Much, much bigger
Genesis 15:1-12,17,18

Some years ago I was given, as a little novelty, this tiny Bible.  When you open it you are amazed at the tiny print – a facsimile of the Good News Bible familiar to many of us.  So tiny is the print that the whole of the Bible can be fit into this tiny booklet, this tiny space.
Or so it seems.  If you take a magnifying glass and look carefully you read through Genesis, Exodus... and then it skips to 2 Timothy, and follows through to the Revelation to John.
Too much to fit into a tiny book.  As if ...  Sometimes we think we can fit it all into a tiny space – a space that we can manage...
Genesis 15:1-12,17,18
1Later the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision, "Abram, don't be afraid! I will protect you and reward you greatly."  2But Abram answered, "LORD All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children. And when I die, Eliezer of Damascus will get all I own.   3You have not given me any children, and this servant of mine will inherit everything." 4The LORD replied, "No, he won't! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his." 5Then the LORD took Abram outside and said, "Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That's how many descendants you will have." 6Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD was pleased with him. 
7The LORD said to Abram, "I brought you here from Ur in Chaldea, and I gave you this land."  8Abram asked, "LORD God, how can I know the land will be mine?"  9Then the LORD told him, "Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon."  10Abram obeyed the LORD. Then he cut the animals in half and laid the two halves of each animal opposite each other on the ground. But he did not cut the doves and pigeons in half. 11And when birds came down to eat the animals, Abram chased them away. 12As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and everything became dark and frightening.  ...  17Sometime after sunset, when it was very dark, a smoking cooking pot and a flaming fire went between the two halves of each animal. 18At that time the LORD made an agreement with Abram and told him: I will give your descendants the land east of the Shihor River on the border of Egypt as far as the Euphrates River.
Abraham had a rare gift:  he could trust the incredible as credible.  We call this “faith”.
In many respects, for many of us for most of the time, we are rarely challenged to trust something that is incredible, unbelievable.  For many of us most of the time our world view is shaped by a settled faith that has been well nurtured (thankfully!) over many years of careful study and reflection on our part, and by faithful ministry on the part of others – our world view is shaped by our understanding of God, and our understanding of God’s love and faithfulness.  For most of us most of the time the concepts make sense; the theology fits together to make even the incomprehensible familiar in a way that is comfortable, even if we don’t understand it all.  We usually don’t have to try!  We are encouraged to have a ‘child-like’ faith in our loving Father.  It is a gift of his Spirit.  Thank God!
And we have well known prayers and songs, liturgical formulae, catechism definitions – we understand the language, even if what lies beyond the language is beyond human understanding.  And we finish sermons with that beautiful blessing:  “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
It is a gift!  It is a blessing!
I want to encourage you this morning to unsettle that faith a little bit.  And I want to encourage you to do that because sometimes we need to be challenged to recognize what we say when we confess faith in a God who is “almighty”; or when we end a prayer with the words “your will be done”; or when we say “Amen” to the Gospel which declares that “God so loved the world”....
Abram and Sarai have, with some embarrassment in their situation, – they have moved past any expectation of ever having children.  As nomadic shepherds, they are part of a larger family group which has left their Babylonian ‘home’ and they are making a living along the waterways of the ‘fertile crescent’.
To this barren nomadic couple God promises descendants and land beyond their reckoning, beyond their hopes or imaginations.  God’s promise makes no sense.  It is a promise that is affirming, that gives joy, that is generous, that is loving.  But it makes no sense.  So Abram and Sarai’s faith, their trust, depends entirely on their view of the nature of God, not their perception of the situation before them.
As they live through the years of the promise being fulfilled they are, in fact, driven in and out of the land promised; they are forced to go to Egypt; Abraham repeatedly puts Sarah at risk (fearing for his own safety); there are land disputes within the family, with Lot; Abraham gets into a pathetic haggling with God about Sodom and Gomorrah in order to protect Lot; and, in what is perhaps the most challenging moment in the whole of the Old Testament story of God’s promise and God’s people, Abraham is even commanded to give up the child of promise, the symbol of God’s plan, the only Son, Isaac, as a sacrifice marking obedience and faith.
At no point does any of this make sense according to the promise.  But Abraham trusts God above his own capacity to make sense, to understand, to comprehend. 
Ultimately Abraham trusts in the goodness of God, the love of God, the compassion of God, the grace of God, the power of God – that these are more than what is visible and reasonable and sensible – that these are the fundamentals, the foundation for his whole view of creation, his whole perspective on living.
We confess God as Creator, as Lord and Saviour, as life-giving Spirit.  The apostle John confesses God as “Love”.  Do you ever contemplate what it means that Christians confess that the foundation of everything we know – creation, life, each other, forgiveness, restoration, hope, joy, peace – the foundation of all of these is love – God-is- love love – love incarnate – love divine all loves excelling?  And that this love is bigger and more powerful, and existed before, and will exist after, everything?
Do you consider what that means when you hand a child over to God in baptism? when you hand your friend over to God in prayer? when you offer your gift at the altar? when you offer your service in God’s name?  Above, beneath, behind and beyond what you are thinking is love of God that surpasses understanding, surpasses doubt, surpasses effort, surpasses failure, surpasses faith even.  Grace.  Gift.  God.
I remember as a young man preparing for the ministry I was keen to add to my already substantial theological insights whatever I could be taught by Seminary teachers.  The more I learned of language and culture and history and confession – the more I learned of theology, of the Bible – the better ‘grip’ I would have on understanding God. 
But God kept getting bigger!  And bigger!  And further and further out of my grasp!
And in my years in ministry I keep seeing the possibilities of a God who is truly almighty, whose love is truly without limit – I see this God become bigger and bigger in relation to my view of myself, and the world, and the tasks before me, and the problems I face.
Abram and Sarai knew this.  Abram would consider what were realistic ways of dealing with the fact that he had no heir – the child of his servant might have to do.  God directs Abram not to think bigger, or try harder, but to trust him.  So Abram’s plans, and Abram’s reason stand silent over and against the infinity of heaven’s stars which God puts before him.  (You remember how Satan tempted Adam and Eve with that line about “when you eat of it ... you will be like God”.  Not really Satan.  About as “like God” as a helpless aging man standing out on an empty plain at night trying to count the stars.)
It is much better to let God be God!  It is much better to let the ‘bigness’ of God’s love go well beyond my understanding!
Abram teaches us something about the liberating nature of faith.  Faith is not, as Christians often perceive it, something that directs me into myself to consider how much of it I have, or how strong I have it, or how well I use it.  Faith directs me out of myself, and out of the situation I find myself in, to look to and focus on the almighty Creator, Saviour, Life-giving Lord.
As we focus on Jesus’ journey towards the cross we must reflect, from time to time, on Paul’s repeated reminder that ‘the cross’ is foolishness – well it’s foolishness as a strategy for demonstrating power and control.  But to those of us who in it see our own suffering and dying shared with compassion and love and grace and loyalty and faithfulness by our Saviour, Jesus, it is foolishness full of power and hope!
It is precisely in the context of this foolishness, this nonsense, that our faith stands.  As Paul confesses:  “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?  God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us.  If God did this, won't he freely give us everything else?  If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them?  Or can anyone condemn them?  No indeed!  Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God's right side, speaking to him for us.  Can anything separate us from the love of Christ?  Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death?”  “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I think I have often thought that Abraham “believed the promise”.   (I’ve quite probably even said this to others.)  But I did some checking and it seems that what the Scriptures say over and over again is that Abraham believed God; and Abraham received the promise.  Believing in God directs our faith, our trust, our confidence, our hope, our peace beyond the incredible, towards that which in the compassionate ministry of Jesus is demonstrable; towards the God who is almighty and who is love.
And much, much bigger than you think!