Reading 1 - Gen 15:15
"He took him outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and count the stars -- if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be' " (Gen 15:15).
"Our five-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, is quite a girl. She is bright, funny, loving, curious, and generous. She brings us great joy just by her very existence, and we are grateful to have such a wonderful young girl in our lives.
"One of her favorite things to do is lie out in the yard at night on a quilt, looking up at the stars with her daddy. A shooting star is something she has always wanted to see but she hasn't seen one yet. Her voice is sad but hopeful when she quietly says, 'Daddy has seen one, but I haven't -- not yet.' This morning my husband and I rose early to watch the Perseids meteor shower, predicted to be very visible and active between 2 am and dawn. We stood together quietly on the deck, listening to the insect and animal sounds that a night in the mountains brings. Staring up into the northeastern sky, I thought about Sam, and I also thought about Abraham.
"Abraham lived almost four thousand years ago, on the other side of the world from me, and yet I feel I know him. I read the stories of how he loved and trusted God, how he treated his family and servants, his enemies and friends. I have a picture of him in my mind.
"I thought of him because of what happened to him one clear, dark night out on the open rolling hills of Israel. He had a visitor, a heavenly messenger, who told him not to fear, that God was his shield and his very great reward. Abraham appreciated that, I am sure, what could be better? But Abraham admitted he was sad because he had no children, and at his death all his vast wealth and possessions would pass along to a servant in his household.
"The angel then took Abraham outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and count the stars –- if you can count them.' Then he said, 'So shall your offspring be.' How thrilled he must have been! Incredulous, too, because he and his wife had been together a long time and were very old, past the normal time for a couple to have children. He believed God, though, and God gave him credit for his honorable, respectful goodness and belief.
"Though Abraham and his wife Sarah had to wait a long time to have a child together, they did have a son, Isaac, born when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. Isaac married, had two sons, and those sons had children. So God kept His promise to Abraham that he would have children, grandchildren, and so on and on, even up until this day. His physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob -- one of Isaac's sons -- are the Jewish people. His physical descendents through another son, Ishmael, and the other of Isaac's sons, Esau, are the Arab nations.
"God also promised Abraham that since he was faithful in leaving his homeland in what is now Iraq and traveling to the land of Canaan, now known as Israel, as directed by God, that he and his descendents would inherit that land and possess it forever.
"Now here is where it really gets interesting, because it directly relates to you and me. In about the year 50, Paul wrote a letter to Christians who lived in Galatia, near modern Ankara, Turkey. He told them this amazing thing –- that all those years later, generation after generation, Abraham was still gaining descendents, even those who were not physically his offspring. How could this be?
"The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed, Paul said, especially meaning Jesus, who lived two thousand years after his ancestor Abraham.
"Jesus was a descendent from Abraham, through one of Abraham's great-grandsons, Judah. But Jesus did not marry and have children, so how does this connect with us?
"We look to Paul again to explain what he meant. 'If you have been baptized into Christ, then you have clothed yourself with Christ...' he said. 'If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and an heir according to the promise.'
"To belong to Christ, we accept that he was and is the son of God who presented himself as a pure, living sacrifice, and that with his blood he purchased men and women for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. After baptism, symbolizing our regret for our shortcomings, and recognition that we need to follow Jesus in dying to this life, we rise up joyfully to a new life. Belonging to Christ, we are adopted into his 'family' as heirs to the promises. We are become one of Abraham's multitudinous offspring -- one of those many stars he looked up at so long ago, and marveled, 'I'm going to have that many descendents -- incredible!'
"I have made that decision, to be one belonging to Christ, and thus am one of Abraham's children. And so, as I looked up at that brilliant sky this morning, I thought to myself, 'by the grace of God and the love of Christ, I am one of those stars you love so much, Sam –- your grandmother is one of those stars!' " (Sharee Grazda).
Reading 2 - Psa 18:35
"You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great" (Psa 18:35).
The KJV has: "Your gentleness hath made me strong."
Psa 18 is majestic and warlike throughout; its theme is vengeance and victory. All the destructive elements of nature are marshaled on the side of Omnipotence, but right in the midst of it we read of the "gentleness", the "meekness", the "condescension" of the Almighty. What better way to remind us that the awesome destructive power is but the outer fringe of the garments of the Lord. The Lord is not really in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire (1Ki 19:11,12). They are but the passing manifestations of His fury -- they endure only for the moment, but the still small voice of gentle strength remains forever. Whirlwind and earthquake and flame -- those great evidences of His might -- can pull down and purify and consume, but His gentleness alone can build up and make great (see also Psa 113:4-9).
Reading 3 - Mat 10:2
"These are the names of the twelve apostles..." (Mat 10:2).
Joshua had taken 12 stones out of Jordan, as a token of Israel's dedication to turn the Land of Promise into God's Kingdom. Jesus ("Joshua") now selects 12 men (the first, Peter, being a "stone"), baptized in Jordan, to become foundation stones of a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:14).