Look to the Skies!

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 2
March 13, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : If we begin our Lenten journey in a spirit of discouragement, it is good to remember Abram and Sarai's discouragement when God's promises were not quickly fulfilled. The signs of God's faithfulness are all around us if we but look. More importantly, taking part in God's great promise may be the first step to believing God and having it reckoned to us as righteousness.

What do you see when you look up in the heavens? God? The awesome majesty of the Creator? Or a void which stretches across meaningless light years to encompass nothing?

It's all in how we connect the dots that determines what pictures we see.

In the early days of the space race the Soviet Union was officially an atheist nation, so regardless of whatever beliefs individual cosmonauts might have had, they were required to proclaim that God was missing in space and history.

In August of 1961, Gherman Titov, only 26 at the time and until 2021 the youngest person to reach space, spent a day orbiting the earth, the second human to do so. Upon his return, he paid tribute to the giants on whose shoulders he stood. Describing his thoughts as he stood looking at the launchpad, Titov wrote about "the gigantic efforts of will and thought of the great godless ones of the past -- Archimedes and Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno ....1

He was even more explicit in a visit to the United States in May of 1962, where he was quoted as saying "Sometimes people are saying that God is out there. I was looking around attentively all day but I didn't find anybody there. I saw neither angels nor God."2

But as C.S. Lewis, who followed the early days of the space race with interest and skepticism, noted:

The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space. On the other hand, a good many people in many different times and countries claim to have found God, or been found by God, here on earth. ... Space-travel really has nothing to do with the matter. To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere. Those who do not find him on earth are unlikely to find him in space. ... But send a saint up in a spaceship and he'll find God in space as he found God in earth. Much depends on the seeing eye.3

So it's probably more than ironic that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian cosmonauts, American astronauts and other space travelers from Japan and Europe, must receive an official blessing, including the sprinkling of Holy Water, as they prepare to fly into space aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.

In today's passage from Genesis, Abram is losing heart because decades have gone by since God's initial promise that his wife Sarai would give birth to a son. Out of the blue, without any prior warning, the great I AM had told the aging, childless couple, Abram and Sarai, to pull up stakes late in life and set out on a journey that would include a seemingly impossible birth and end with their innumerable descendants taking possession of a great inheritance.

The two set out on that journey. There are many twists and turns. Their behavior is not always commendable, but there are moments of triumph and deliverance. But one of the most interesting things is that Abram responds with obedience and silence.

Now, decades later, Abram finally talks back to God. And what he has to say in response to God's encouraging words is challenging -- to God!

Talk Back Time

Poet and translator Robert Alter notes that like the prophets who would follow, Abram "... expresses doubt that God's promise can be realized."4

Abram complains, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless ...?"5 But in the Hebrew, he says simply "I am going." Alter says this is a euphemism for dying.6 Abram expects to die without the promise being fulfilled.

God's response is not to argue, but to invite Abram to contemplate the majesty of the heavens. Encounter the universe, God says. Abram looked up at the majesty of God's vast array of stars (hidden from most of us because of the lights of our technology). "And he believed the LORD;" our passage says, "and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness."

Oddly enough, this verse is quoted by both James and Paul in their letters for different and perhaps even opposing reasons. For James, the brother of Jesus, Abram was saved by his actions in obeying God. For Paul, the fact that Abram believed God before the Law was given on Mount Sinai meant that his belief was an example of salvation by faith. Faith and action are perhaps best understood as two sides of the same coin. If you believe, you act. If you act, you believe, whether you know it or not.7

The scene gets even more mysterious. Abram takes part in a ritual in which there is no sacrifice involved, no altar necessary, just a deep, profound sleep reminiscent of Daniel's experience in the exile, or of Job's when the architecture of the universe is revealed to him.8 Dread and awe typically accompany this experience, much as the fear and trembling Isaiah endured when he found himself in the presence of God's throne room.9 Future history was revealed, including both the enslavement of his descendants, along with their liberation and eventual arrival in the Promised Land. In God's time all promises would be fulfilled.10

This proves to be all that Abram and Sarai need.

Take a look around

The past couple years have been a roller coaster for all of us. We believe that ultimately, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer, God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.11 Yet sometimes it feels like we're in a game of Whack-a-Mole, and we're the moles. We keep sticking out heads up to see if things are okay, and then we have to duck. The pandemic surges and fades and surges. Political strife reigns all over the world. And though Jesus fervently prayed that we might all be one, our churches are struggling to maintain unity.12

In the midst of any discouragement we may feel, we need to remember that some of God's promises to Abram were not fulfilled for centuries, long after the patriarch was gone. In a world of television and music on-demand, one- and two-day free delivery and instant gratification, we tend to lose heart when we don't get what we want right now.

Still, we can't help but ask, "How much longer, Lord? How much longer?" It is an essential question asked in scripture. Job, the psalmist, Habakkuk and God's people in exile all wondered how long they would have to wait for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.13

During this time of Lent, we would do well to focus not on our discouragements, but on the cross. It wouldn't hurt to stand beneath the heavens at night and see the stars in their true glory. If this is not possible, remember God's glory is visible not only in the stars. Anyone who has nurtured Monarch butterflies or planted milkweed to feed them along their own exodus from the United States down to Mexico and back can attest to the faith and fulfillment that comes with being a part of God's magnificent plan. All who have cut down on their carbon footprint in any way know what it means to be connected to unseen descendants who will be the recipients of any blessings that accrue from their efforts.

And if we look with the eyes of faith, we who believe in God will see the cross everywhere.

Let us look for God in the skies, in each other, in our shared suffering and in our triumph. We who are disciples of Jesus should see the cross -- and our redemption -- everywhere. We see it in the skies, in each other, in our suffering, in our triumphs and in the crosses we carry! And with a faith and a hope that spans centuries, let us also look for the resurrection and the peace that passes understanding in every aspect of our lives as disciples, including the bread that we break in his memory, the songs of remembrance and praise, the prayers we lift up in thanksgiving and the offerings we lift up gratefully.

Look. See. Believe.


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