraham was very old when they were called and Sarah was without children. It looked pretty likely that Abraham’s lineage would stop with him. As many as the stars in the sky must have seemed ridiculous.  But we know that, ultimately, God came through on the promise and Isaac was born. And, while they did not see the ultimate fulfillment of all God had promised, they were participants in the promise that they could see beginning and that continued to unfold after their death.

I think we can learn something from Abraham and Sarah when it comes to waiting for the fulfillment of promises. First of all, I think that we can learn that patience is not passive. While God gave them a promise of some future fulfillment, there was much to be done in the present. They had an active part in the promise. God didn’t say, “Stay where you are and the promise will happen.” God said, “Get moving!” They had to physically go to another place. They had to leave all they knew as familiar and place their trust in God.

We can also see that Abraham and Sarah didn’t get to experience all that God had promised them. Even setting out, they knew that they would not see it all come to pass. What they did was set in motion that promise that God made that would, over many hundreds of years, result in the nation of Israel and the coming of Christ. Everyday Saints often see that the promise is not all about them, its about God. As Robert Jewett, New Testament professor and author, writes, “The meaning of the pilgrim journey is not in arrival…but rather in the encounter with God and God’s word moment for moment along the pilgrim path.”

As followers of Christ today, we are part of the promise. God gave Abraham descendants as many as the stars in the sky so that all the world would be blessed. We are part of that blessing. And, as we step out in faith, we are like one of those stars in the sky, shining God’s light for others to see.

What everyday saints have you encountered who have set you on the path, but didn’t end up seeing the fulfillment of the promise? I think of my grandmother. She made this stole for me six years before I could wear it. She had faith that, one day, I would be able to wear it while leading worship, but she didn’t get to see that happen. When I put on this stole after my ordination I knew that, while she wasn’t there to see it, she was with me.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Thanks be to God for those Everyday Saints who hold the promise for us, that we may hold it for others…. Thanks be to God for those Everyday Saints who point our gaze upward and remind us that God’s promise is still unfolding, as many as the stars in the sky. Amen.