This Sermon was delivered at St Mary the Virgin’s, Diss at the 8a Eucharist on the 11th August 2019. Readings: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The 11th Chapter of Hebrews is the great chapter of faith. Growing up we used to listen to those, often quite cheesy, Christian songs in the car and one of them went: Faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we cannot see. Faith is being sure of what we hope for, Hebrews 11 verse one, dum dum!
It used to annoy be that it didn’t hit the rhyme of being Hebrews 11 verse three. Regardless, the whole of the chapter recounts the faith of those in scripture, focusing first on Abraham and then on Moses and then ending by saying:
“What more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two,[l] they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”
Within the portion we have heard read today, we heard it said: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”
It’s this idea of being strangers and foreigners on the earth which I’d like us to take some time to ponder this morning.
What does it mean to be a stranger in this world, seeking a homeland?
I suspect that many of us have a sense that there’s much in the world which is not ‘right’, which seems off and unsettling. It doesn’t seem to matter who is in power, not really. They might do some things better than other things but there remains a persistent sense of the world seeming to be unfair and unhealthy. Whether it’s politics or cultural values or the environment. We might not feel an urge to physically journey off into the unknown, as Abraham was called to do, but I suspect that a common theme within our journey of faith is that of Holy Dissatisfaction.
By that I mean that we should be aware that the world is entropic, persistently decaying forward in time into a greater state of disorder. This is not an apocalyptic vision of mass destruction but rather is akin to the slow yet steady process of aging. The world is falling through time and away from health.
This, I would suggest, is the outworking of a fallen and corrupted creation. It’s a creation and a reality which cries out to be restored to ‘the way it should be’.
When I talk of a Holy Dissatisfaction I refer to that sense in which we know that there is no way back to a mythological golden age of how things were when we were younger. I refer to that sense of life which we have as those who believe in Jesus.
Because we believe in the Jesus who died on the Cross and was resurrected, we believe in a God who says “No” to sin, death and decay. We find ourselves trusting in his “Yes” to holiness, life and eternity.
As people of Life, as people of faith – that conviction of things not seen – we find ourselves feeling like strangers in our own world much as Abraham and Moses felt like strangers. We seek a homeland which has been promised to us in Christ. We seek that which the creation is groaning and longing for, for Jesus to return as Lord and for us to live in that better country; the heavenly city which God has prepared for us.
However, we are not the only people with this conviction that things are not as they should be. If we look out at our world through our televisions, the news and on our phones we find people in every place saying “This isn’t right!” There are people who find that they have no framework of reference for God but who desire to get out there in the world to make a difference in the name of love, for the betterment of their community, their country and their world. Some of them are people who find themselves feeling trapped in their own lives. Going through the motions without any sustaining sense of purpose.
These people who think they do not know God, and who perhaps are not familiar with the name of Jesus, in truth have an innate sense of this Holy Dissatisfaction. For when Jesus died on the cross, he died for all so that all might be saved. In that moment of resurrection, when his heart beat with a love that beats beyond death and into eternity he fundamentally changed the human condition from one of inevitable entropy into one with the potential for hope – a hope which is grounded in love and articulated as faith.
We might be strangers in this world, but we are not alone in this Holy Dissatisfaction.
Our Gospel reading compels us to take this Holy Dissatisfaction seriously. It too talks about our unfailing treasure which is in heaven and that if our hearts realise that we are strangers in this world and make heaven our treasure, our hope, then we shall be found there in due time.
Therefore, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet”. “You must also be read, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”.
Don’t let our holy dissatisfaction be an excuse for grumbling and complaining. Instead let us be prepared for Christ. Let us keep praying, let us keep moving on our pilgrim journey through this fading world, and let us bring others with us so that when that which has been promised to us arrives we shall all be ready and prepared for it.
This perhaps seems daunting. I certainly know I find it so sometimes. So let us remember the opening words of today’s Gospel as we come forward to eat and drink the bread and wine, the body and blood of the promise of Christ: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”