A Vision of Stars

March 4, 2007

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1After 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." 2But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir."

4But 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." 5He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7Then he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess."

8But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"

9He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates...."

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. The title of our sermon this morning is “A Vision of Stars,” and the theme is this: Keep your eyes on the big picture.

 

We have a remarkable story that comes to us from the Bible this morning. We’re going to look at the Old Testament reading from Genesis. This morning we hear the story of Abram. Abram lived many thousands of years ago. He is the father of the Jewish people. Abram lived in a very primitive society, a society where religion was very strange, and people were just making their first attempts at getting in touch with God. There were many strange practices and beliefs. Animal sacrifice and human sacrifice was part of the religious scene and part of what people then thought would please God.

 

But God wanted people to have a better idea. He wanted people to have better concept of who He is and how much He loves people. So God tapped Abram on the shoulder and said, “Abram, you’re my special one. I want to call you out. I want you to go away from your homeland. And I want you to be the one to start a whole new consciousness in people, a whole new way of believing in me.”

 

And what was wonderful about Abram is that he said yes. “Yes, I’ll do it. Yes, I’ll reach out in faith. Yes, I’ll stretch beyond my comfort zone, to please You, O God. I want to be part of Your plan.”

 

Now, as Abram went along in this process with God, it seems he got a little bit discouraged, and God spoke to him. Let’s listen in on the conversation and see what it was that God said to Abram:

 

“The Lord came to Abram in a vision and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.”

 

Well now, let’s not take that very lightly. God says three great big things to Abram. God says, “Abram, I have wonderful things to tell you, and there are three things in particular I want to tell you today. The first thing, Abram, don’t be afraid.’” Isn’t that what God so often says to people when He speaks to them, or when angels speak to shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields? “Fear not; don’t be afraid.”

 

And the first thing I want to ask you is, is there someone here this morning who needs to hear that? Is there someone who needs to hear the Lord speaking to him personally, saying, “Don’t be afraid”? “Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be all right. Be strong and courageous in me,” says the Lord. Don’t be afraid; I’m with you to protect you.”

 

We hear this again in Psalm 27, another of today’s lectionary readings. Take these lines to heart, maybe memorize them this week: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” That’s God’s first big promise to Abram – do not be afraid.

 

And the Lord says, “I have a second thing to tell you, Abram. I am your shield.” Not ‘was’, not ‘used to be’ your shield. Not ‘will be in the future.’ It’s present tense. “I am your shield” today. Maybe you need a shield. Maybe you need to deflect the slings and arrows that life is throwing at you. Maybe there are critics in your life, and you know you need to reach for the Lord and stay straight on the path and not let them distract you. Maybe there are hardships in your life that have come your way, and they’re threatening to pull your attention entirely away from the things that God would have you do. Take it to heart. Say, “Lord, You are my shield.” See the protection of His light around you, and let it be the great deflector of anything that would come around you, anything that would harm or distract you. Take the promise God made to Abram, and make it your own. “I am your shield.”

 

And God says a third great thing to Abram. “Your reward shall be very great.” That’s the third thing God said to Abram. Oh, it’s easy for us to lose sight of that, my friend. It’s easy for us, in our careful, responsible, day-to-day life, to lose sight of the fact that God has wonderful blessings in store for us, more than we can count, more than we can imagine, in this life and the next. That’s what God wanted to tell Abram that day.

 

But what happened? It was too much for Abram to bear! Look what he said! “Oh, Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless? The heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” In other words, “Oh, dear God, I can’t accept it. I feel that this one blockage in my life, this one impediment, is consuming all my attention. I can’t receive any blessings if I don’t have this one.”

 

And God hears Abram. What does God say? Let’s jump to verse 5: “God brought Abram outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then He said to Abram, ‘So shall your descendents be.’” God took Abram outside, and He said, “Don’t let your focus be so small and limiting. Look at the stars! Count them, Abram. Can you count them? There are billions and billions of them out there. That’s what the blessing I have in store for you is like.”

 

The story has a happy ending. Check it out: “So Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” What is righteousness? It means ‘excellent in God’s eyes.’ God viewed Abram as excellent because he had faith. And he was blessed.

 

Here’s the point – we need to keep our vision focused on the big picture. Friend, if you felt stuck, if you felt frustrated, maybe it’s time to look at the stars. Maybe it’s time to look at the big picture. And that’s what I’m inviting us to do this week. Keep your vision on the stars; keep your focus on the big picture.

 

I want to talk to you as church people, as church leaders, as people who work in the church. You know, there is a special message in this for you. Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, many years ago, back in the medieval times, it seems there was a traveler who walked along the road. He came upon a very large construction site. He went up to a man in a robe, there at the construction site, and he said, “What are you doing?” The man said, “I am refining architectural plans.”

 

He went up to another man, one with a hammer and a chisel, and he said, “What are you doing?” And the man said, “I’m carving stone.”

 

He went up to another man who was working with pieces of glass, and he said, “What are you doing?” The man said, “I’m making a stained glass window.”

 

He went up to a fourth man who was in a pit with the humblest job of all. He was covered with dust, and with a primitive shovel he was taking soil and rocks and putting them into a wheelbarrow. The traveler said to the man, “What are you doing?” The man looked up with his soil-covered face and smiled and said, “I’m building a cathedral for God.” He had it right! He was looking at the big picture.

 

And so it is with you, dear friends of the church. I am so privileged to work with you! You are doing such a great job! And if someone were to come up to you and say, “What are you doing?” you might say, “Well, I run the board meeting” or “I’m fixing the roof” or “I’m teaching in Sunday School” or “I contribute and support my church” or “I attend church – I want to be an example to others.” What would you say? Let me tell you, my friends, all those answers would be true, but at the bottom of it all, you could say, “I am building up the kingdom of God.” That’s the big picture.

 

Oh yes, we need you to do your individual job. We need you to fix the roof and the windows and to keep the sanctuary beautiful. We need you to sing in the choir, to attend church, to help with the services. We need you to bless the church with your contributions. But please remember, the big picture is that you are building up the kingdom of God. You are part of something really big, and that should bring you great satisfaction. Someone might ask you as a Christian, “What are you doing?” You might answer, “I pray before meals” or “I go to church” or “I gave up candy for Lent” or “I support my church.” All that would be true, but the bottom line is, “I’m building up the kingdom of God within me. I’m building up my relationship with the Almighty. That’s what I’m doing!” And all those are pieces of the puzzle.

 

If you’ve felt stuck, if you’ve felt frustrated, maybe it’s time to lift up your eyes to the stars and look at the big vision. You’re not just going to work; you’re supporting a family. You’re not just putting down rules for the children; you’re bringing up strong citizens. Keep your eyes on the big picture, and you will be blessed.

 

Dear friends, as you go into the week, lift your eyes to the stars. Keep your eyes on the big picture, because God has great blessings in store for you, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

 

© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski