Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Preached by Sr. Miriam Elizabeth+, n/OSH
They weren’t spring chickens; Sarah and Abraham. They weren’t even summer or fall chickens! They were well into the winter of their lives when God came and spoke. And let’s be clear, this was a God who had not spoken to them before; a God to whom they had not addressed a single prayer; in the way of these stories, a God who had not spoken since the flood. And yet, the word came, “Go from your country. Leave the home of your ancestors and go to a land far away. Settle among people you do not know and to whom you will be a stranger.”
That sounds inviting, just the kind of change we all want to make in our lives! Leave all that we know, all that is familiar, all that we have grown to love in the everyday of our lives – the people, the rhythms, the landscapes, the traditions – walk away from it all for some place yet to be named among a people unknown.
Well, there’s a problem with that; more than one actually. You see I know the manager of the produce section at Kroger. How long will it take for the next person in the next place to learn that I love baby bok choy and will buy up an entire carton at one go if they’ll save it for me? And where will the family gather for Christmas next year if we’re not here; if the family dining table isn’t extended with four leaves and set with grandmother’s china? And where will we dip the grandchildren’s toes into water for the first time, if not in the Savannah River? Where will we sit in church if not in my favorite back pew at St. Augustine’s? Who will play our favorite hymns and on what kind of instrument? Will we sing Silent Night at Christmas and what about the lilies at Easter? Who will polish the silver? Can we take even take the silver? You see the problems? And those are just the ones on the surface!
There are other, deeper issues at stake here. We don’t have a map. How will we know where we’re going? How will we know when we get there? What if we get half-way there and decide we want to turn back? Will that be possible? What will happen when we cannot move one more step? Will we even survive the journey? What about those who won’t? Why should we take the first step, much less the second or third or thousandth?
Do you see why the writers of Hebrews linger over the story of Sarah and Abraham? They knew what it was to forget the promises made – promises of land and descendants, the promise of a kingdom “whose architect and builder is God.” These writers knew what it was to be on the journey and to be discouraged, to lose your way, to cry out for things lost and left behind and to wonder if you will survive the next step. They knew what it was to feel like you’re not getting anywhere only to discover it’s because you really haven’t left where you were in the first place. They know the need for encouragement, for cheering and cajoling, and for the sharing of burdens along the way.
And so they write of those who have gone before, those who stepped out in faith into a journey of unknown time and place; those who let go of all they held dear and then, held fast to promises they held even deeper and dearer. We are reminded of those who knew they would not see the fulfillment of those promises in their lifetime, and still they continued to step into the journey, letting go of once-thought treasures and holding fast to the treasures of a promised land, a heavenly city.
Those writers remind us of the life of faith; a life of letting go, of leaving, of surrendering all that weighs us into the quicksand of what is known, familiar, and comfortable. And they remind us of the life of faith that is holding fast to the Word of Promise even as we journey into unknown lands among an unknown people.
Some of us have more trouble letting go. We’re quite fond of bricks and mortar and less fond of tents. We have never traveled without a GPS system and we load our camels down with every conceivable item of comfort, convenience and memory. The stories of faith remind us of the depth of surrender and trust we need as we move into the first, the third and the thousandth step along the way.
Others of us have more trouble holding fast. We would just as soon go our own way simply with the clothes on our backs, trusting our future to our own selves, only to lose our way and our selves down some rabbit trail while we avoid the rapids and the high rocks. We need to know the stories of trust, endurance and perseverance in a journey that risks our bodies and our souls.
I wonder where you are today. Are your camels so heavily loaded that you have yet to move or are you lost after chasing a rabbit? Do you need to hear Sarah and Abraham as saints of surrender who let go and left behind what they knew as home; or do you need models of encouragement and perseverance that hold fast to the promise in the face of impossible odds? Do you need to let go of your own kingdom or hold fast to the kingdom of God? In either case, as the writers of Hebrews witness, “God is not ashamed to be called your God; indeed, God has prepared a city for you.” So load your camels, or unload them as the case may be, and step forward with courage, faith, hope and perseverance, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.