Text: Genesis 15:1-6
Date: Pentecost XII + Proper 14C + 8/7/16
Thousands of years before Vincent Van Gogh pondered and painted it and Don McLean sung memorably about it, look at him! Abram, outside, in the dark, looking up into the sky, saw the Starry Starry Night.
Have you ever done that? I did it once, memorably. Rutland, North Dakota. Another Fourth of July vacation. Literally in the middle of nowhere, no city lights, nothing within miles. Laying on the grass at night just looking straight up into the clear sky. You never see that many stars in the city. As for counting them? The main thing I was counting was how many mosquito bites. But I hung in there for the vision of it all and have never forgotten it.
And there was Abram. What was he doing out there in the middle of the night? God told him, God “brought him outside.” This was not a vision in a dream or of the mind. He was outside, maybe shivering a little in the chill. “Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them,” said God. Because God knew Abram could not count the stars He said, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Fear? What did fear have to do with anything? The stars were not the enemy. The stars were the sign of the promise of God. The Introit psalm today said, “the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps 147:11). To fear the Lord is to know Him and believe that the judge of all the earth is also its savior with steadfast love toward you.
Abram recalled God’s original confrontation with him and God’s amazing promise, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Though Abram may have wondered, “You mean here? now?” “No.” But “your very own son shall be your heir.” “My deliverance will be through your heir, your descendant.” But doubt immediately arose as he considered his current circumstances under the stars and how they so completely seemed to contradict God’s promise. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” “You have given me no offspring.”
Then, behold, “the word of the Lord came to him” again. Other words from other people may attempt to weakly console Abram or you or me, to somehow explain away the contradictions. They may even attempt to quote the Bible and say, “Well, we know that all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). Isn’t that our conclusion, our hope when we are so often confronted by impossible situations beyond our explanation or control? But God’s word of promise to Abram was more specific. “Your very own son shall be your heir.” “You see the stars? So shall your offspring be.”
Now the point of this passage is that there is a power beyond our words and thoughts when the word we hear is from God. For upon the simple promise of God, amazingly, Abram believed the Lord. Faith is the very working and gift of God given through His Word. No Word, no faith. But now the even more amazing fact.
“And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” This is one of the most important, if not the most important sentences in the Old Testament claiming that a person is made righteous by God through faith alone and not with any addition of anything on our part. Righteousness, a restored relationship with God, faith and salvation is totally gift of God.
So says St. Paul of Abraham in his letter to the Romans, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:20-21). It is from this passage in Genesis 15 that the apostle establishes the foremost article of the Christian faith, namely, that faith alone justifies because of the content of faith, that is, faith giving assent to the promises of God, concluding by faith that God’s promise is true.
So we heard from the letter to the Hebrews this morning, talking about the saints of old that everything they did was out of faith, concluding, “For without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb 11:6). But to be absolutely clear this is no blind faith but faith in the promise of God.
The promise to Abram that His blessing would be through Abram’s very own son was because He must also be God’s very own Son, whom Luther calls the heavenly Seed. So Abram believed God’s salvation through one of his descendants, a man but more than a man. Abram believed in the Messiah, the Savior Who would be sent from God. So also it is by faith in the Savior Who has now been sent, Jesus Christ, by that faith that you and all believers are declared righteous by God, cleansed of sin taken away by His atoning death, forgiven by the power of His resurrection, now driven by a new hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because you have the blessed assurance of faith that you belong to God for eternity you do not need to be anxious about anything, your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. When our Lord instructs us to “seek the Father’s kingdom” He means we are to live by the faith given, renewed and enlivened by constantly hearing God’s Word.
By this faith in Christ you are one of those stars Abram was told to count that night. “From one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven” (Heb 11:12). Because you belong to Christ by faith the Lord says to you as to Abram, “Fear not, I am your shield, your reward shall be very great” when that morning comes when you’ll hear the trumpet sound and you’ll hear the Christian shout, “Looking to my God’s right hand, When the stars begin to fall” (LSB 968). The same eyes that pondered the starry starry night will see a new, eternal day and say with wonder and praise, “My Lord, what a morning!”