You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Blessing and Promise: Unexpected Gifts, HERE.
Abram’s story of an encounter with God leads us into an exploration of the ways in which God’s promises are embedded deep within each of us—and revealed in the cosmos around us. As people who express a belief in the Divine, the agelessness of our Bible stories can help us see God’s abundant gifts around us in 2020—even as we live into our reality of promises yet unfulfilled.
Because… life seems like a mess. I do not think I need to go into the sordid details. There is a hashtag on social media—a hashtag is a way for people to connect who are interested in the same topic—a hashtag which is #2020WorstYearEver. This sums up headlines full of tropical storms and hurricanes, wildfires, racial and economic unrest, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a tense election year, and… oh yeah… a plague.
I am thinking that with those unsettlings running rampant in our lives, we could give the complicated lives of our Biblical ancestors Abram and Sarai a run for their money. If you would like a homework assignment for the week ahead, I encourage you to read the entire story of Abram (whom God later renames Abraham) and Sarai (who is renamed Sarah). I will warn you, it is on the long-side, running from Genesis chapter 11 to chapter 50. But then again, what else do we have to do for fun during a pandemic?
Yet I can also entice you to read these chapter using Professor of Hebrew Bible, Wilda Gafney’s, take on the “incestuous unions that run through the story,” for in chapter 20 we learn that Sarah is Abraham’s half-sister (Genesis 20:12). This is a tale of a nomadic people. At the beginning of the story, the family moves far from their homeland in Mesopotamia (Gen. 12:4) to Egypt (Gen. 12:10). There is famine (Genesis 12:10), Pharaoh takes Sarai as his concubine (who is by the way already married to Abram – like I said, it’s complicated) (Gen. 12:15), a plague ensues (Gen. 12:17), there is war, plundering, and kidnappings (Gen. 14). If Abraham and Sarah had had social media, they too might have written #2000BCE (Before the Common Era), #WorstYearsEver.
Now, we do not know exactly when two people named Abraham and Sarah, their extended family, and the peoples of their day, lived. If we were to attempt to place where we are on a Biblical timeline, we know that bits and pieces of the book of Genesis were written down over a long period from “the tenth to sixth centuries B.C.E.” (Before the Common Era) and the family saga of Sarai and Abram is generally thought to be “set around 2000-1700 B.C.E.”
That is about four thousand years ago. What in the world does the story of these people from a very different place and time, with their own faith practices, language, and culture, have to do with us in our own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?
In today’s story, I took a moment to think about Abram. I can imagine Abram having a very restless night. His tossing and turning. And… I can relate. I have had some of those sleepless nights during the pandemic. How about you?
I can imagine Abram so anxious, so worried about the future, that he could not sleep. After a long while he finally gives up, throws back the covers and steps outside of the tent. There, he looks up—and has a God moment.
An awe-inspiring connection.
The whole sky lit up with stars.
And God saying, “Abram, you are thinking way too small.
Think about your life’s promise in a whole ‘nother way.”
In her book, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, Barbara Holmes writes, “We function in a world that seems familiar until sleep, disaster, death, or wonder cause us to shift our gaze. On those occasions we glimpse a spectrum of realities that defies the limits of our language. These infrequent but spellbinding events confront us with mystery, a profound helplessness, and a repulsion/attraction to know more… up above our heads there are worlds unknown and a canopy of grace… (But) Our vision is narrowed by the pursuit of happiness and economic stability. In myopic bliss, we toil with our eyes cast downward, oblivious to the wonders above and within, and numbed to the need for activism.”
Look up. Grasp the stars. Re-encounter the Holy. Renew your relationship with God. This. Is. Faith.
“This is faith. Thinking about our faith explores and redraws the world, gradually offering us better and better images of it, teaching us to think in ever more effective ways. Faith is a continual exploration of the ways of thinking. Its strength is its visionary capacity to demolish preconceived ideas, to reveal new regions of reality, and to construct new and more effective images of the world…”
That is faith.
But… those words are actually a twist on Carlo Rovelli’s thoughts on science. In his book, Reality is Not What It Seems, he stated:
“This is science. Scientific thinking explores and redraws the world, gradually offering us better and better images of it, teaching us to think in ever more effective ways. Science is a continual exploration of the ways of thinking. Its strength is its visionary capacity to demolish preconceived ideas, to reveal new regions of reality, and to construct new and more effective images of the world…”
Faith. Science. Times of trial.
In that intersection God says, “People of God, you are thinking way too small. Think about your life’s promise, the world’s promise, in a whole ‘nother way.”
In today’s vision of God’s relationship with Abram there is a dynamic pushing back and forth. Abram wants more details. God wants Abram to stretch his expectations. We too live like Sarai and Abram in the tension of promises yet unfilled. Somedays we can sense that the world will be righteous and just—can be righteous and just—and heaven on earth is sooooo close we can touch it—or is it? For some things seem beyond humanity’s grasp.
Beloved, look at the stars, the grain of sands, the drops of water which give life. Know there is promise out there, beyond time and space. God’s promise. It is THAT promise Abram encounters in the night which allows him to believe, trust, and to continue to find life. It is a cosmic vision. A hoped-for time of right-ness and justice.
So cast your eyes upward. Be aware of the wonders above and within.
~ Pastor Kris
Reflection on Genesis 15:1-6 offered September 20, 2020
 Wilda Gafney, Womanist Midrash: a Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 30.
 Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 15.
 Common English Bible, CEB Student Bible for United Methodist Confirmation (Place of publication not identified: Abingdon, 2017), 4.
 Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Kansas City, MO.: The Learning Exchange, 1988).
 Barbara Ann Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: an Invitation to View the World Differently (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002), 15, 17.
 Adapted from Carlo Rovelli, Reality Is Not What It Seems (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2014), 8.