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Count the Stars | A Sermon from Genesis 15:1-6

God makes an impossible promise to Abram and Sarai. How could they possibly become a great nation when they can’t even have a child? This sermon, from the Narrative Lectionary, explores the nature of trust and how we can trust God when the promise seems impossible.

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This sermon had lots of visuals in it which were made in the procreate app on my iPad. This app allows me to export the image as a video, so I thought I’d incorporate that into this video. It’s like PowerPoint Plus. Enjoy.

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I invite you to take out the insert in your bulletin labeled “What’s the Big Idea?” This is something new that we’re trying this year. Each week you will get this in the bulletin and it will have the text for the week, a little background information, some discussion questions for you to use with a small group, a service team, or as a family, a daily reading schedule, and…on the other side: A place to take sermon notes.

I hope you’ll find this helpful.

I want to ask you a question and write down your answer.

Who, or what, do you trust?

Think about it for a moment and write something down.

Now, I have a second question.

Why do you trust that person or that thing?

Trust is a tricky thing, isn’t it? You don’t just automatically trust something.

How do you come to trust something.

Here is my formula for trust.

Trust =

Trust is the combination of two things,

First, it takes time. It takes a long time for some to earn the trust of others.

Second, it takes a Track Record. If you are going to trust someone, then that person has to demonstrate him or herself to be trustworthy time after time after time. Once somebody breaks a promise or let you down, then the trust is broken and you have to go back several steps and slowly rebuild.

That’s just how trust works.

Our big theme for this year is “God’s Promise for Everyone.”

Be honest. How do you feel about the word promise? Honestly, when I think of promise I think of my children who say, “Dad, I promise. I’ll feed the dog and bathe him, and take him out. You won’t have to do a thing.”

“I promise, I’ll clean my room.”

“I promise…”

“No new taxes.”

After a while, they become empty words.

So, our big question is, “How can we trust God’s promise?”

So, today, we look at the story of God’s big promise made to a guy named Abram. It is the promise that frames the rest of the Bible.

Our text today is Genesis 15, but the story really starts back in chapter 12.

God says two things to Abram.

First, he says, “Go to the land that I will show you.”

Abram, his wife Sarai, and their household lived in a place called Haran. Abram’s Father, Terah, had moved them there from a place called Ur of the Chaldeans.

One day, God says, “Go to the land I’ll show you.”

Then, God said, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you, and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.”

When we look at these two statements it seems like this is how God often works.

God called Abram to the unknown. Go to the land I’ll show you.

Um, how do I enter that in my GPS, Lord?

And, God called Abram to the impossible. God promised that Abram’s descendents would become a great nation. There was one small problem. Abram and Sarai didn’t have any children. They are in their mid-70s at this point, and this wasn’t going to happen.

That’s God’s promise.

The story continues.

A bunch of interesting things happen in chapters 12 – 14.

Abram and Sarai move south to the land of Canaan.

There’s a famine and they are forced to go down into the land of Egypt. Abram gets scared and lies, telling the Pharoah that Sarai is his sister. It’s weird.

That works out and they move back up to Canaan and this big war breaks out between tribes. One group of tribes kidnaps Abrams nephew, named Lot, so Abram is sucked into the battle. He takes his army, resuces Lot, and defeats those tribes.

The King of Sodom is so thankful to Abram for defeated his enemies that he offers all the spoils of war to him. Abram refuses the King’s gifts.

That brings us to chapter 15 and our text for today.

The text starts off, “after these things.” “These things” refers to the scene where Abram turns down the King of Sodom’s offer to give him a huge reward.

So, God says to Abram, “Don’t worry, Abram. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.”

Think back. What is the promise that has been rattling around in Abram’s mind throughout all these chapters? God is implying that his reward will be the great nation that is going to come from his children.

“UM, time out, God,” Abram says, “I have one question. HOW?!? I can’t have children.”

Have you ever felt that way?

You’ve heard that God has promised to be with you and to never forsake you, but, everywhere you look it just seems impossible. How do you trust the promise?

God says, “Abram, go outside and count the stars. That’s how many kids you’re going to have.”

Really?

Try to imagine that moment. Have you ever had an encounter with the stars like that? When I lived in Vegas I loved to go up to Zion National Park. It was in the desert, away from the light pollution. There were so many stars it was like you could reach out and touch them.

What’s God doing here?

“Abram, you might think this is impossible, but I’m the one who made all these stars. Don’t you think I can do this, too? I got this.”

So Abram responds.

K.

Well, that’s my paraphrase.

Look at our key verse.

Genesis 15:6 says, “and he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

He believed.

This is an interesting word. The Hebrew word here is awman. It is where we get the word Amen. It means to trust. It has, at its root, this idea of being held in a mother’s arms like a suckling baby. It is complete and utter abandonment in trust.

God said, “I got this.”

Abram said, “Amen.”

He trusted God to do the impossible.

Look at what the apostle Paul says about this verse in his letter to the Galatian churches.

“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, so, you see, those who believe are the descendents of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.”

Some have asked why we choose to use the Narrative Lectionary each year. It’s because, when we tell the story of the Bible from beginning to end, we are reminded of God’s faithful track record.

Story after story, God remains faithful to the promise bless everyone, even when we blow again and again.

We can trust God, because God is trustworthy.

I want to end today by telling a personal story. If you’ve ever visited my website, you’ve probably noticed that my tagline is “following the cloud.” This story of Abraham really resonated with me and my wife, Lona, because it seems that God has always led us in this way.

Back in 1990 I had every intention to graduate from college and move to Orlando, FL. I had a good job lined up and I was going to camp our at Disney Animation Studios until they hired me.

Then I got a call from my boss that said, “I want to send you to Las Vegas.”

So we moved, sight unseen, to start a new business, with no guarantees of success.

Count the stars, 1,2,3,4…

We did and God provided.

We got involved in a growing church right away, and a few years later God called me into ministry. If I was to go on staff at that church, we would have to take a 60% pay cut.

Count the stars, 1,2,3,4…

We did, and God provided.

I served there for eight years while I was getting a Masters of Divinity from Bethel Seminary. That church was an amazing experience. We built a huge building, we grew to 8,000 people at every weekend service, and had a staff of 100 people.

Then God called us to walk away from that and start a house church and work as a freelance illustrator to pay the bills. No support. No guarantees.

Count the stars, 1,2,3,4…

We did, and God provided.

That experiment eventually ended, and one night God spoke to me and said, “Move to Minnesota and get your PhD.”

We hate winter. We didn’t know where to get a PhD, or how we would pay for it.

Count the stars, 1,2,3,4…

We did, and God provided.

I worked for two years here in Minnesota as a freelance artist and had given up on the idea of a PhD. Then my Dad introduced me to Pastor Mark, we came to Grace, and Pastor Mark said, “I think you should work on a PhD.”

Then Luther Seminary said, “We want to pay for your PhD.”

I’m not making this up.

I don’t know what your story is. I don’t know what God has called you to do.

All I can say is, “Count the Stars. You can trust God because is trustworthy.”

Amen

 

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