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Sermon Manuscript: Outside
It started late.
When Abram was seventy-five years old, God called to him and said,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And he did. He took his wife and his nephew and everything—and everyone—who he had, and he left his country and his kindred, and went to Canaan, and settled there.
And time passed. It started late… and then it got later. And now…
God appears to Abram in a vision and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
And Abram replies, basically, “Yeah. Right.”
And Abram continues, basically, “God, you promised to make me a great nation. You promised to make my name great. You promised that in me, all of the families of the earth would be blessed. But here I am. It’s just me an Sarai. We have no children. We have no-one to pass things on to. When I die, everything that I have will go to Eliezer, a slave who happened to be born in my house. There will be no nation. No one will remember my name. No one will be blessed in me.”
And Abram says, basically, “You, O God, are talking about the future. And I just don’t see one.”
This has been a frustrating year. Carefully laid plans have been upended. Normal routines have been disrupted. We have all had to adjust to new things. We’ve all had to make changes on the fly. We’ve all had to invent and reinvent and re-reinvent. The one thing that has been absolutely certain… has been uncertainty.
And I think that we’ve all accepted that it’s going to be that way for a while. Even here at the church… maybe even especially here at the church.
I don’t know what confirmation classes or Sunday School or Faith in Motion are going to look like this year. I don’t know how—of even if—book studies and Bible studies are going to happen. I don’t know when we’re going to move back into the sanctuary or what worship is going to look like once we do.
And I don’t know so many other things about what is to come.
And I’m not in Abram’s position. Abram was filled with hope that he would be a great nation and that his name would be remembered for generations to come. And then he looked around… and he saw that he was old… and that his wife was barren… and that his stuff would be passed on to a slave… and that his name would be passed on to no one… and that he would be forgotten… he and his name and his past and his future would be dust.
I’m not in Abram’s position. We’re not in Abram’s position. But if someone showed up and started making grandiose promises about a wonderful future, I’m not sure I would believe them.
God and Abram have this conversation in Abram’s tent. And Abram ends it by saying, basically, “You, O God, are talking about the future. And I just don’t see one.”
And so God takes Abram’s hand… and leads him out of the tent… and into the night.
I’ve lived in the city for a while. But after the derecho, my neighborhood didn’t have power for days. And while that was rotten in so many ways, one of the things that was amazing was that there was so little light pollution. I could step out of my house… and into the darkness… and see so many stars.
And that was still in the city. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the deep country at night. Maybe you’ve experienced that more recently: a place where there is no light but starlight, where the moon hangs like a lantern, and the star-spangled heavens stretch out overhead.
God takes Abram’s hand… and leads him out of the tent… and into the night. And God said, “Look at the stars. Count them, if you can count them. So shall your descendants be.”
And in that moment—standing in the desert at night, feeling the cool breeze against his face, looking up at the countless stars—Abram believes, Abram trusts, Abram has faith.
In that moment, Abram could really see a future where he would be a great nation, and his name would be great, and in him all the families of the earth would be blessed.
I don’t know if it lasted. It’s years before Abram and Sarai have a son. And a lot happens between now and then. Surely, there were moments where Abram remembered God’s promise and thought, “I just don’t see it.”
And surely there were other moments—standing in the desert at night looking at the stars—when Abram thought, “Well… maybe.”
And, again, I am not in Abram’s position. But I know the feeling. There are fleeting moments when I can see the whole universe in God’s hand. There are fleeting moments when I can see the whole universe suspended in nothingness all by itself. And there are a lot of moments when I can’t see anything, when I have a choice, when I think, “Well… maybe.”
I need to be clear about something: I am not about to say that God caused a global pandemic; I am not about to lay the blame for this year at God’s feet.
But… in those moments when I can see the whole universe in God’s hand—and even in those moments when I have a choice and think, “Well… maybe”—I believe that God can and does weave things that are terrible into the beauty of the world. God turns things towards good.
And maybe, over the years, we have spent too much time in our tents. Maybe, over the decades, we have looked at the walls around us and let our imaginations stretch only so far. Maybe, over the generations, we have lived in rooms that are too small with an image of God that is too small.
But this year…
We have had carefully laid plans upended and normal routines disrupted. We have adjusted to new things and made changes on the fly. We have invented and reinvented and re-reinvented.
We have worshipped on video and on a podcast and in our parking lot. We have hosted a virtual vacation bible school and an online Bible study. We have cared for each other over the phone and confirmed our youth and raised money for the Referral Center. We have moved beyond the building and discovered… uncovered… recovered ways of being the church that… well…
There are things that we miss that we have to find a way back to. And things that we’ve discovered that are bringing new joy. And things that we are figuring out how to do in new contexts.
It’s a big complicated jumbly mess. But here’s the thing:
We are here, outside, where we can see the sky and the horizon. We are here, outside, where there are no limits. We are here, outside, where praise and imagination can fill the whole world.
Again, I am not saying that God caused a global pandemic; I am not about to lay the blame for this year at God’s feet. But maybe—if we get out of the way a little bit—God can use this time of uncertainty (and those of us who are going through it) for good. Maybe God can weave the world into something more beautiful.
The future that Abram could see from inside his tent was not the future that God had planned. So God took Abram by the hand… and led him outside… and let him see everything that was possible.
And, maybe, the future that we could see from inside our lives as they were was not the future that God had planned. But now we are outside. And not even the sky is the limit. And, if we follow where God is calling us, maybe, we can be a blessing to all the earth.