Sunday’s sermon: Twinkle Twinkle, Precious Star

Text used – Genesis 15:1-6

  • Every single night, I sing to my children before they go to sleep. The boys take turns choosing the night’s lullaby – “Beautiful Boy,” “St. Judy’s Comet,” “House at Pooh Corner,” “Candle on the Water,” or “Goodnight My Angel.” And then I sing them a short hymn: “Love the Lord Your God.” After that, Julia insists that I sing her one more song: “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.” [sing song] Familiar, right? Maybe something you’ve sung with your own children or grandchildren, brothers or sisters?
    • History of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”[1]
      • Started as a poem called “The Star” written in 1806 by English poet Jane Taylor
      • Paired with melody from a French folk song (“Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman”) sometime in the 1830s
    • In truth, stars have fascinated humans as long as we’ve been able to look up at the sky and wonder.
      • Songs and poems
      • Stories and rhymes
      • Ancient philosophy to modern particle physics
      • Astrology and astronomy
      • Different folk lore from different cultures around the world tell the story of how the stars came into being
        • E.g. from Mindanao in the Philippines: One day in the times when the sky was close to the ground a spinster went out to pound rice. Before she began her work, she took off the beads from around her neck and the comb from her hair, and hung them on the sky, which at that time looked like coral rock. Then she began working, and each time that she raised her pestle into the air it struck the sky. For some time she pounded the rice, and then she raised the pestle so high that it struck the sky very hard. Immediately the sky began to rise, and it went up so far that she lost her ornaments. Never did they come down, for the comb became the moon and the beads are the stars that are scattered about.[2]
      • Even the writers of Scripture were fascinated by the stars.
        • Mentioned in the 1st creation account in Gen: God said, “Let there be light in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night.[3]
        • Mentioned time and again throughout the psalms and the writings of some of the prophets as evidence of God’s handiwork in the world[4]
        • Inextricably linked to the life of Jesus
          • Birth heralded by a star[5]
          • Stars go dark on the moment of Jesus’ death[6]
        • Stars falling from the heavens = portent of the end of days in a number of different passages[7]
  • And then we come to today’s passage – a short, little interaction between Abram and God full of stars … and full of promise.
    • Background → This story comes about halfway through Abram’s journeys with God.
      • Has already been called by God to leave his homeland to travel to the land of Canaan[8] (huge territory that covers present day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel)
      • Has traveled in Egypt with his wife, Sarai, and had dodgy interactions with Pharaoh[9]
      • Rescued his brother, Lot, from rival kings[10]
      • Blessed by Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem)[11]
    • Abram’s been a busy guy! He’s been traveling. He’s been tangled up in dangerous political intrigue thanks to his brother. He’s built altars to God as he went along. And then we come to today’s passage.
      • First – God’s word to Abram as reassurance and comfort – text: After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”[12]
        • Heb. “reward” is more than just a divine payout – “reward” = wages, fare, expenses, maintenance → So God is promising Abram that he will be taken care of. God is promising Abram that God will be there for him, that God will provide for him – will keep him, will preserve him, will support and sustain him. There’s a longevity implied here. God’s not talking about a one-time, jackpot-type of reward. God’s talking about a long-term care plan. That’s God’s first promise.
      • Abram = not super convinced – text: But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”[13] → Clearly, Abram is having a rough time. He’s feeling discouraged. He’s feeling resentful. He’s feeling frustrated. Inheritance in ancient times was everything – being able to pass on your possessions, your land, and your name to your eldest son, or, if you didn’t have any sons, to the men that married your daughter/s. And yet Abram has found himself with no heirs.
        • Hear his frustration in his tone (I think we can even call it a bit accusatory): “Since you haven’t given me any children” → Abram is saying to God, “Look, I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I left my homeland. I’ve traveled hundreds of miles. I’ve built you altars. I’ve followed you all over the place. And still, you haven’t given me any children.” Yes, Abram’s probably bitter and a bit surly in this moment. But there is pain and desperate longing beneath the surface of this accusation. There is the ache of one who has longed for a child and yet has been left longing. I have to confess that my heart breaks a bit for Abram in this moment.
      • Come to God’s great promise – text: The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” Then [God] brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” [God] continued, “This is how many children you will have.”[14] → Just imagine what Abram would have seen in that moment. He’s in the middle of the desert. It’s the middle of the night. There are no electric lights to pollute the night sky, and it is truly full of stars – more stars than Abram’s eyes can even take in, more stars than Abram can even fathom, certainly more stars than Abram can count. That is God’s promise: not only will you have an heir – a child of your very own – but your descendants will outnumber the stars.
        • Abram’s response – text: Abram trust the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.[15]
  • And while that may be the end of our passage this morning, that’s just the beginning.
    • Remember, we’re working through the Narrative Lectionary again this year – telling the Grand Story of faith from the beginning.
      • Started last week with the first part that makes up the foundation of this Grand Story: creation
      • Today’s story introduces the second part of that foundation: promise → The whole rest of this Grand Story that we’re telling and retelling – this story that we’re living and reliving day in and day out as people of faith – is a story that hinges on this promise: that God will bless Abram and his wife, Sarai, with descendants more numerous even than the stars. Because that’s everyone else in this story that we’re telling. That’s everyone else in this story that we’re living. Even us.
    • More numerous than even we can imagine → Thousands and thousands of years after Abram, with all of our advanced technology and scientific innovations, our society that has progressed to not only staring up at space but has actually sent people into space … even we cannot number the stars. We don’t have any idea how many stars there are. And we never will.
      • Introduce Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God and Science by Louie Giglio[16]: book of 100 short devotions for kids that weave science and faith together → In all honesty, there are a few things about this book that I don’t love, but the majority of the devotions in here are great. We use this book every other night with our boys before bedtime.
        • Read portions of #55: “A Star is Born”: The Whirlpool Galaxy is called a grand-design galaxy, and it is made up of hundreds of billions of stars, maybe as many as 500 billion! It’s an incredibly beautiful spot in the universe, and it’s also a very special one. That’s because the Whirlpool Galaxy is a place where stars are born – a sort of baby hospital for stars. You see, in the beginning, God created the first stars in an instant when [God] said, “Let there be light!” Since then stars have formed when giant clouds of space dust and gases pull tighter and tighter and tighter together until … a star is born.[17]
    • You see, we can’t know exactly how many stars are in the universe because there are more stars being born, spinning faster and faster into creation even as we speak. That’s why God’s promise to Abram in this passage is so incredible! It’s a promise that renews. It’s a promise that continues to bear fruit. It’s a promise without end. Just as the universe continues to spin more and more stars into creation, so God’s promise is made new in and through us each and every day.
      • Promise that God will care for us and provide for us
      • Promise that God will be with us
      • Promise that God will love us unconditionally
      • Promise that God’s love will shine brightly in us and through us → As Carl Sagan famously said, “We are made of star stuff.” We are made of promise and hope. We are made of potential and possibility. We are made of God’s intention and truest love. It is the heart of ourselves. It is the heart of our story. So twinkle twinkle, precious star. God knows exactly what and who you are. And that is, indeed, good news. Amen.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/story/did-mozart-write-twinkle-twinkle-little-star#:~:text=As%20for%20%E2%80%9CTwinkle%2C%20Twinkle%2C,music%20together%20dates%20to%201838.).

[2] http://getwokebooklist.com/sacredtexts/asia/pft/pft34.htm.

[3] Gen 1:14-16.

[4] Ps 147:4; Ps 136:9; Ps 8:3; Ps 19:1; Dan 12:3; Is 40:26; Amos 5:8; Is 13:10

[5] Mt 2:

[6] Mt 27:45.

[7] Mk 13:25; Mt 24:29; Rev 6:13.

[8] Gen 12:1-9.

[9] Gen 12:10-20.

[10] Gen 14:1-16.

[11] Gen 14:17-24.

[12] Gen 15:1.

[13] Gen 15:2-3.

[14] Gen 15:4-5.

[15] Gen 15:6.

[16] Louie Giglio. Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God and Science. (Nashville, TN: Passion Publishing), 2017.

[17] Giglio, 117.