In the Stars, a sermon

There was a time when David and I would argue something fierce. So, we got married.

Even now, when we argue, I want to have the last word, because that means I am right.

Despite my ego, however, I’ve learned that, sometimes, he is right. And, when I’m at my best, instead of feeling like I’ve lost some kind of battle, I can celebrate. Because, to gain a new insight that gives life to me or our daughter or our world is worth celebrating!

Both the Psalmist and Abram, experience an inner and world changing conversation. They are given a new way of life because they allow God to have the last word. God’s word brings life!

It all began when God introduced God’s self to Abram , saying “Hello!” “I am God, the Almighty.” It feels real casual, like in the movie “O God!” where George Burns talks to John Denver in a grocery store wearing big glasses and a baseball hat with a stylized G. But, while John Denver has much to say, on this first meeting, Abram is silent. Hearing God, he falls on his face. What did you expect? The big G is a whole lot more awesome than an old guy in flannel with a cigar in his mouth.

And God says, “Walk before me and be blameless, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.”

At first glance this seems to be a bad deal. God is behind Abram, watching everything he does. It is worse than Santa checking his list twice! God expects Abram, a descendant of Adam to be blameless. Doesn’t God understand it is a human God is speaking to? Humans got thrown out of the garden and thought it a good idea to create the Chia pet. And he, at 99, is being asked to start a new family as if 99 is the new 30.

To find what is life giving about this word, we have to search deeper.

Let’s start with that phrase: Walk before me. Walk can be literal or figurative. Walk with me can mean let’s walk to the park. Or it means to “walk” with someone on their life’s journey. It means to be with them.

That ominous prepositional phrase “before me,” instead of suggesting God is lurking behind, the Hebrew word connotes being in God’s presence.
Walk before me can be understood as “Let us do life together.”

Next, “be perfect,” also has a different meaning than being a saint or having a figure that walks the high fashion runway or Shaun White’s double mixed twist.

It is means to be complete, be sound, and be whole.

As I hear it, the word is less a command on Abram and more a promise. Walk with me and be whole.

Then there’s that last part about being numerous.

At 99, God is not promising to give Abram a large family so they can settle down and tend to a farm or for him to be the next reality tv star of a show called Eight is not Near Enough.

God’s promise is for Abram to be an ancestor of a “multitude of nations,” a phrase found in both verses 4 and 5. In verse 6, a slight variation, with God saying “I will make nations of you.”

God’s covenant with Abram reaches beyond a single nation. God isn’t interested in maintaining borders. God is interested in reaching you.

As I was thinking on scripture, I heard a report that VP Pence called Billy Graham, who just passed into heaven at 99 years old, a great American. I can’t help but think Billy, who toured the nations, calling people into a relationship with their Father, God, is campaigning heaven for a phone so he might call Pence up and politely correct the error. To serve God is to serve that which reaches way beyond a nation.

In our scripture, ninety nine year old Abram is renamed Abraham. My friend, Jennie McNulty (google her for more funny), noted that “ha” is added to his name. I imagine there is some Hebrew reason for it. But, it is fun to think of it as God putting an exclamation point on this new work…”HA!” “Ha…Ha!” See what I’ve done!

Abraham is the ancestor of those who would walk before God and, in that journey, be made whole. Through Abraham, God plants a seed of faith that multiplies so that the number of his descendants is as many as are the stars in the night sky!

And as the song says…Father Abraham had many sons (and daughters!)..I am one of them and so are you… You are a child of God and you are a child of God and you are a child of God … so let’s all praise the Lord.

To praise the Lord, we turn to the Psalm.

John Goldingay, Bible professor at Fuller seminary, writes that Psalm 22 offers a truer comfort than that oft said phrase, “God is always with you.” He argues that, surely, that isn’t true when someone is crying out “Why have you forsaken me?!”

To understand his meaning, you should know the beginning of the Psalm goes like this:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.

In these first 6 verses you can hear the Psalmist struggling to remain in relationship despite feeling abandoned. At one moment, he calls “I cry out by day and you do not answer,” and in the next breath, he sings “in you our ancestors trusted. They trusted and you delivered them.” The Psalmist refuses to let go of God.

Goldingay says the Psalm “invites those of us who experience suffering to find ways to remind God and us of God’s faithfulness, to remind God and us of God’s involvement in the world, to plea with God to change, and [here is my favorite part] to believe strongly enough in our argument that God will, in fact, respond.”

Not only does the Psalm invite us but it shows us how God responds when we argue our case but then allow God to have the last word.

Now, over to Duke Divinity’s Old Testament Scholar Ellen Davis who gives great insight into these two verses:

To [God], indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
Davis translates these verses as “’Let all those who go down to the dust (kolyôredê ‘àpàr) bow before him, who cannot keep themselves alive.”
One who could not keep himself alive…isn’t that what the Psalmist felt when he began the Psalm, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and when he laments “But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people?”

He was dead inside. He had nothing except a faith. His faith cries out to the God who, through Abraham, promised to be his God…first in lament and then turning into praise.

He could not keep himself alive. So he bowed down to the one who gave him life. He bowed down to the one who promised Abraham life. He bowed down to the one who gives you life.

And, when he did, when he left all his arguments on the table, when he didn’t try stopped trying to be right, God lifted him up.

His lament is interrupted with a “ha…an aha.” We don’t hear the content, but he was given a word. The Psalmist shifts. The dirt takes form and Psalmist rises up out of the ground, no longer a worm but man, a woman, a community, a people all calling back to the God whose word creates life with the exclamation, “I will live for him!”

I will live for God!

Walk with me.

I know that you’ve had those days when you went to bed early because life was that overwhelming. The day’s problems multiplied and remained unsolved. You weren’t feeling so good about yourself at that moment.

I’ve been there!

There are days when I want no one near me because I feel the part of the Psalm which says “I am a worm,” crawling in all different directions. I need some time to find my brain again—if not that, at least my faith…remembering

he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

Remembering…I am walking before my God. I am being made whole. I am a child of Abraham, an inheritor of God’s promise to be my God.
Holding on tight until I receive the word that brings life, the word that reforms me, and the word that fills me with such joy that my whole being shouts out…

I will live for God!

Have faith. The word will come. The situation around you may not change but you will. And that, my friends, will bring you life.

Psalm 22:23-31
Genesis 17: 1 – 7

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