Like Abraham, we are to be pilgrims serving God here and now, while seeking a better country to come.
Due to disputes over the freedom to worship God in their own congregations, our Pilgrim forefathers set forth on this date to find a home in the new world. They arranged their passage on two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. They had to return to port, because the Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy. After putting all the passengers and provisions, into the Mayflower, they embarked again on their journey. It was, in the words of one historian, the voyage from hell. Overcrowded conditions, inadequate food, and rough seas made a difficult passage. They were willing to endure it all, however, because they were seeking a better country.
We, too, are pilgrims of a sort. Our separation is not from ‘dear old England’ as the Puritans of old put it. Indeed, though they were related to the Puritans, the pilgrims had different goals. The Puritans sought to purify the world in which they lived, but the pilgrims sought to separate from it. When we begin to follow Christ, we are on a voyage. Our goal is not to improve the world in which we live, but rather to leave behind the world’s way of thinking and behaving. While we are living in this world, we seek a new way of life by grace through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.
Our reading from Hebrews identified Abraham as a pilgrim, also. His faith in God motivated him to obey when the Lord told him to go to the land that God had said would be his. He had never even seen the country to which he was moving. Even after he got there, he continued to live as a stranger in the land of promise. He lived there in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob, who were later given the same promise. Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built.
Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith in God’s promise, and she had a son. Her husband Abraham was almost dead, but he became the ancestor of many people, as numerous as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach.
All those people died, but they still had faith in God’s promise. They were content to think of these things as yet to come, and saw themselves as strangers and pilgrims on earth. When people think like this, it is clear that they are looking for a place to call their own. If they had been talking about the land where they had once lived, they could have gone back at any time, but they were seeking a better country. That’s why God wasn’t ashamed for them to call him their God. He even built a city for them.
We have this hope, too! Life is more than just a short trip from the cradle to the grave. Gravestones, you know, have names and dates. Those dates are separated by a mark that represents all that happens in our lives. We call it a dash, and it does seem like a dash, doesn’t it? In the summer Olympics there will be many 50 or 100 meter dashes that start with a bang and end at the ribbon. Life seems to be a short run, one that starts with a cry and ends with a gasp, yet, as followers of Christ, we have a hope that the race goes on, just on a different course.
Abraham was seeking a better country, so he was content to live as a nomad, staying in a tent and following his flocks and herds around. When our missionary, Geoffrey Lipale, was here from Kenya, I thought that, if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to come back from the dead, they’d have more in common with the people in Geoffrey’s church than with us! They live in temporary housing and follow their cattle from Kenya, across the desert to South Sudan, and over the river into Uganda. That was Abraham’s life, and he was content to live it, because he had God’s promise of a better country.
I mentioned earlier that we are Pilgrims in this world, and so, unlike the Puritans, we are not overly concerned with making improvements here. The fact is, however, that as long as we live here, we have a responsibility to take care of God’s creation the best we can. In fact, it would be a good rule to leave this world in as good condition or better than when we found it. We realize, however, than any improvements we make here in this world are only temporary at best.
That’s the example we have in Abraham. Though he looked forward confidently to a city with foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God, nevertheless, he dug wells for his flocks and herds, and even fought a war to end oppression. These things are not out of character for pilgrims. As we follow Abraham’s example of faith in our future home, we should follow his example in working for change in this life as well.
The difference is one of attitude, not action. We don’t seek to improve this world because we’re afraid it’s all we’ve got. We improve it because it’s our responsibility, and because others will follow us. In this world we are called to be both hopeful and helpful. Our attitude of hope helps us to live contentedly now, knowing that something better is coming, and the very best is yet to be.
In light of this hope that we have in Christ, what manner of life should we now lead? Our Gospel reading records Jesus revealing two traits that should characterize hopeful and helpful disciples.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Fearless. That’s the first character trait that Jesus revealed here. Psalms 56:11 “In God I trust; I am not afraid.” Psalms 118:6 “With the Lord on my side, I do not fear.” Because of our hope of a better country, we can be free from fear and all its debilitating side effects, such as greed and hoarding. Being free from fear we are free to share what we have with others.
If the first trait is to be fearless, the second is to be ready. Listen again to the words of Jesus. “Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes.”
The second trait is to be ready. Here the Lord compares His return in the coming Kingdom to a wedding. A certain nobleman had gone to bring home his bride and expected his house to be well lit, and the servants waiting to serve him.
Waiting rooms are anxious, boring places. Believe me, I should know as I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life in hospital waiting rooms. We often think of waiting rooms as places where nothing happens, besides speculating when the doctor might come.
Here’s a different analogy, though. In a restaurant no one is busier than the waiters. They don’t just sit and leaf through old magazines. There are things to do, and so it is when we wait on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord means working for the Lord!
Students of prophecy can spend hours peering at obscure texts speculating the exact moment of Christ’s return, but the Lord has work for us to do while we wait. Let’s get at our work, so we’ll be ready when the Kingdom comes.
Hopeful, helpful, fearless, and ready. Those words describe the lives of those who are seeking a better country. We are waiting for the coming of the Lord; therefore, let us also be busy about the work of the Lord.
We pray. Wonderful Creator, in Christ you have given us hope. Now by Your Spirit make us helpful as well, fearless and ready, so that we may effectively share the hope we have with others, while we seek a better country. Amen.