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“Taking the Long View”

Pastor Wilbert S. Miller
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
August 7, 2016 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)
“Taking the Long View”
Genesis 15: 1-6

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In your heart of hearts, do you really believe Abraham and Sarah had a bouncing baby boy when they were well into their nineties?  Be honest: goodness gracious, they were card-carrying AARP members going on forty years and had been collecting Social Security for twenty-five.

When their bouncing baby boy finally arrived, they named him Isaac, as in “son of laughter.”   Isaac’s birth was a hoot, a real laugher, and never forget: his arrival had nothing to do with Abraham and Sarah’s ingenuity at child planning.  Baby Isaac was all about the sheer grace of God.

Jumping the gun and getting hilarious little Isaac on the scene too quickly, however, can ruin the story.  Things need to age a bit.  How could Abraham and Sarah possibly have believed they would soon be parents?  Time was not on their side.

Is it any wonder Abraham asked God, “What will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  All the family treasures—the camels and tents, blankets and bridles, cauldrons and saucepans—all these exquisite heirlooms would end up, not in a precious son’s hands, but in those of an alien, a foreigner.  Is it any wonder God had to reassure Abraham, “Do not be afraid?”

To ease Abraham’s anxiety, God took him out into the desert.  The scene is reminiscent of James Weldon Johnson’s description of the moment of creation: “blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.”   Just like creation, God had to generate something from nothing.

God told Abraham to look way up into the sky.  Abraham got a lump in his throat as he gazed upon millions of stars.  God said, “Count the stars, if you are able to count them.  So shall your descendants be.”  The thought of such an enormous family was preposterous to Abraham.  It is why God said to Abraham and why God says to you and me, “Do not be afraid.”

We can imagine what it must have been like for wobbly Abraham and shaky Sarah. We have been there with not a smidgen of hope and we have begged God, “Why me, what did I ever do to deserve this?”

The church frets as well.  We have invested tons of our own money, time, and emotions in this holy project called Holy Trinity.  We stare into the sky together and wonder what will happen next.

I can’t explain the story of old Abraham and Sarah and little Isaac. There is about 49.5% of me—and I imagine you, too— that thinks this story absurd.  But, there is that other 50.5%, that causes us to teeter on the ledge of hope.  That fragment of hope causes us to believe God can do marvelous things and, for some strange reason, we keep telling the story of Abraham and Sarah to folks down on their luck, folks like you and me, folks crossing our fingers that Isaac’s birth to old Abraham and Sarah is actually true.

In our “Quote of the Week” (these quotes, by the way, will appear weekly in our bulletin), Eugene Rosenstock writes: “If we take the short view, we can make God a liar.  But if we take the long view, we can see the glorious, unfolding mystery.”

God invites us to take the long view when our lives are “blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp”: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them”—that is the long view, the do not be afraid view.

Sometimes the dark nights of our lives make it almost impossible to see the shining stars.  But, thank God, there is a community that takes the long view, this one in fact, that helps us sing again of that unbelievable story where life prevails in the face of death.  It sounds a bit like Jiminy Cricket singing in Pinocchio:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you…
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star.

For the past three weeks, a group of us has been wishing upon a star albeit on Sunday morning and in our second floor library.  God has invited us to dream.  Like Abraham and Sarah and the prophet Isaiah, we have dared to sing a new song.

We have dreamed of moving the baptismal font from the corner over there to the very center of our life—something that, while a dream, is easily achievable—much easier than Sarah giving birth to Isaac.  We have dreamed of painting our social hall, not with professionals but you and me with paint brushes in hand.  We have dreamed a little dream of improving our amplification system that, with one or two generous gifts, will enable us to hear God’s promises more clearly as we stand in the darkness and need a clear song of hope.  We have even dreamed of a Sunday School for our littlest ones—a dream that sounds more than a little like barren Sarah hoping to give birth to Isaac but we have heard story after story in this place that with God all things are possible.  We have even dreamed of opening our big red doors, WIDE, inviting the world in; honking taxis and sidewalk chatter will punctuate our liturgy with the delightful city song, just as do tower bells, organ zimbelsterne, and Sanctus bells.

In a few moments, we will sing another new song.  I remember the first time I heard it; many of you probably remember it, too.  If this is the first time you have sung this hymn, you may soon feel exactly like we did the first time, a bit like Abraham and Sarah felt upon hearing they were about to be parents in their nineties.  “Earth and All Stars!” is one whacky song but a fun and hummable one.  It sings of all manner of marvelous things that God will inspire us to do in our lives and here at Holy Trinity in the months and years to come. What a merry song to sing, kind of like wishing upon a star!  Oh my, God is about to do a marvelous new thing.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.