Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stars of Promise

Sermon Start -
Genesis 15:1-??
Look up - count the stars -

From this week’s news:  The universe may glitter with far more stars than even Carl Sagan imagined when he rhapsodized about billions upon billions. A new study suggests there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion of them, or three times as many as scientists previously calculated. That is a 3 followed by 23 zeros. Or 3 trillion times 100 billion.
The estimate, contained in a study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, is based on findings that there are many more red dwarf stars -- the most common star in the universe -- than once thought.
"We're seeing 10 or 20 times more stars than we expected," van Dokkum said.
When van Dokkum and Conroy crunched the incredibly big numbers, they found that it tripled the estimate of stars in the universe from 100 sextillion to 300 sextillion.
That's a huge number to grasp, even for astronomers who are used to dealing in light years and trillions, Conroy said.
"It's fun because it gets you thinking about these large numbers," Conroy said. Conroy looked up how many cells are in the average human body -- 50 trillion or so -- and multiplied that by the 6 billion people on Earth. And he came up with about 300 sextillion.
So the number of stars in the universe "is equal to all the cells in the humans on Earth -- a kind of funny coincidence," Conroy said.
newspaper article says there are far more stars than astronomers knew about before.  It’s not that the stars are countless.  But you have to count them a long, long time to get them all. 

That’s why God used the canopy of stars in the night sky to communicate to Abraham the almost infinite promise of God’s goodness and love.  He made Abraham a promise, that he would have a large family, which would be blessed and that through Abraham’s kin, the world would be blessed.  And when Abraham asked how he was supposed to believe that, considering that he didn’t even have a son - heck, he didn’t even have a daughter at this point! - God took him outside his tent, into the desert night, and had him look up and try to count the stars.  He said, “You can be sure that I’ll make your family as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  And they will shine as bright.” 

God swore by the stars - made them a sign of his faithfulness and steadfast love.  In Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo is proclaiming his love, he says, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear . . .” to which Juliet replies, “Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant month, which monthly changes in her circled orb, lest thy love prove likewise variable.” 

God doesn’t use the moon to talk to Abraham about the promise. He points to the stars. 

Stars were a sign of God’s promise to Abraham - to make Abraham’s family a great nation - to use this particular people to bring about God’s plan for humanity and the earth. 

As time went on, (and on and on) it became clear that Abraham’s family, though they had a special relationship with God, were not willing and/or able to redeem the world. 
They got sidetracked.  They fought amongst themselves.  They forgot to trust God’s promise.  They messed up.  Instead of bringing light to the world, they started living in the shadows themselves. 

And the only part of the promise they remembered was the part about their particular tribe being blessed - chosen - special.  They forgot the part about being a blessing to the world.  But they remembered and they hung onto their own specialness and often fell into the trap of worshipping their own “specialness” instead of the God. 

Whenever that happens, God’s faithful promise is in peril.  It looked as if the plan is fatally flawed.  The stars . . . the shining . . .  not going to happen. 

And yet, a promise is a promise.  And God had promised a night sky’s worth of descendents to Abraham, to make a huge clan that would bless the world by living in it as God’s family.  God doesn’t renege on his promises.  But when he finds that one way of fulfilling them is not possible, he finds another, better way to make the promise come true.  So God sent Jesus to be born, live and die in order to redeem the world and expand the family of folks who are God’s childen.

That’s what Christmas is - a more complete, better way for God to form a community that loves Him and shows his Love to the world. The New Testament is clear that now it is you and I who are God’s people - the ones God has chosen to bless and to be a blessing.

The “blood” relationship of being descended from Abraham became less important than the relationship made through Jesus’ blood on the cross. This is what John the Baptist said to the religious folks who came out to the desert to see what he was up to:  “Don’t think you can say, “Oh, we’re children of Abraham.  God can make children of Abraham out of these rocks.”

Friends, we are the rocks. We are heirs of God’s promise, not through Abraham, but through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are God’s special people.  We are the ones who have inherited the promise that we will be blessed and we will be a blessing. So we’re going to do something together to symbolize that fact.  Here.  I’m giving you each a potato - because it looks like a rock.  Each of you take a rock.  Hold it in your hand.  Not very shiny or sparkly, is it?  Now take the knife and cut it in two.  Take half of it and imagine a star on the cut face of the rock.  You might want to draw the star, lightly, with a pencil.  It could be a four point star, or a five point star, like the ones on your bulletin cover.  Or a six point star, like the Star of David.  Maybe you can envision a star with the same number of points as you have members of your family.  The Star of Bethlehem, that I saw in the Church of the Nativity, over the place where Jesus was born was a fourteen point star.  So a star can have any number of points.  It doesn’t really matter.  But take the knife and carve the edges of the potato away until you reveal the star shape.  It will just take a few cuts.  Then you can pass the knife to the person next to you.  You’ll have little pieces of potato left over.  Just put them on your bulletin until your pew is done, then you can put them in the little bag so we don’t leave a big mess here in the sanctuary. 

And I know this will take some time.   Let this time be a time of prayer, in which we ask God to seal the promise on our hearts.  Maybe this will be a time to ask ourselves a crucial question:  This Christmas -  How is God’s promise to bless and redeem the world coming true in your life and the lives that you touch?  We have some time now, and as we sing, and during the offering.  Don’t rush.  We’re on God’s time now. 

And what I want you to do is to bring your star up with you when you take communion.  After you have taken communion - shared in Jesus’ body and blood  - shown through that ritual that you belong to him and he is part of you forever - then go to the table and and dip your star it in the paint and stamp one of the squares of cloth that I showed the kids during the children’s sermon.  Like I told them, we’re going to make an Advent banner of stars.

And the banner will remind us that God’s promise to Abraham - sworn on the stars above - is now God’s promise to us:  We will be blessed.  And we will be a blessing.

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