Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In some cities the light pollution makes it very difficult to see the stars at night. Night is never very dark in the city. One of my most vivid memories is of a camping trip in the Georgian Bay near Tobermory. When we arrived in the middle of the night, and I got out of the car, I stared into the sky in disbelief. There was no electric light to obscure our view. The dark velvet sky was simply blanketed with brilliant stars, sprinkled across the horizon. I like to imagine that it is this kind of night sky that Abraham saw in our reading for this evening. Abraham is doubting God’s promise. He sees no reason to believe that the promise will come true.
What made this promise especially difficult to believe? Well, it’s kind of hard to be the ancestor of a “great nation” if you don’t even have one child. And Abraham and Sarah have no children. They are advanced in years — Abraham was 75 years old when he is first called by God, and the intervening years haven’t made him any younger. And Sarah is no spring chicken either; plus, she is barren. So, when the Lord says in this reading, “Fear not, Abram,” you can’t blame the him for being frustrated. Abraham’s reply is, “You have given me no offspring.” Children in the ancient world were the means by which one’s name lived on. He does not think God has kept his promises. Abraham explains that because his wife is barren, local custom states that his only heir will be Eliezer, the son of his slave woman. This is a perfectly reasonable response to what appears to be a broken promise.
After all, as Paul later puts it, Abraham at this point is “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19). He has left home, family, and land in response to God’s outrageous call and promise. He has come to a new, unfamiliar land and now, it appears to him, his lineage will die there with him. For Abraham and Sarah, then, who had left behind everything familiar in order to step into God’s promised future, their continued barrenness mocked their hope. God has promised, but God’s promises look empty in the face of barrenness and hopelessness. “Fear not,” God says, but Abraham responds, “You have given me no offspring.” You have not kept your promises.
What about you own hopes and fears? How long have you been waiting for God to keep his promises to you? Do you feel like God has broken his promises to you? Has your life turned out differently than you had expected? Is there something in your life that is keeping you from being able to hope and trust in God? Because it is not just Abraham, of course. There are people in every congregation for whom the future looks empty and bleak. Do you think our future as a church looks bleak? Our present reality has a way of overshadowing future hope, and it’s easy for us to think that the promises of God are empty.
But that place of hopelessness is not where the story ends. But Abraham quickly learns that he is dealing not with human custom but with God’s promise. God speaks that promise again. Abraham will have a son. God does not give Abraham what he is asking for at this point. Rather, God invites Abraham to trust him. Abraham chooses to trust the promise and take heart in the vision of the stars. Beneath the countless stars, Abraham trusts the Lord. He considers God to be trustworthy. Abraham understands God to be one whose word is firm and secure, to be one who will make good on his promises. He holds onto the promise despite all evidence to the contrary. He takes God at his word. And it is that faith that God counts as righteousness. The same is true for us. Trusting in God is hard enough. What happens when you add a delay between God’s promises and their fulfilment? It would be nearly impossible if the God in whom we believe is not trustworthy, is not righteous.
Yet our God is trustworthy. He does not often work on our timeline or do what we expect. God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, even though he and Sarah his wife were childless and he was over 75 years old. God promised that his descendent would inherit that land of Canaan as a gift from the Lord. God promised that his name would be great and a blessing to many. It may not have seemed possible to Abraham, but he trusted God. That is exactly what God did. He kept his promise. From Abraham came Issac, then Jacob, and then his descendants would continue to grow in number all the way to the son born to Joseph and Mary, a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Israel’s God did exactly what he had promised to Abraham: all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s Son.
Our faith in God, is trust in what God promises in his Word, namely that through the promised Son of Abraham who is Jesus the long expected Messiah, the blessing has come to the world and specifically to you. Jesus is the one who was born to set us free, to release us from our sins and fears. Jesus is where we can find hope, strength and comfort. And we stand in a right relationship with God on the basis of Jesus Christ alone, His life, His righteousness, His bloody death and resurrection.
God didn’t just make a promise though, God gave Abram the gift of a nightly visual aid, a tangible reminder of that promise. Every night, Abraham can step outside his tent, raise his eyes to the galaxies, and be amazed that his descendants will be as numerous as all those uncountable stars. Outside, under the glory of the endless night sky, Abraham is able to believe what seemed impossible inside his tent. We are given tangible reminders of God’s promise to us: the Sacraments. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, these are tangible reminders. God attaches his promises to physical ceremonies, so that your faith might have an anchor, something to cling to when your world seems to be falling apart.
Life can be hard. We may think the future is bleak. Our present reality can leave us doubting God’s promises. But God is completely trustworthy. He kept his promise to Abraham. God sent his own Son, Jesus a descendant of Abraham, that anyone who believes in him, that is, trusts in the promise, has what he believes, namely eternal life. Take God at his Word. Stand in the faith-full shoes of Abraham. Trust the promise of salvation in Jesus. It will be counted to you as righteousness.
May the peace of God which passes, all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.