9/18/16 – Genesis 15:1-7 – Imagination and Faith
Posted on September 19, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s 9/18/16 sermon on Genesis 15:1-7
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
You could say that the story of the Bible is the story of God creating life and beauty and grace out of the most hopeless of situations. Like God is a sort of MacGeyver, using a paper clip and a stick of gum and bunch of faithless, fearful sinners to bring love and salvation to this world. And you never want to count MacGeyver out.
In the grand story of the Bible, things fall apart pretty quickly. Chapter 3, chapter 3 of over a thousand chapters, is when it all falls apart. And from the get go, God’s at work finagling life out of this mess. And the big plan God has, the big mission, the big idea, is to create a family. Not a business or a machine or an empire, but a family that will become a people that will bless the world.
Back in chapter 12, God calls Abraham and Sarah to make them the father and mother of this family, this people. Three promises are given to them: land, descendants, and to become a blessing to the whole world.
Remarkably, Abraham and Sarah say “Sure. Let’s do it. Leave everything we know and everyone we know and travel across the known world based on a divine promise that came in a dream? Sure, we’re in.” Are you kidding?! This is insane! They didn’t even make the requisite pro and con list like any normal couple. They didn’t consult their parents or their friends or their pastor. Of course, that was probably smart – everyone would have laughed at them, told them not to be so hasty. Oh, and did I mention they were in their 70s, and had no children? Yeah, this is a ridiculous idea. But God’s got a plan for Abraham and Sarah, and for some reason they believe it.
So they go. And, incredibly, they make it. There’s a detour caused by a drought, and they get separated from their nephew, and they have some conflict with the neighbors, but they make it to their land. The first of three promises, check.
And now they may even be starting to feel settled in this land. But, as often is the case, when you start to settle down, an unsettling feeling follows.
See, that second promise is looking even less likely. They’re well into their 80s now, maybe even their 90s. And their bareness persists. And so Abraham and Sarah are starting to get frustrated. Maybe they’re even getting to the point where they’re blaming one another. This was your idea, you can imagine her saying. But you supported me, he replies. Meals together are getting uncomfortably quiet.
Abraham is struggling in particular. He’s losing faith in the promise that first came to him. He’s feeling hopeless. The promise had sustained him this long, but now he’s wondering what the future would be like without it. He’s wondering if this whole thing was a mistake. He’s probably muttering to himself: I mean, really, maybe I was dumb to ever think this was going to work out. And poor Sarah, I’ve dragged her all over, given her false hope that the child she longed for will come, and for what? Maybe it’s time to give in. Maybe it’s time to give up. Maybe it’s time to face reality.
Last week Dan said that the story of Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve biting into that fruit, the story that feels like a set-up, like we fall to temptation, but good grief it’s all around us. That story is our story, one we’re stuck in. Stuck living over and over. Abraham feels stuck. Maybe not stuck succumbing to temptation in quite the same way, but stuck in a world that feels like a set-up. A set-up of hope which only disappoints. A disappointing story that’s repeated over and over for him these last 80 some years.
Been there? Sure you have. Those times when you think to yourself, “well that was naïve! What was I thinking?” Those times when something you had hoped for for so long. Something you had hoped for so much it moved beyond hope and sort of became a forgone conclusion. It became part of your life plan – though of course you never would have said it that way. And now, it just falls apart. After many years dreaming about it, there came this time when I was a kid that I had sort just assumed I’d play in Wimbledon one day. And it was probably only after failing to make the varsity tennis team three years in a row that I realized it wasn’t happening.
You had this idea of the way your life was going to turn out. And then it hits you. No way! This job won’t be yours. Or this house. Or this other person. You suddenly open your eyes to the reality all around you and realize – it’s not happening! I’m over 80 years old married to a woman the same age and we don’t have any children. It’s not happening.
Abraham is in his tent, lamenting his fate. And God speaks to him again. “I’m here, Abraham. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.” Unlike the first time God spoke, this time Abraham responds. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” No small talk here. Abraham lays it right out. “Take a look around, God! I get the idea of using me to start a family to bless the world, but come one! The evidence, the facts on the ground, say it’s not happening.”
He’s got a point. And so God takes Abraham and leads him out of his tent. Maybe drags him out of the tent, with his head hung low in desperation, and has him look up into the night sky. The sky without a moon. The sky without headlamps and streetlamps and the glow of television screens from the houses nearby. The sky without a cloud in it.
They say there are far more stars in our universe than there are grains of sand on our planet. Running outside of Leadville a week ago at 1:30 in the morning, I stopped, turned off my headlamp for a moment and looked at the stars like Abraham had, and I believe it. I couldn’t see the nose on my face, but I could see those stars. So many stars. Uncountable. It took me a minute to remember to run again. I was captivated.
God drags Abraham out of his tent and points to the sky. And then he makes that same promise again, only bigger this time. That’s how many descendants you’ll have. And with that, something’s different for Abraham. He believes.
God hasn’t made a logical argument here. God hasn’t made an argument at all, really. The promise is reiterated, and it’s as ridiculous as it was before. It’s ridiculous to think these two could have a child. It’s ridiculous to think the bareness of their 20s and 30s will disappear in their 80s or 90s. And billions upon billions of descendants?! No way. It’s ridiculous.
It’s not logic that stirs up faith within Abraham. Nor is it a sudden change in circumstances. The light of the stars did not reveal a fountain of youth. They’re still old.
No, the only change is in Abraham. He’s been brought out of his tent. Brought out of that place of despair and hopelessness, and out into the fresh night air. And there his imagination is opened up.
I think imagination gets a bad rap. We think imagination is practiced by children, that it’s something you should grow out of. We think it gets in the way of reality.
But I’d say imagination is a seed. Not just the seed of pretty much every good idea humanity has ever had, but imagination is also the seed of faith. Imagining something that seems beyond hope. Imagining something that seems impossible. Imagining something that seems, well, ridiculous. Imagination leads to faith.
Of course, faith isn’t imagining that anything which seems impossible will come to be. We can imagine that poverty will be solved by bake sales, that climate change will be solved by recycling our bulletins, or that eating a box of Wheaties will get me into Wimbledon. But that doesn’t mean it will happen. Although, just to play it safe, maybe I should take a couple of weeks of vacation next July.
We can imagine that that person will love us again. We can imagine that we’ll get that job we always wanted, but never seem able to get. We can imagine. We can dream. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen.
When Abraham’s imagination was opened up, he imagined that God’s crazy promises might happen. He imagined that the impossible God had proclaimed might be possible. That God’s ridiculous word might be true.
So, no, we’re not going to solve poverty with bake sales, but can we imagine a future when all people will be fed, and that the word of God in Revelation will come to pass – that there will no longer be mourning or crying or pain? We won’t solve climate change by recycling our bulletins, but can we imagine a future in which there is a new heaven and a new earth? Can we imagine God calling us to keep the earth just as God called that first man and woman?
And you might not ever be loved by that one person you wish loved you. You might not ever get that dream job. You might not make it, not the way you had hoped. But can you imagine that when Jesus said he came to call sinners, not the righteous, he meant it, and he meant you? Can you imagine that just as he gave life and salvation and love and purpose to the blind and sick and outcast, so too he does for you? Can you imagine that when he says this is my body given for you, that he means you?
They say that faith is a daring trust in God. But I think the seed of faith is imagination. Imagining that maybe, just maybe, God might keep these ridiculous promises, despite all the evidence to contrary. Maybe, just maybe, an old man and his wife in their 80s can have the child God promised them. Maybe, just maybe, one of those billions upon billions of stars will lead three wise men to a stable with a baby who will bring us all life. Maybe, just maybe, the one who died on a cross after being drug into that same repeating story we’re all stuck in, maybe that one will rise, and we will rise with him.
The whole thing is ridiculous, really. Ridiculous enough to make us to hang our heads low. Lift them up. Look to the stars. Let your imagination be stirred by the promises of one who will go to any length to keep them. Let your imagination be stirred, that you might have faith. Amen.