Starry, Starry Faith

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 – Second Sunday of Lent – for February 24, 2013

“…Look toward heaven and count the stars…” (Genesis 15:5)


Before the wanderer from Ur was dubbed Abraham, and before his wife gave birth to Isaac, and before any referred to him as the father of three faiths, “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision . . .”

Through a dream filled with wide-awake images, the Lord invited Abram “outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them . . . so shall your descendents be.’”

I’ve seen the night sky in the High Sierra, where a million stars dazzled, an uncountable display of grandeur, a glimpse of the infinite.

I cannot imagine most of Abram’s ancient world, in a land and time far away and long ago. And yet Abram and I share at least one thing:  those million, million stars. Whether enthralled with the Lord’s words in a vision, or later bending his neck to literally gaze at God’s starry vow, the future father of three faiths would understand the audacity of the divine announcement. I suppose the Holy could’ve declared more descendents than grains of sand on a vast beach or raindrops falling during an immense days long storm. Claim any nature metaphor you desire—snowflakes, blades of grass, wildflowers in the spring—and all celebrate God’s staggering vision given to the sojourner from Ur of the Chaldeans.

Abram who became Abraham is my father. He and Sarai, who became Sarah, are my parents.

Are they the parents of your faith?

Here, on the second Sunday of Lent, on the Christian road between Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and his crucifixion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, am I the future Abraham’s future child?

On the lonely road of Lent, am I part of the only true faith—Christianity—or one of many faiths?

I once asked my friend Kamal, when he was director of Fresno’s Islamic Cultural Center, “What would you want me to say to my congregation about your faith tradition?”

His answer, like a shooting star, was quick and startling.

“Please remind them we share the importance of a book, and always tell the story of our father Abraham.”

His book . . . the Koran. Mine . . . the Bible with two testaments.

I could’ve asked a rabbi the same question and received a similar answer. Jews and Christians share a sacred text and are Abraham and Sarah’s offspring.

Did you hear about the Jewish rabbi, Islamic imam and Christian pastor that . . . Well that might be the start of a bad joke, or telling the serious tale of the wanderer from Ur.

In my ministry’s wandering course I’ve told and retold Abram’s story. I admire his courage to leave Ur of the Chaldeans. Isn’t the best of faith risking a journey where Holy hope is our guide? I grin with Sarai/Sarah at the birth of Isaac, the boy named laughter. Doesn’t the fullness of any faith include belly laughs and shared joy? I stumble whenever I’ve explained—whether to a kid in Sunday school or preaching to adults—what it meant for God to demand Abraham sacrifice Isaac. Doesn’t every faith include stories that cause believers to tremble, stories never fully explained even with as many words as there are stars in the sky?

I am Christian. My father is Abram, my mother is Sarai.

I just read Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, and was enthralled with Pi’s journey from India to Canada. I won’t spoil anything by saying a shipwreck in the Pacific destroyed the life Pi knew and a lifeboat adrift on ocean currents sets the stage for a new life. But before the terror and glory of the ocean trip, 16-year old Pi had flummoxed his parents, friends and neighbors by embracing three different faith traditions!

Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.

Pi celebrates Hindu, Christian and Muslim beliefs. How dare he! And yet who can count all the stars in the Holy sky? Did you hear about the Hindu pandit, Jewish rabbi and . . .

Recently, colleagues rebuked a young Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. According to the New York Times, Rev. Rob Morris “participated in an interfaith prayer service in Newtown, Connecticut, in the days after the Sandy Hook massacre has apologized after being criticized by the leader of his denomination for violating its prohibition against joint worship with other religions.”

In my head, I understand the actions of my fellow Missouri Synod Lutheran Christians*. I know Christianity has denominations—perhaps not quite as many as the stars in the night sky—claiming their path is the right path, the only path. We can be a stubborn, arrogant faith.

But it breaks my heart. On Lent’s twisting, dusty road of faith, I choose to follow Jesus. He astounds me, for he loved his followers so much. He frightens me, for he asked so much of his followers.

As a star-crossed lover of Jesus, I respect and learn from so many different faith traditions.

Jesus was Abram’s child. Am I not also?


*Every denomination—my United Methodist tribe included—has old and new horror stories of exclusion, prejudice and blindness. Sigh.

(Photo of Yosemite night sky at beginning of essay is from here.)

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  1. This nearly opaque text has given birth to some of the most dreadful heaps of platitudes parading as homilies that I have had to endure. the insight you snatched out of that smoky pot is truly marvelous…I know, I know it is a terrible pun but that is my weakness) Thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking work.

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