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Sunday, July 23, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 19:1-9 & Genesis 15:1-6
Rev. Jill VanderWal
A few years ago when reading a book called Spiritual Parenting with other moms, the author posed the question, “do you understand the Big story of God in the Bible?” I believe God invites us to live his BIG story. But what is the BIG Story the Bible is inviting us into?
A BHAG….stands for a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. It’s a term coined by Jim Collins in his book Built to Last. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is, “a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.” The BHAG of Starbucks is “to be the #1 Consumer Brand on the Planet.” Amazon Booksellers have the following BHAG: “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.” And Disney’s BHAG is this: “Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.” Ford Motor Company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to “Democratize the automobile.” All of these BHAG’S define the BIG story of these companies.
Genesis is where the story begins. While God has created a universe, world, animals and people and deemed all this creation “Good,” God is quickly faced with the reality of brokenness in creation. There is hurt, jealousy, murder, and God sends a flood to start over. God tries something new. God focuses in on one man and one woman and their one family. God enters a second covenant, this time, with Abraham and his family.
When we meet him, Abraham is seventy-five years old. His name is Abram; the change comes later.
Abram and his family become a major part of God’s BHAG. God speaks these words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” And then… this happens sometimes, early in Genesis especially: the character of God is described much as any other character. God plays with mud. God walks in gardens. God blows a puff of breath into people. And now, God takes Abram outside, just as if that were the most normal thing in the world. A startling, very human-like God, pops up now and then in the bible. This is one of those moments.
God takes Abram outside. I like to imagine them lying down in a field, or maybe on a sand dune. There is absolutely no light pollution where they are. They look up, and the stars are so thick, it’s like the stars themselves form a blanket across the heavens. You and I will never see with our bare eyes the number of stars they see.
Look at that, God says. Will you just look at that. That is how many children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren… and so on and so on and so on… that is how many you will have. Beyond your ability to count. And Abram, perhaps chastened, perhaps with his seventy-five-year-old, maybe at this point eighty-year-old eyes full of tears, nods. And he believes. And that makes both God and Abram feel better.
So, three things about this man, and about us and this BIG STORY.
First: God’s Big Story is about promises that are long-term proposition. This is a lesson Abram learns over and over again. This is a lesson we learn over and over again. Have any of you ever had a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a goal like, say, losing a bunch of weight, or starting your own business, or starting a family—and you realized, one day, that it just wasn’t going to be as simple and straightforward as you had originally imagined?
And second: being a faithful man or woman, being a righteous one, does not mean silent acquiescence during your long wait. In times of duress, in times of trial, in times of disappointment, and long-term waiting, when we are not sure any more just what God’s promises for us are, a shout out—a hearty “Are you there God?” may just be the most true, most profound, most holy and righteous and faithful prayer we can pray.
And third: we are blessed so that we will be a blessing. Blessing is not something we accrue, like coins in a piggy bank. Blessing is something that passes through us, like the air that fills our lungs and then becomes a part of the life cycle of plants, or the food that strengthens our bodies and then becomes energy for our living. We are not receptacles for blessing, we are conduits. We are vessels. The blessings are meant to flow through us and on to the rest of God’s beautiful and broken world.
The promise of children for Abram will come true, but it will take a long time. There will be more false starts, more attempts for the humans involved to take matters into their own hands, more time for the promise to be in jeopardy, and just more all-around bad behavior. And in his lifetime, Abram will see, not a sky full of children, just two, Isaac and Ishmael, whom tradition believes to be the fathers, respectively, of today’s Jews and Muslims. Abraham will end his days, perhaps, gazing at the stars in wonder and realizing: faith, trust in the promise might just be enough.
Our invitation to examine and to know the Big Story of God? How is this our story too?
Perhaps, can draw from his story the lessons of trusting in God, and of voicing our complaints in faithful relationship, and of being a blessing where we can. And, maybe, of the holy act of simply looking up and out at something infinite, mysterious, and beautiful will remind us of how Big God really is.