We first meet Abraham (known then as Abram) in Genesis 12. He’s basically living in a Cracker Barrel with his father’s family. That’s how I picture it. They sold idols; trinkets, vintage posters for Burma shave, rusty farm equipment, and breakfast to the hundreds of travelers going through Ur. His father’s house was the Cracker Barrel gift shop.
And like momma slapping biscuits and gravy, Abraham was an old man engaged in quick commerce and faced violence both beyond and within his family. Violence was a way of life in those parts. You couldn’t get anywhere without going through Ur. You never know who would show and what kind of weird intentions they might have. It was at the heart of the Fertile Crescent; between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, western civilization as we know it began right there. People came and people went. And from Genesis 12 onward, we’re told, God wanted Abraham to go.
Admittedly, their journey is strange. When they got to Egypt, Abraham tells Sarah to deny being his wife and pretend to be his sister. His reasoning: if they think they’re married, they will kill him and take her. The logic of the sister plan is lost on me. Was there some Egyptian rule? Eventually, the Lord got wind of Abraham living with his sister and not his “wife”. Why it took so long for God to get the message, I don’t know? God eventually told Pharaoh by sending a plague on Egypt’s agriculture sector. Pharaoh even asked Abraham, “Why didn’t you just tell me she was your wife?” Abraham and Sarah were both deported. Chaos is on their trail. It is a strange story.
In between what I what to talk about today and getting deported from Egypt, Abraham and his in-laws went to Las Vegas. It was the ancient equivalent, known as Sodom and Gomorrah. Let me tell you, what happened there didn’t stay there. It didn’t end well. They had salt for weeks.
Finally now, the Cracker Barrel from Ur, being deported from Egypt, and the flight from Sin City is all behind them. Abraham has a moment to catch his breath. Is following this new God about being on the run? Is worshipping this God about ducking and dodging one thing after another with no chance to think, breathe, or reflect?
What are we doing here? What’s the big picture?
God wants Abraham to see the bigger plan. God wants Abraham to grasp this idea: it’s not going to be like it’s been before.
The idea began by Abraham going outside (he was probably outside if we’re splitting hairs) and at some divine instigation, being asked to look up at the night sky.
How many of you all saw the photograph of the Milky Way, taken from Lifeguard Beach, which was shared on Facebook over the past few days?
That’s what Abraham saw, the universe, the stars, and the heavens. If you didn’t see the picture, you still know what I’m talking about. In a place like this with little or no light pollution, the stars are brighter and more numerous than other places on Earth. In fact, other than on Ocracoke, the brightest stars I’ve seen were in Africa.
In their conversation, God asks Abraham, “If you can, count them”. I think the whole encounter of Chapter 15 hinges on this request. Step back from the promises of descendants or even Eliezer in Damascus, who may still hold the franchise rights to the Cracker Barrel, listen to these words: “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” Count the stars, can you imagine? It’s almost like a line from a nursery rhyme.
In that first moment of overwhelming impossibility, when you look up and see billions of sparkling lights, you realize (like Abraham):
- My life is a reflection of something than I will never completely understand. That’s ok.
- If what I’m witnessing is real, then what I think is important and defines my life is probably an illusion; in comparison to this reality billions of miles away from me.
- God isn’t a detached idea (an idol, a trinket) but a defining, integrated feature of my existence. Nothing separates the ocean from the water.