How Many?

It isn’t part of today’s story but a point of clarification as we begin.  In today’s reading we’re hearing about a man named Abram who will very shortly in our Genesis story be called someone perhaps more familiar to you, Abraham.  The name change is a story unto itself but for clarities sake today I’ll be using the more familiar name Abraham.

For those of us in the 21st century it is nigh on impossible for us to imagine what Abraham saw when he looked up into the night sky, oh so many years ago.  The Lord told him in a vision to look up… and it had to be impressive, the night sky that Abraham saw above him.  Imagine a world with no light pollution to speak of, nor any air pollution worth mentioning.  How clear would the night sky have been in a time before electric lights, cars and factories?  How many stars would have been visible to Abraham in a world with perhaps just a few campfires around as the only other source of light competing with the stars in the night sky?

The scale of what the Lord is proposing is quite stunning.  Our sun and all the planets in the solar system are in the Milky Way galaxy, kind of on the edge of it.  Scientists estimate there are something like 100 billion stars other than our sun in the Milky Way galaxy.  With our sun that makes 100 billion and one.  Right now, astronomers estimate there are something between 100-200 billion galaxies alongside our Milky Way.  And then the math gets hard.  As Elizabeth Howell from space.com writes, “Sheer numbers is one problem — once the count gets into the billions, it takes a while to do the addition.”

And here the Lord is promising Abraham that he will have as many descendants as there are stars in the heavens.  That’s a lot of descendants.

If we do the math there’s only 108 billion people that have ever lived here on planet Earth.  Apparently God’s promise is going to take some time. Because Abraham is something like 90 years old and he doesn’t have ANY kids just yet.

Which leaves us with a couple of possibilities.  One suggests that with only 7 billion people on the planet now and only 108 billion that have ever lived, humanity has a ways to go before all of Abraham’s descendants are here.

The other might suggest that God was making a point about how big our God is and how incredibly ever present God is.  Throughout a universe that is very large. you-are-here

It is really somewhat amazing.  All those galaxies and stars uncounted and they all work together in this large cosmic dance and we can’t get along over virtually any issue.  We could learn something from the stars, I think.

There’s a sense of awe in all of this that draws Abraham in.  Frankly, you’d kind of expect Abraham to laugh at God’s suggestion and in other parts of Genesis he does just that.  That’s Genesis 17:15-17 to be specific.  Abraham is up there in years and he finds a certain amount of humor at the idea that he’ll be a father.  But not here.  Not now.  Abraham hears God and believes God.  With no basis for that belief.  He has no empirical evidence.  He has no real history to work from.  He just has faith.

We live in a world that suggests many things for us as people of faith.  Suggestions that could lead one to believe that God does not exist.  Suggestions that we can’t prove God exists or that God does anything for us. We live in a world that has supercomputers and Hubble telescopes that can give us much knowledge about the heavens above and all that is within them.

Abraham had none of that.  He simply had faith. Faith that God would do what God has promised in Abraham’s life.

Faith is a gift from God as the Holy Spirit comes to us.  That’s some of that mysterious stuff that we’re not always terribly uncomfortable with.  We like the ability to prove things and show how things work.  We tend to avoid things that we can’t see or prove.  We like to line things up in the most efficient ways from Point A to Point B so that we can wrap it up in a neat package and be on our way to whatever is next on our schedule for the day.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t work like that.  The Holy Spirit has a tendency to feel messy and to come into our lives in times and at places we didn’t expect and are frequently inconvenient.  We’re surrounded by the Holy Spirit ALL the time, of course, but we’re not always open to responding to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Because mostly we like to delude ourselves that we’re in control of our lives and that collectively we control the world around us.  How many of us would willingly give up control of our lives for something we can’t see?  Now, many of us have days where we’d like someone else to take responsibility for a particular day.  Those days where we get tired of adulting and are looking for an adultier adult to adult on our behalf.  But that kind of giving up control is usually a temporary feeling.  I’m talking about faith and God and trust and Holy Spirit here.  Trusting God with our faith and with our lives.

Sounds like a big deal.  And it kind of is but think of it like this.  As we look into the infinity that is space, it puts things into perspective.  We really are just a pale blue dot slinging through the galaxy along with the 100 billion stars around us, just one galaxy surrounded by another 100 billion galaxies.  In this immenseness it wouldn’t really be logically inconsistent to fall back into believing that we’re really not all that in the vastness of the universe.  And yet in our baptism we have been claimed by God who created all there is around us.  In the vastness of the universe each one of us still matter to God.

We matter enough to God, we are loved enough by God that Jesus Christ came to us, was crucified for the forgiveness of our sins and then returned from the dead back to life, was resurrected, three days later.  We matter enough to God, we are loved enough by God, that through all of this thing we call life we are a forgiven people with the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

In awe and wonder we leave this place and go into the world.  Perhaps with faith so complete that we are aware of the Holy Spirit giving us faith every moment of every day.  Perhaps with more questions than answers about faith but each of us leaves with the hope that the Holy Spirit does indeed surround us. Each of us leaves with the hope that while we may wonder about, and even laugh at, God’s presence, that presence never leaves us.

To God be the glory!

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