Today's lectionary reading: Psalm 22:23-31; Genesis 15:1-6, 12-18; Romans 3:21-31
Selected passage for reflection: Genesis 15: 1-6 NRSV
1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15 focuses on the covenant that God establishes with Abram. It is a passage rich with theological significance and forms a foundation for the relationship that God will have with God’s people for generations to come. If you’ve grown up in the church like me, you’re sure to have read and studied this passage many times before.
When I read this passage during this season, however; the words from verse 5 jumped out at me like never before. God brings Abram outside and has him look towards the heavens.
This section of scripture starts off with God showing up to Abram in a vision. God speaks to Abram, telling him to not be afraid and declaring that Abram’s reward will be great and that God is his shield. But immediately Abram starts to harp on his current situation, focusing only on what is immediately known to him – his lack of children - losing sight of the words that God had just spoken to him a moment before. But then God brings Abram outside and speaks truth and promises over him once again.
When my children were small, getting outside was almost always a good answer to whatever was bothering them. Whatever injustice - real or perceived - whatever bad mood, whatever tantrum, whatever frustration – getting out under a big sky had a way of shifting their perspective. That big sky, that holds more stars than can be counted, grounded them in a way that no amount of other redirection or reason ever could.
That same big sky has saved me during this pandemic year. I have always been someone drawn to the outdoors and being in nature has always helped me to be aware of God’s presence, but there has been something unique and deeper to getting outside in this year of living alongside a virus that has upended everything we have ever known. Like a child in need of a little perspective or like Abram lacking the divine imagination for a reality not yet known, I have felt the Spirit calling me to step outside and feel the earth beneath my feet. I have felt Her calling me to step outside and look up and be reminded of Her promises to me. I have felt Her calling me to step outside and breathe deeply and be reminded of Her promises to us.
As I continue to read and learn from indigenous theologians and thinkers throughout the Americas, I am acutely aware of how often we have divorced all understanding of God from our created world in the West. In the midst of everything about our current realities that are caving in on us – isolation, illness, white supremacy, exhaustion, anxiety, job loss, overseeing online schooling, deep political division – I can’t help but feel that there is wisdom in letting God take us by the hand and lead us outside once again. Whether it be on a small apartment balcony in an urban center or deep in the wilderness with no one for miles, perhaps what we all need a little more of in the midst of our grief and current reality is to be led out under the stars. To be reminded once again that God is our shield and that God’s vision for us – both personally and corporately – is beyond what we can even conceive or imagine.
Make a plan to spend a few intentional minutes outside today. Take a walk. Sit on a park bench. Breathe deeply and bring awareness to all of your senses. Take stock of those areas of your life which feel like they are caving in on you. Look up and ask God to remind you once again of God’s promises to you.
God of Abram, remind us to rest in your promises, knowing that you are our shield. May we be led out to places that restore our soul and give space for your vision to be revealed. Amen.
About the Author
Jenny Hoskins is a Serve Globally missionary with the Evangelical Covenant Church, serving and living in Ecuador since 2009. She is happiest at home with a table full of friends and good food. Jenny recently relocated to Nashville with her husband, Chris, and two children for a time of home assignment while Chris begins a doctoral program, and they continue to be involved in the ministries of Serve Globally.