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March 17, 2019

“Count on God: Multiples of Abundance”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Luke 13.31-35

Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18

March 17, 2019

I am reminded of the theories of the stars offered in the children’s movie, The Lion King. Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba – a meerkat, warthog, and lion, respectively – all lay under the stars and look up, happily. Pumbaa asks Timon if he has “ever wondered what those sparkly dots are up there.” Timon claims to know the answer – that the dots are actually fireflies in the sky. Pumbaa believes that the dots are balls of gas. Simba, taking knowledge his father gave him, believes the stars are their ancestors looking down on them. I find it interesting that Simba believes the stars are ancestors, and the scripture we read today describes the stars as a sign of descendants. Signs of light in the sky are signs of illumination of the past and the future. God gives Abram a sign – a literal light in the darkness – that there is hope for the future.

During Lent we need the reassurance that God is giving – that we do not need to be afraid. We must remember that we can count on God. Throughout this conversation, no matter what or how many questions Abram asks, God is calm and patient and kind. God continues to wrap an arm around Abram and reassure him that everything will be ok.

God creates a covenant with Abram and promises that Abram will have many descendants. This seems a bit improbable because of Abram’s age. So, he asks questions. His questions may come from a variety of factors. Perhaps Abram has some anxiety about this promise. Time is certainly not on his side![1] God is promising an heir to this man whose wife has passed childbearing age. Can God be serious? If God doesn’t act soon – like, maybe ten years ago – Abram isn’t sure this will actually happen.

Some suggest that perhaps Abram struggles with accepting this generous gift.[2] Last week I told a story that reminded us that we need to say “no, thank you” to temptation and sin. We should remember that when we are faced with the convenient and simple way, we sometimes need to take the more difficult route. While it is easy to say “thank you” to temptation, sometimes we have difficulty saying “thank you” to someone’s generosity. In a culture where people are expected to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” we might feel like we need to do everything on our own, even if it is a hardship. When someone is generous, we don’t want to seem like we can’t afford something or do something on our own. Instead of being grateful for the kindness of others, we are suspicious of kind gestures.

God is being very generous to Abram. In fact, Abram and Sarai may have given up the notion of having children. Yet, here is God telling him that he will have a child. Even if Abram believes it is possible and has faith, Abram may be in a mindset of not being able to accept God’s generous gift. In order to accept, he would need to shift his way of viewing the world.

Perhaps some of his questions are logistical. He is biologically too old to have children. God is talking about a miracle here. Yet, all these questions are appropriate, and God answers them easily. Struggling with God isn’t a crisis of faith – it is faith.[3] Questions show engagement – paying attention. Like a student who keeps raising their hands in class, it is not disbelief, but active listening and learning. We have to pay attention to our faith and ask questions, or else our faith becomes static.

Lent is the perfect time to ask questions and listen. While practicing spiritual disciplines or giving up something that separates us from God, we give space. This is a holy space – a place to breathe – to ask questions. We are making a space to say, “God, usually I’m too busy or too distracted to listen – but I’m listening now, and I’ve removed this barrier to make space for our holy conversation.”

This is summed up in a poem by Ann Weems, called “A Listening.” She writes: “Going through Lent is a listening. When we listen to the word, we hear where we are so blatantly unliving. If we listen to the word, and hallow it into our lives, we hear how we can so abundantly live again.”[4] During Lent we empty out the distractions and make space for abundance.

Did God speak back to Abram as the passage reads? Was this a physical conversation? Perhaps. Most likely this is a metaphor for how God has called Abram and how God covenants with God’s people. In this passage, I love God’s response. God’s answer to all these questions is to go outside. Look up. Sometimes reframing a situation or question is what we need. We need to connect with nature. Sometimes when I am stuck writing a sermon, or with a life problem, I walk or run outside. The sunshine can clear up a multitude of situations. We need to look at the stars – there are so many and they cannot be counted. God tells Abram that his offspring will be as abundant as the stars. We cannot count this. We cannot count God’s abundance because our cup – our sky – runneth over.

We can only see stars in the darkness. The stars are always there, but when the sun comes up, the light overpowers. We have to go through darkness to see the light. The end of the passage describes how Abram falls asleep in a terrifying darkness. God goes on to explain that the descendants will go through difficult times. The covenant is for a multitude of descendants, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect. God is telling him they will go into the deep and terrifying darkness, but like the stars, God will still be there.

Jesus is approaching a darkness of his own – the darkness of the cross. The Pharisees tell him about Herod Antipas and warn Jesus. The Pharisees are trying to help – maybe even being friendly for the first time in scripture. Yet, we learn that no matter what, Jesus will not be deterred. The friends cannot talk him out of God’s will, neither can the enemies.[5] Jesus tells them that he has longed for them to be gathered like chicks under a hen’s wing, keeping them safe from the fox that is Herod. Yet, they shouldn’t count those chickens before they hatch, because Jesus will still have to go to the cross. Jesus warns the people that Herod doesn’t have the power he thinks that he has. As one commentator wrote: “The foxes are not in control as much as they think they are.”[6] In a world that is scary and seems out of control, I do believe this is a bit of good news. “The foxes are not in control as much as they think they are.” The foxes of the world can take to social media and cause a ruckus, but in the end, we have control over our own responses. We can choose fear, or we can choose to follow God.

The path will not always be simple. The cost of discipleship is higher than we might want, but in the end, we are always outnumbered by God’s generosity. So, today I encourage you to take a moment and come forward. Grab a star and write on it one way you have witnessed God’s generosity this past week, and place it on the sky.

 

May our paths be lit by the generosity of God. Amen.

 

[1] Darryl M. Trimiew, “Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 52.

[2] Ibid., 50.

[3] Daniel M. Debevoise, “Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 52.

[4] Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 33.

[5] Leslie J. Hoppe, “Luke 13.31-35” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 71.

[6] Rodney Clapp, “Luke 13.31-35” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 72.