Like the Stars in the Heavens

Rev. Jais H. Tinglund, St. Johns, Columbia, SD, USA.
Sendt som hilsen til Den ev.-luth. Frikirke efter end ferie i Danmark. Oversættelse Georg S. Adamsen.

Genesis 15:1-6

It is good being home again. And it is good to see you all. Being gone for a while was  good too,  though.

We got to see our families and most of our closest old friends. And I got to preach in my native tongue again, when we got to visit our sister congregations in the old country. Actually, having to work out a sermon in my native tongue, the language I used to think was the language designed for preaching, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. It would not really be true to say that it was difficult - but it did present some challenges that surprised me. It became fairly clear to me that in the time gone by, at least to me, another language has become the language designed for preaching ...

Our congregations in the old country are still small. But things are happening there. A few new people have joined; some members have left to join other churches of different faith. After, all what is the differnece, right?

One of the congregations, it seems, might actually soon be able to go through with the once so unrealistic project of building an actual church building instead of the storage room that has been the home of the Church of Christ for nigh on to a decade and a half. No doubt this will be a great blessing to the congregation, and to her minstry to the world. Her current homestead really is not very appealing to visitors; even I, who usually do not think that such things matter that much, am tempted to see it as an almost valid reason for visitors not to come back. And yet, some do ...

Now, what is the relevance of all this for what we have come together for this morning? What does all this have to do with what we heard, of Abraham complaining to God about remaining childless - and God promising him a son, out of his own body - and that through this son his offspring would be like the  shining multitude of stars in the heavens? Much in many ways, actually ...

The children of Abraham were to be like the stars of the heavens. And so it was.

At the appointed time, that is, at the time appointed by God, a son was indeed given to Abraham; a real heir, a son of his own body, and of the body of his legitimate wife Sarah, the son promised by God - as opposed to the son Abraham had bred with his wife's maidservant, trying to help God fulfill His promises, thinking God incapable of fulfilling His promises Himself, in His own appointed manner. A son was given to Abraham. And to this son, Isaac, two sons were given, and to one of them, Jacob, twelve sons were given, and the offspring of these twelve would become the chosen people of God, the people into which God would finally have His own Son born, the eternal Son of God, now born out of the body of a daughter of this people. The offspring of Abraham would become the people of Israel, through which the Son of God would, at the appointed time, be given to all mankind, and with Him life and salvation.

So God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but rather have life eternal. And in giving Him God would give salvation to the fallen world, and to all sinners, to you and me, and to all whose lives fail to measure up to the perfect and complete goodness of God.

And the Son of God came. He was born into the people of Israel, as a son of Abraham, born of one of his daughters. And He was born into all fallen mankind. And He had Himself baptized into fallen mankind, and He took upon Himself the sin of all mankind, and in His suffering and death on the cross He took it before the judgement of His heavenly Father, and He was judged for it and with it, and He bore for us our rightful punishment for our sin, the eternal death in the wrath of God, and He took it for us, and He took it away for us.

And when it was all finished, He died, and He was laid to rest. And He was raised in glory, and in His resurrection God proclaimed His triumph over sin and death, and our salvation.

For so God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but rather have life eternal.

And He gave us His Baptism, in which we are baptized into Him, and we are made one with Him, and with Him we are made to be children of God and heirs to all heavenly glory.

And we are the offspring of Abraham. We heard it; and the holy apostle Paul writes it. Abraham believed the promise of the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness. And all who follow Abraham in having faith, all who believe the promise of God, of victory and eternal life, given to us in our Baptism through the offspring of Abraham, we are ourselves children of Abraham, and his offspring. And many are Abrahams offspring, as the stars in the heavens of the night, of all nations, of all tongues, on all continents. All over the world God has made for Himself a people of those who have heard His promise, His Gospel of salvation, and believe it, and submit to it; and it is counted to us all as righteousness.

And being like stars in the same  heaven - we share one and the same reality.

Our sister congregations in my old homeland could have plenty of reason to loose courage. They are small, they are struggling financially and spiritually; and although they are carrying out their ministry faithfully and diligently, to the best of their abilities, in accordance with what the Lord has entrusted to His Church - not much seems to come from it. A few people are won over from time to time - a few leave to join churches of different faith. It is one step forward and one step back; sometimes one step forward and two steps back.

Is it not striking, though, how similar to this is our own experience - although we belong to a church body so much larger? The membership of this congregation alone is close to that of all our congregations together in my old homeland. We are part of a church body, whose membership is close to half of the entire population of my old homeland. And yet, do we not also often have the feeling of being caught in a stalemate?

We sense a general pattern of decline, numerically and spiritually. Good things happen; but our general feeling is that whenever one step forward is made, two steps backwards tend to follow. As in our own life of faith. And we lose courage - like Abraham. We wonder what became of the promises of God. Where is His blessing; since no fruit seems to come of our efforts? And perhaps we are tempted, like Abraham, to lose faith in God's ability to bring His promises to fulfillment Himself, through the means rightfully appointed by Him. Perhaps we are tempted to try to bring God's promises to fulfillment our own way, by means not given to us by Him, by turning away from what He has entrusted us, by adopting methods and styles and teachings and practices not appointed by God, perhaps even forbidden by Him - as Abraham did, when he bred a son with a woman other than his wife - a son, of course, who would not be the son of promises.

What God does, what He always does, is that He turns our attention to Himself. He proclaims His promises to us. We already know those promises. But in proclaiming them to us, though, He turns our hearts away from fears and frustrations. He turns our hearts to His love for us, to what He will give us, and to what He has already given us.

Look toward heaven, He said to Abraham, and number the stars ... To us He speaks His Gospel, of the death of His beloved Son for love of us, and His glorious resurrection, and our salvation in Him, and our adoption and our new birth as children of God. He points us to what He has already done for us, what He has already given us. And He helps us see that we are already rich. Being His own through His Gospel, we are already rich - in ways we cannot imagine. By faith we are His own, counted as righteous; we have been washed and cleansed to be pure and perfect in His sight, shining like the brightest stars in heavens of the darkest night. And in time, in due time, all this shall be made evident, and how rich we are in Him. And we shall be with Him in glory.

All glory be to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, God of our salvation. Amen