I’m sure by now you’ve all heard about the two mass shootings that happened last weekend within hours of each other. The first in El Paso, Texas on Saturday and then another in Dayton, Ohio early Sunday morning. What I didn’t realise was there were seven more mass shootings in the States since then. And by “mass shooting” the definition is an incident where 3 or more are wounded by a gun shot at roughly the same time. And while the other seven didn’t make much news, not that I heard of anyway, and they were on a much smaller scale than the Texas and Ohio incidents, that is still a lot of gunfire going around.
And I know there will be always two sides to this gun control debate. There will always be people who feel safer because they’re allowed to carry a gun in their belts. There will always be those who would rather there be guns available to everyone in order to protect, to defend, and to retaliate when needed. There will always be those who just like guns and so any argument against will be met with rebuttals and what if’s.
But at the same time, there will always be people who are afraid. Afraid that they won’t come home from work that day. Afraid that every time they see their loved ones, it would be their last. Afraid that we as a people are just destined to be this way from now on… afraid.
I saw on Twitter a video of a giant crowd people at Times Square in New York scrambling in panic because they thought they heard gunshots, while it was just a motorcycle backfiring. Fear seems to run prevalent in our society now. Anything and everything bad that could happen seems to happen, and so people feel the need to be ready for that. It’s like our default now is to be just afraid.
And maybe it should be. There is a lot to be afraid of, not just guns. But there is disease, financial distress, loneliness, and of course, death no matter the cause. And some say fear is what keeps us on our toes, keeps us alert and ready, keeps us prepared for whatever it is that we’re afraid of, so we can tackle it when it comes. So I don’t know if we could ever really blame anyone of being afraid.
Except… Jesus tells us specifically that we needn’t be afraid. For God wants to give us good things. Really? Because the way things are going it doesn’t seem like God wants to give us good things. At least, it doesn’t seem like God is getting what God wants as all we seem to get are bad things, hurtful things, things to be very much afraid of.
In our first reading today we get a story of a man named Abram, who is later known as Abraham. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. And Abram had a lot to be afraid of as well. See Abram is pretty old at this point, like in his late 40’s or something (just kidding he was much older than that, like early 50’s), and he was childless. Now, being childless in those days wasn’t like it is these days. These days being without children is just like ok, whatever. But in those days being without children was like a curse. It was seen as your end as you’ll have no continuation or legacy to leave behind. It was seen as you being unfaithful so you were being punished. It was seen as you not living up to what you’re supposed to be doing as a human being, to multiply. So yeah, Abram was afraid. He was afraid of what others think of him, he was afraid of his story ending, he was afraid that God wasn’t going to live up to the promise God gave to him.
See God promised Abram multitude of descendants, a great nation of which he’d be the father, so many children that he couldn’t even count. I dunno I think I’d be more afraid of having that many kids than not, but hey, to each their own. But at this point, Abram had no one, no children, no heir, no legacy. So he was afraid that God lied or was unable to fulfil that promise, that this God that Abram believed in was a fraud.
And don’t we sometimes feel that? Don’t we sometimes doubt God’s ability to give us good things or fail to believe that God will keep God’s promises or even think that God doesn’t really care about us at all? Don’t we sometimes, especially at times like these when we have so much to fear, feel like God can’t do anything about our current situation so we might as well just take care of ourselves? Don’t we sometimes just throw our hands up at the sky and shout in fear and frustration, “Where are you, God?!?”
It’s ok if you do, because Abram did too. And when he did, he saw the stars. He saw the multitude of twinkling lights that he couldn’t explain. He saw God’s creation and that creation is good.
“Go ahead, count them,” God says to Abram, “that’s how many descendants you will have.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve actually tried to count the stars, and it isn’t an easy task. I can barely count the pieces of rice in my bowl and all I have to do is dump them out. But the stars, that is hard.
And so Abram, later Abraham, did become a father. Not right away, mind you, but like 10-15 years later. And I wonder how many times in those 10-15 years did Abram look up into the sky to be reminded of God’s promises. How many times did Abram need to try to count the stars and be reassured that faith is the assurance of hope, the conviction of things not seen. How many times did Abram lose that faith, only to be brought back by God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
See, while Abram, later Abraham, only had the one son, that one son had twin boys, and the younger twin boy at 12 sons and those 12 sons became the whole nation of Israel. He didn’t actually see God’s promise fulfilled, he didn’t live long enough. But God stayed true. God was faithful and just. It is God’s pleasure to give you good things.
We too, are included in God’s promise to Abram. We too, are considered children of this promise. We too, can look to the stars and be reminded of God’s everlasting love and enduring faithfulness, even when so many times in our lives we are made to feel afraid.
And as it were in the Lower Rainland, we can’t often see the stars due to cloudy grey weather, we can look at each other, the stars of God’s promises, and see God’s faithfulness and presence in this community, in the bread and cup, and all around us as God’s steadfast love is upon us as we place our hope in God.
As we continue in this season after Pentecost, may we rely on God’s faithful promises and providence, giving us hope, peace, and love, that we might boldly follow Christ in proclaiming God’s good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.