A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, February 24, 2013
Genesis 15:1-7 GNT
One of life’s greatest disappointments is a failed dream. Especially disappointing is when the failure of the dream rests upon someone we know and trust who doesn’t come through for us. Not only are we faced with a shattered dream, but perhaps a shattered relationship as well.
Some years ago, a retired widow whom I will call Rene, was faring quite well, financially speaking, as her late husband had been a veterinarian and had left her quite well off. Well, just about the time I met them, Rene’s son-in-law, whom I will call Bobby, acted upon a life-long dream of opening his own restaurant. Not having enough capital of his own to secure the franchise, remodel the space, and get the restaurant up and going, Bobby persuaded Rene, his mother-in-law, to invest all of her retirement savings in his new venture. Well, you probably have guessed where this is going. The venture failed. Bobby not only lost the restaurant and all of his money, but all of his mother-in-law’s money as well. His family had to declare bankruptcy, losing their home in the process (since they had put it up as collateral), and the mother-in-law’s home too, since she had come to live with them. I have always wondered how Rene dealt with her great loss, disappointment, and shattered dream of a comfortable retirement. One of the great questions of faith is, Where can we find hope and help when the dream fails and when we look at the world and we see nothing but darkness?
Enter Abraham, or Abram as his name was initially. Abram had had a dream. And the realization of his dream rested upon God whom he knew and trusted. You see, some years back (perhaps as many as ten years back) when Abram was seventy-five years old, he believed God had promised to give him and Sara a son, which would in turn lead to more descendants than Abram could count (Genesis 12). And Abram had believed God way back then. He had sort of staked his life on that dream. But it was about ten years later now, and Abram was ten years older, and still he and Sara were without a child. And so, as our story today opens, Abram calls God to account. When God again promises to bless Abram, Abram cries out, “But I continue childless. . . you have given me no children” (15:2,3).
So, as the story goes, Abram has a vision and is led outside where he looks up at the dark, night sky. And Abram seems to hear God say to him, “Look toward the heavens—what do you see?”
And Abram says, “I see stars.”
“Count the stars, if you are able to count them,” he seems to hear God say. Of course, the stars were far too numerous for Abram to count them. And God says, “So shall your descendants be,” the fact that Abram was still childless notwithstanding. The light of the stars in an otherwise dark sky gave Abram the hope that he needed to go on. So Abram believed God, and because of his belief he was counted as righteous.
We see in this ancient story some important principles that will enable us to look into the dark and see stars of hope and promise. First, to look at the dark and see stars is to try to see things from a broader, universal perspective. Too often we look at things with tunnel vision, or on a small scale. We can be so narrow-minded. Abram was thinking in terms of a distant relative being his sole heir, or perhaps a slave boy born in his house. All Abram could see was his immediate circumstances. His, at first, was a short-sighted, limited perspective in contrast to the vast, broad perspective. Eyes of faith are required to see things from a broad, universal perspective. For faith, the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1).
Second, to look at the dark and see stars is to get a vision of the universe’s unlimited resources. Often we become discouraged and are tempted to let our dream die because we base our dream solely upon our own limited resources without taking into account the vast resources of God that are also at our disposal. Regarding dreams and visions, Dr. Robert Schuller writes, “Make your dreams big enough for God to fit in, for God’s dreams are always so large that they require His help to make them come true.” “This is success:” Schuller says in another place, “To dare to dream the impossible dream with God and to give God a chance to make that dream come true!” 1
Third, to look at the dark and see stars is to trust that there is a sacred purpose for your life. “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess,” Abram believed God said to him (15:7). The ancients believed that God had a divine purpose for Abram and his heirs, a purpose that would change the course of the whole world. They believed that Abram was blessed because he believed in God. The two greatest perceived blessings of that time—posterity (many ancestors) and land—were to the ancients evidences of God’s blessings. Also, Abram was destined to become the father of the world’s three great religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abram trusted in God, even when in his own eyes the future seemed hopeless, when it looked like he and Sarah could never have a natural heir. Abram believed in God without having any concrete evidence that God’s blessings would come to pass.
Well, each of us should have a dream or vision of who we would like to be and what we would like to accomplish in the future. We should be reaching for a star, chasing a dream, following a vision, straining for a goal. It might be a dream of being a better person than we are now by changing our habits and growing in our spiritual understanding. That’s a good Lenten dream for all of us to think about. It might be a dream of continuing our education and better preparing ourselves for work or service to others. It might be a dream of taking a class to learn more about a hobby or form of recreation. I am reminded of Grandma Moses. We once visited an art museum in Bennington, Vermont, that houses several of Grandma Moses’ paintings, supposedly the largest Granda Moses collection anywhere. Do you recall how old Grandma Moses was when she started painting? She was in her seventies. So it is never too late to take hold of a star.
We might have a dream of making a difference in the world by helping to alleviate suffering by volunteering our time and talents in some way. Collectively, as a congregation, we should have a dream. As a congregation, we should be looking at the stars. What star should this United Church be focusing our gaze upon? We can’t live in the past. We must look to the future and take hold of a star to guide us.
Permit me to share another story with you, a story with a positive ending. In a county where we used to live, there was a young minority girl who came from a family in which every member was on food stamps. No one in this girl’s family had ever attended college. But this young woman had a dream: a dream of going to college to become a nurse, a dream of serving other people, and a dream of pulling herself up out of poverty. She went to some of the county officials and the director of a local community college and shared with them her dream. They made the necessary financial arrangements so she could enroll in the nurse’s program at the community college. In time she was able to graduate with a degree in nursing. On the day of graduation, as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, and knowing that she would begin a job the following Monday morning making a good salary plus benefits, she turned to the director of the college who had helped make it possible and said, “Thank you for making it possible for me to be the first member of my family to go to college and get off food stamps.”2 Many others in this young woman’s situation might have looked out and seen nothing but a dark sky. But when she looked up, she saw stars. And she reached out for one. Robert Schuller also asks, “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”3
You want to reach for the stars? The challenge, then, is to believe and then act on that belief. It is to try to see things from the broad, universal perspective. It is to seek a vision of the universe’s unlimited resources. It is to believe that the sky is the limit. And it is to trust that there is a sacred purpose for your life. By so doing, we, too, can look out into the dark and see the stars. Amen.
1Robert Schuller, Success Is Never Ending. New York: Bantam Books, 1988, p. 156, 18.
2Nancy Conway, Dir of Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, 3/11/92.
3Robert Schuller, widely quoted .