+ A sermon for Pentecost +9C/Lectionary 19C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 11, 2019 | Outdoor Worship +

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

For most of the past ten years or so, I’ve been living in cities and I’ve loved it.
I love the restaurants and shops, the sporting events and things to do, the liveliness of city living.
But if there’s one thing that I would change about city life—well, other than the traffic—it would be all those lights that turn on at night.
When I was growing up, I would be able to walk outside and see the stars, but with all the light pollution that city life brings, it’s hard to see more than just the brightest constellations.

february_-conservationlands15_social_media_takeover-_top_15_places_on_national_conservation_lands_for_night_sky_viewing_281635879293729I remember some particularly spectacular nights of stargazing in my life: the night in rural Alaska when I saw the northern lights burst out and start dancing in dazzling blues and greens and reds, or the nights backpacking the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming with the youth group from my internship congregation in Minnesota as the mountains served as a dramatic foreground to the stars and we experienced the beauty of the divine, or one January night at Holden Village as the white light of the Milky Way bounced off the snow of the Railroad Creek Valley.
Who else has had those kinds of nights? The nights you stand in awe gazing up at the stars and marveling in God’s glory?
For me, it’s nights like those that you can’t help but gaze in wonder and the majesty of God’s beautiful creation, and for me it’s nights like those that help me feel connected to the God who created the heavens and knit my inmost parts into being.

But it’s also hard for me to gaze at the stars and not feel utterly insignificant.
In the vastness of the universe, with the stars beyond counting that could host worlds as yet unknown to us, when we realize that the only planet we have ever known is unseeable from another star and our own sun would be nothing more than another dot in the cosmos, what significance do I have?
It can be a powerful realization and can sometimes bring a twinge of fear to me as I wonder ‘who am I?’ and ‘do I really matter?’

I wonder if that’s something like Abram and Sarai—or Abraham and Sarah as we better know them—felt when they looked up at the heavens.
They who had left their homeland and followed where God had guided them with the promise of a son, an heir.
They who had spent long years waiting for that promise’s fulfillment.
They who may have felt alone in a strange land, abandoned by the God who had brought them out of their comfort and into the unknown.
And now as they were in their old age, I wonder if they too gazed at the stars wondering what would happen and if God would be faithful to the promises that had been made.
I wonder if Abraham was even afraid as he faced the very real likelihood that he would die without an heir, that he would leave no legacy behind and in the grand scheme of things, his life would be as meaningless as a speck in the universe.

And yet, one night as Abraham was wrapped in this fear, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid…I am your shield.”
And God brought him outside and said, “You see those stars, those same stars that I have created encompassing worlds without number? You see those same stars that you have been gazing at in wonder your whole life? That’s how great your legacy will be; that’s how great vast my promise is. And just as surely as you can go out and see the wonders of my creation, just as sure as you can behold the incalculable beauty of those stars, you can be sure that I will keep my promise.”
abraham-2And Abraham put his faith in God and trusted that God would be faithful to God’s word.
And in the years between this night and the birth of his son, I imagine that Abraham would go out of his tent at night and look to the stars, look at the unimaginable vastness of what God had promised him but would have found comfort and a renewal of his trust that God would fulfill that promise.

There have been times in the past few weeks that I’ve brought my eyes down from the stars and focused on the earth around us, but I feel a similar question bubbling up about my significance in this world.
Like when I see time after time yet another shooting where hateful ideologies have broken our human connections and united with guns to end innocent lives.
Or when I can hardly walk or drive through our communities without seeing someone who has no shelter to live in and no food to eat.
Or when I hear over and over again how little time we have left to halt the devastating effects that climate change will wreck on our planet.
And I feel like I am trying to do my part to end these areas of brokenness: I speak out against white supremacy and preach the power of peace, I work with community service organizations to provide food and shelter to those in need, I try to lessen my carbon footprint and I aggressively compost.
And yet I know that my work alone is not enough and wonder what significance I have in this world.
I question whether I can make a difference.
I feel that fear that things won’t get better or that they’ll even get worse.

Maybe you’ve felt something similar.
Maybe you’ve wondered what difference you can really make—or even what difference we as a congregation can make in the face of such seemingly powerful forces of hatred, greed, and environmental degradation.
We are, after all, a small congregation, one voice in a loud world.
And now as we find ourselves older than we once were, smaller than we used to be, perhaps wondering how much time we have left, wondering what our legacy might be and if we have even made a difference in our time in this place.
Perhaps you’re even wondering where God is in all of this and if God will be faithful to the promises we have been made of a better world.

But Jesus comes to us again this morning to tell us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
God has indeed promised a new world, my friends, a new kingdom, a new reality where the earth will be renewed, where all people will have enough to eat and a place to live, and where peace and love will reign throughout the world.
And no matter what is happening around us, it is in that new kingdom, in that enduring promise, that we can put our trust, that God will be faithful to God’s word.

“Abraham and Sarah” by Marc Chagall

And like our ancestors in the faith, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and all who have gone before us, we are sojourners in this land, striving for the kingdom and bolstered by God’s promise.
Because, true to God’s word, we have been made heirs of Abraham and Sarah, one part of the great constellation that was promised, one part of the fulfillment of God’s promise.
And like them, “we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” here on earth, the one that we are working for.
And we know that our ancestors did not see the final fulfillment of this promise, and we know that we might not see it either, but we journey onward doing our part and working with our God to bring the promise closer to reality as we gaze forward to the kingdom that is surely coming.

Like Abraham and the night sky, God has surrounded us by reminders of God’s promises as we journey on.
We have this congregation, our fellow sojourners striving together to build the kingdom.
We have the gifts of the sacraments, tangible reminders of God’s love for us as we are washed in the waters of promise and born into a new creation and as we receive the bread and cup, bolstered by Christ’s promise to be among us in this heavenly food.
And today especially, we have God’s good creation that surrounds us, whose care we have been entrusted.
We can see the dazzling night sky, the wonders of new growth in the spring, the soaring trees, and the smallest insects and behold the vastness of God’s glory and power as we are reminded of the vastness of God’s promise.

An apple tree in the Holy Cross Orchard

Especially today we can see the kingdom breaking into our world through this place as we marvel at God’s handiwork amid a bustling city, as we harvest fruits and vegetables that feed our neighbors in need, as we witness a manifestation of God’s renewal of the earth in the seasonal cycles of creation.

But even as we strive toward the promised reality, we have been invited to live into the kingdom here and now.
Jesus calls us to manifest the new reality in our lives, to unburden ourselves of possessions and whatever else might be holding us back and to use all that we have to bring the kingdom to those who need it, to make God’s promise real to the people around us.

As we as Holy Cross continue our discernment of the future to which God is calling us, I constantly wonder how we have been called to live into the kingdom.
How is God calling us to use this land to better serve our neighbors and the whole creation?
What might be holding us back from living into that future and ushering in God’s reign here in Factoria?
And really, what are we afraid of?
Are we afraid of not leaving a legacy?
Are we afraid of the unknown?
Are we afraid of not doing enough?

abrahamEven in those fears, we hear the voice of our God call out to us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for I am bringing the kingdom.”
We have been promised that God is bringing a new reality to our world, a new and perfect heavenly reign.
We have been promised that we are not alone as we work to bring forth this kingdom on earth, that God will work with and through us to make this vision real.
And just as Abraham gazed up at the stars to be reminded of God’s promises, the wonders of creation that surround us remind us that we can trust that God will be faithful to God’s promises as we gaze ahead, journeying together to that new and better world.

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