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Count The Stars If You Are Able

  • March 17, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 17 March 2019 (Lent 2 Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27.1-14; Luke 13.31-35

Title:               Count The Stars If You Are Able

God brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).

And Abram believed the Lord. Abram trusted in the promise of God.

My friends, as we journey together through this season of Lent, are you growing in your ability to trust God in all the aspects of your life?

On Thursday, it was PIE day at Common Ground, and we ate a lot of really good pies! We also talked about Faith and Science and astrotheology and God’s purpose for the vast expanse of the universe.

Somewhere around 100 billion light years across and still expanding rapidly! This is the universe in which we find ourselves, filled with trillions upon trillions of giant balls of burning nuclear gas that we gaze upon in the night sky, just as Abram did so long ago.

If you are not at this very moment aware of this, then allow me to remind you that your existence is an absolute miracle! As is the light from those stars that are an unfathomable distance away.

Take a deep breath. And remember: YOU ARE ALIVE! There is no explanation for WHY you are here at all. Or WHY I am here. Or WHY any of this is here.

But what we DO know is that the physical characteristics of this universe are perfectly designed to allow life to form. It is almost as if there were dials on a large board just before the Big Bang, and before time and space began, each one was perfectly tuned to a factor of 1 in a billion. This impossibly precise fine-tuning has allowed life to form, and it has allowed us to exist.

But if just ONE of those dials, if one of those physical constants had been off in the slightest degree, then life could not exist. And we would never have awoken on this beautiful planet.

Yes, your life truly is a miracle. The light of the sun, our star, is a miracle. The fact that we can have this conversation together is a miracle.

We can never know for sure WHY any of this has happened, or why things transpire in our lives as they do.

But what we DO have – the one thing given to us human beings – is the ability to trust. Those of us gathered here trust that there IS a reason, and a purpose, for all of this.

THIS is the deep secret to life discovered by our biblical ancestors.

“And though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in God” (Psalm 27:4).

So sung the writer of today’s Psalm, and this could have just as easily come straight from the mouth of Abraham and Sarah, or from the lips of Jesus our Lord.

Abram and Sarah faced an unknown and uncertain future. They were vulnerable. They did not have an heir to protect them in their old age and to continue their family heritage.

Our Lord Jesus was also vulnerable. At least, in respect to physical violence and harm, he was vulnerable. Bullies with power like Herod threatened to inflict real harm on him and his friends.

Unlike Abram and Sarah, his future was known and understood, at least within himself. Jesus knew where his journey was headed. He was walking straight toward the Cross, with resolute determination.

And yet, like Abram and Sarah, he also had to trust in the promise of God, for a very painful and difficult path lay ahead.

There is, of course, another who is remembered and celebrated on this day, another who also trusted God in the face of great uncertainty.

This is Saint Patrick, of course!! When Saint Patrick left Britain to sail back to Ireland, it was as if he was sailing straight into the eye of a hurricane.

The Irish were fierce and ruthless fighters who knew no law except the honor of their tribe. Anyone who entered their tribal lands without permission was killed immediately.

When Patrick was a young man, he had already suffered much at the hands of these wild Irish people. For 6 years, he was held as a slave of one tribe and forced to tend the herds of the fields in all kinds of weather. By listening to and obeying the voice of God, he was able to escape and make his way home.

And yet he went back. He went back to those very people who had enslaved him!

Patrick trusted in God. He trusted that God was calling him and leading him back to serve the Irish people for the sake of the Gospel.

The danger he faced was real, but it does not help if we turn someone like Patrick into a Marvel comic book hero who battled against his foes with magic. That is the provenance of Hollywood. It is not reality.

The Music Notes in the bulletin today mention the story of Saint Patrick lighting the fire to celebrate the Great Vigil, just as we will do at sunset on Holy Saturday, April 20. It states that Patrick did this in direct and bold violation of the High King’s order that no fires are to be lit until a certain pagan festival was celebrated.

But the reality is quite different than this. First of all, there was no High King of Ireland in the sixth century. And we know from Patrick’s own writings that his missionary work in Ireland progressed very slowly. There was no grand confrontation with the High King and his Druids as the legends tell us.

In fact, Patrick explains that the primary way he made progress in sharing the Gospel among the Irish was by giving away money.

Basically, he had to bribe the local kings with bags of gold and silver in order to allow him to preach and baptize and celebrate the Eucharist in their tribal lands!

Slowly and carefully, just like a mother hen, Patrick gathered his chicks together and protected them from the danger all around. He trusted in God that his years of faithful labor among the Irish would one day bear fruit. And so it came to pass.

In this way, Saint Patrick is a faithful reflection of our Lord Jesus, who also had the heart of a mother hen to shelter his people under his wing. But he knew that Herod the fox was waiting, and one day they would meet face to face.

It is only with the clarity of hindsight that we declare the fearful Friday on which they eventually meet to be Good. But in this moment, walking toward his fate in Jerusalem, the only thing Jesus could do was trust in God.

Sailing across the Irish Sea back to the Emerald Isle in obedience to the voice of God, the only thing Patrick could do was trust in God.

Gazing up at the night sky, childless and without any means to change their situation, the only thing Abram and Sarah could do was trust in God.

Being awake and aware on this planet, living a life that is miraculous and beautiful, and confusing and incredibly painful all at once, the only thing we can do is trust in God.

And like those who have walked this path before us, to keep moving forward.

God brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).

My friends, as we journey together through this season of Lent, are you growing in your ability to trust God in all aspects of your life?

May it always be so among us. Amen.

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