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The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost                                 August 7, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Genesis 15:1-6Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Pr. Steve's Sermon: Seeing the Stars
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Seeing the Stars

Children's Sermon: Counting the Stars
Children's Sermon: Counting the Stars

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...  
So God brought Abraham "outside and said, 'Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.'"  And for Abraham, that was a WAY more daunting challenge that it would be for most of us!
When Abraham looked up at the sky at night - in fact, until a hundred years ago when almost anybody looked up at the night sky - they were able to see stars that looked like this:

But that's not the way it is for most of us today.  There's been a lot of discussion lately about the effects of light pollution at night.  Some of you may be familiar with an organization called the International Dark-Sky Association. They estimate that 99% of the population of the US and Europe live in places where we can't experience a true night sky because of the effects of artificial light in the places we live.
In some respects, the abundance of artificial light has helped us a lot.  We can be more efficient because we can work after dark. Baseball, football and soccer games can all be played after dark. And safety at night is greatly increased because of artificial lighting.
But there are also concerns about the effects of too much artificial light on our health. There's concern about the amount of energy that's being wasted when the light is directed upwards instead of on the streets where it's needed.  And of course, artificial light impairs our ability to see the rest of the universe, so much so that one of the things the International Dark-Sky Association does is to register places that you can go and still see a real night sky.
So for most of us, today's first reading doesn't have the effect that it had on Abraham, or any previous generation.  To get the real effect, you have to look at a picture like this, or go to a dark sky place.  You need to be in a place where you can see such an amazing number of stars that you can't even count them.
But for Abraham, seeing the stars in the sky was a regular event.  Every night, he could look up and be reminded of the unimaginable promise of God.  Every night, he could look up and see a sign of God's commitment to him.  Every night, he could look up and know that God's love was present for him, even in difficult times.
The stars were a sign and a metaphor of the greatness of God's love and presence in his life.  They were much better than the rainbow God gave Noah, because the stars were always going to be there, even when they were obscured by the daylight or the clouds.
And I suspect that being able to see the stars was one of the things that gave Abraham strength to continue on the journey of faith that God called him to make.
And that got me to thinking about the stars in our lives.  What are the "stars" that remind you of God's promises in your life?  What are the "stars" that are signs of God's love and presence to you?  What are the "stars" that you look for in times of trouble that assure you that God is still there, even when things seem dark in the world?
Like any individual "star", some of those "stars" may be little things.  It may be the comforting word of a family member or friend.  It may be small symbol of faith.  It may be a momentary glimpse of beauty in the midst of an ugly situation.
But we all need those "stars", just as Abraham did.  Yet sometimes, the stars can be hard to see in our lives.  The signs of God's love, God's presence and God's promises to us are always there, but sometimes for all of us, they can become obscured.
So what are the things that block out the "stars" in our lives?  At least for me, I sometimes find that what obscures the "stars" is:
  • The Light - it may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes when things are going really well, I don't look for God; and when I feel pretty strong and capable of handling things myself, I'm less aware of how God is helping me; and just as the daylight blocked out the stars for Abraham, sometimes even the light in my life can obscure the stars...
  • The Clouds - even for Abraham, on a dark night, if there was cloud cover, he couldn't see the stars; and sometimes, for each of us, when there are times of deep pain or grief, it can be like a cloud that prevents us from seeing the stars...
  • The Tent - you almost miss it in the story, but Abraham is apparently in his tent when God "brought him outside."  In spite of how bright and clear the night may be, if you're in your tent, you can't see the stars.  And sometimes, we can get stuck in our "tent" - it might be the tent of our routine, our way of looking at the world, or our way of imagining the future; so maybe to see the stars, we also have to listen for God's call to take a few steps out of whatever "tent" we've become accustomed to and take a new look ...
So what are the stars God gives you in your life?  And what sometimes keeps you from seeing the stars?
Whatever it may be, the good news for all of us is that - just as for Abraham - the stars are always there, even when they're obscured from our view by the light, the clouds or the tents in our lives.  The good news for us, as for Abraham, is that there really are lots of stars, even when we can only see a few of them.  And most importantly, what the stars represent - God's love, God's promise and God's presence - will always be there for us, whether we can see the stars or not.