Second Sunday in Lent 2019, Year C — Preaching Notes

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With All Your Heart Worship Series: IMITATING
 Second Sunday in Lent — March 17, 2019

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. One septillion in the American counting system, 1 quadrillion in the European – it is a rough estimate of just how many stars there might be. [1] Admittedly, it is probably a gross underestimate. The simple question that asks how many stars are in existence baffles even the most astute 21st century scientific minds, let alone one man in antiquity having a conversation with God under the night sky.

Last week, we looked to the land, the tilled earth, and the fruits that came from it, to ground us in our journey toward the heart of God in this Lenten season. We encountered a promise of story, identity, and at last, celebration. This week, we turn our gaze upward, aspiring to imitate our Creator, the source of our promise, our dreams, and our guiding star along our Lenten pathway.

Just as far as the stars are from us, God’s promise seems very far off from Abram. Abram yearns for something closer and more concrete – the solid weight of a newborn heir in his arms or the firm ground beneath his feet in a place he could call finally call home. Perhaps star-gazing wasn’t enough for this paragon of faith. Perhaps, with Abram, we know we are in good company when we question and impatiently demand that we see proof of God’s promises kept.

Humans are meant for stargazing. From the earliest civilizations, humanity tended to look to the sky for answers to all sorts of questions. People have marked celestial movements with great enthusiasm, and sometimes, with great fear. Perhaps if they looked up at the night sky, they would find their place in the grand scheme of things. Or perhaps they believed that if they understood this one thing, then all the rest of their questions would melt away. Life would make sense. The orderly beauty of the night sky is undeniable. It is like a living dream.

When we look up at the night sky, we see the same stars that Abram did that night that he asked tough questions of God, the same stars that the magi did as they read the sky in search of a new king who would free his people, the same stars that made the psalmist break out in song and claim that God had a name for each one of them (Psalm 147:4). What happens, though, when God and God’s promises seem as distant as the stars themselves? What happens when a family who has prayed for years for a child asks with Abram, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” What happens when someone loses a house, a job, health care, and in the struggle to survive, asks: “O Lord, God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Certainty is elusive in the world in which we live. Each of us has members in our congregations that are waiting in the dark for urgent prayers to be answered and God’s promise to come into fruition. How do we keep faith burning brightly in our hearts when the stars that are meant to guide us grow dim and cold?

Until this moment in Genesis, Abram has unquestioningly done everything that God had asked of him. He left his homeland, built some altars, made some bad decisions, parted from some of his family, all the while following God’s promises of land and descendants like a trail of blessings. As chapter 15 opens, however, Abram has begun to question whether this promise of land and offspring will ever come to pass. It appears Abram is willing to have faith up to a point, then the fulfillment of the promises of God become implausible. That is precisely when the questions, confusion, fear, and obstinance set in.

Abram is walking the quintessential human journey of faithfulness in God. If we are grounded in our faith when we begin our journey, we too trust in the promises of God. If we keep walking on our journey and those promises don’t seem to be any nearer, then we start questioning – our own faith, God’s faithfulness, the possibility of our dreams, the hurt of human suffering, the fear that we were wrong to trust in the first place. It is a painful place to be, sitting on the ground and staring up at a sky that seems as far away as we can imagine. It is precisely this experience that is a catalyst for our growth in faithfulness, as it was Abram’s. It is in the questioning that Abram learns to trust again. Lent, as we know, is a transformation of the heart. Question by question, Abram’s heart is being shaped into a more trusting form. Perhaps for those in your congregations, dear preachers, they might need to learn the same lesson this Lent as they explore their own wildernesses and dreams, as they count the stars. Their hearts are just as pliable (and fragile) as Abram’s.

Abram sets a familiar pattern for Lent and our cycle of faith, doubt, and finally trust. What the lectionary reading leaves out is the part of Abram’s dream that says before God’s promises will be fulfilled (and they will be because God always keeps God’s promises), there will be a time of struggle and hardship. Just like the lectionary, we tend to want to skip over that piece. Four hundred years is a long time to keep trusting, keep moving, keep following God through a land that is not our own. But this is what this long season of Lent is about. We are given time in the wilderness to ask the tough questions and learn to trust our heart to God’s heart, our steps to God’s pathway. The way may be long and winding, but the God who set the stars in motion will guide us on our journey. And perhaps the next time that we look up at the septillion stars, we might trust that God has put just one there so that we might find our way home.

[1] “How Many Stars Are There In the Universe” Howell, Elizabeth. May 17, 2017 https://www.space.com/26078-how-many-stars-are-there.html


Rev. Todd Pick is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, serving in the Central Texas Conference. He is a pastor, poet, and painter. He has contributed many articles on worship, creativity, and beauty to Worship Arts Magazine. In addition, his art and poetry were featured in the December 2018 issue of Magnet Magazine, a Christian publication in the UK. Todd is an accomplished artist who has created stage visuals for many United Methodist conferences, including the 2012 and 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a featured worship expert on Dr. Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio. Holding a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School, he was artist-in-residence there from 2007 to 2009 and was twice awarded the Hoyt L. Hickman Award for Liturgical Studies. Todd and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy a partnership in life and ministry. Together, they enjoy writing, planning worship and leading workshops and retreats across the country on multi-sensory worship.

Rev. Jennifer Pick is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving in the Central Texas Conference. She is a pastor, worship planner, biblical scholar, and writer. She has a Master of Literature in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She has studied biblical archeology in Greece and Turkey through Cambridge University. Rev. Pick graduated with a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School with an emphasis in Early Christianities. She is a recipient of the Lawrence E. Toombs Prize for Old Testament History, the George R. Crooks Prize for excellence in Homiletics and the Warren Memorial Prize for excellence in Greek New Testament Studies. Rev. Pick was a Ministry Fellow through the Fund for Theological Education, where she studied holy space and Christian pilgrimage throughout Europe. With a particular passion for incarnational preaching and worship, Rev. Pick has found creative ways to engage facets of emergent worship within large and small congregational settings. She draws upon all the senses in liturgical movement and ritual to create worship experiences that involve whole-bodied devotion.