Faith Welcomes
Hebrews 11:1-16, Text verse 13-16

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Hebrews 11

1. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Do you take time to slow down enough, to become quiet enough, to listen to the restlessness of your heart? Do you hear the incompleteness within? Do you experience that desire - there must be more?

This is not a desire that we experience when our minds and hearts are overwhelmed with stimuli, and I’m not talking about a desire that happens when life goes wrong. Rather, it is a desire that becomes louder as we become quieter. This rattling restlessness is like background noise, always there, but so often it goes unnoticed because our minds and hearts are preoccupied with other activities. When however we stop the stimuli, when we turn off the music, when we cease our conversations, when we put work and study to the side, when we just listen, we start hearing it, feeling it deep inside, a restlessness, a longing, a desire for something more. Its when we become quiet that seeing becomes clearer, desire becomes sharper, its in that “thin Place,” that place where the thick cacophony of life no longer muffles or even silences the restlessness within, that we notice this longing for what the writer of the book of Hebrews calls a better country.

Every once in a while, this desire makes its voice heard, we are surprised at how powerful, and how interestingly this desire, this longing can be. For example, I suspect many of us have noticed this. We move away from home, as a pastor, I have experienced this a good number of times, we move away from home and then after a number of years, we have the opportunity to go back to where we were for a visit. And we so look forward to rekindling old relationships, reliving those memories, remembering together, as we picture it in our mind, this trip back will be “heavenly.” But then we go on the trip, we arrive “home” only to discover that home is no longer home, the hole that our departure left has filled, the people as we remember them have changed, and the truth is, we have changed. Now we are a visitor. It is no longer home to us. The trip does not satisfy because the home we desire cannot be satisfied by limited changing merely human companionships, our hearts are restless for something more “heavenly.” I still remember my parents, just after my father’s retirement, made their first and last trip back to Holland to visit with family. They were immensely excited before the trip, in their busied preparing, looking forward to it with an uncappable excitement. When they came back. “How was your trip?” Their answer - “Good (not fantastic, just good), but we don’t belong there any more.”

When I was young, I experienced this profoundly, and I am sure that young people today experience the same thing. They finish high school, go off to college for 9 months of education, come back, and the place that used to be home for them is different. Close friends have developed other relationships. We wonder how we fit in. And if we become quiet enough in our tears, we will hear the restlessness of our hearts hungering for something “heavenly.” When it happens, in our disappointment, we might think there is something wrong - wrong with what we used to call home, or maybe even something wrong with us - after all, why can’t we just fit in, be welcomed, be part of the group like we used to? If you are a person who can relate to what I am talking about, then I encourage you this morning to see something wonderfully right about that disappointment - because it is your heart longing for something heavenly, where you are loved, and love has a space just for you, where you belong, and that belonging can never be taken away, where relationships are whole and tears are gone, your desire is for something “heavenly,” a place where even God is present, welcoming you, embracing you, where your joy is washed by his tears that you’re back where you belong. Returning to the place where we came for cannot give us that. If it were that simple, we would return, but the truth is, our hearts are restless, restless, restless for an eternal home with God, a city with brothers and sisters where our place will forever be, as we read, we desire a country that is our own, a fatherland, a motherland, something “heavenly.”

If we listen to our restlessness, we discover that our lives are in a sense an uprooted journey. Wherever we wonder, we discover this restlessness continues. Even falling in love, getting married, having a family of our own does not satisfy this hunger, for every love has its incompleteness, every marriage has its problems, every family has its dysfunctions and that hunger is for something “heavenly.” If we listen, we discover we are still not home, we are on an uprooted journey. Returning to the past does not resolve this hunger. Living in the present, if we listen, is still filled with a restlessness, a realization of incompleteness, we start to recognize the illusions of our independence, the illusion of our success, the illusion of our safety, stability. We might come to the point of confessing that in this life, we are strangers, vulnerable, people who do not quite belong, because our home is “heavenly.”

Faith is nourished by this hidden root of restlessness.

In past years, Judy used to grow all our bedding plants in our house, starting in late March, so that when planting time in June came, they would be ready to be planted. We would have plants covering our living room. We helped those seeds root by first placing them in warmed soil, in what is called a hotbed. But our living room was not a green house. And as these plants were nourished by the soil, you could tell by the way they grew long and spindly that they were saying “We don’t belong here.” They were reaching, reaching as far as they could for the light they saw in the distance. They were saying, our home is outside.

Faith, nourished by this hidden root of restlessness, comes to expression in the same way. Have you noticed the interesting words our author uses here: “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” Faith hears a promise and reaches out for it. That is literally what “longing for a better country” means. Faith welcomes the promise. Literally, faith embraces warmly the promises God gives to us, because in a life of uncertain restlessness, where things are constantly changing, it is the promise of a “heavenly home” that is unchanging. So like those little seedlings, long and spindly, faith reaches, stretches, sometimes risky stretches, toward the promise - the promise of a home that is “heavenly.”

The heros of faith, even when they died, were still living in this stretching posture. The promises that they heard, in their life, the promises remained distant, but the faith that they lived by was the faith by which God said “I am not ashamed to be their God, for I have built a city for them.” So to, my wife Judy was not ashamed of all her little seedlings, growing way to tall and spindly, because she knew that when the right day came, she would plant them in her flower beds, and they would be where they belong, and flourish. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I don’t know about you, but I experience life as incomplete. I am not in heaven yet, my heart is restless and I suspect your’s is also. And I see it in the people I visit. I see it in the aching hearts of grieving parents, the Vermeers, the Folkerts, the Boots, the Schons, somehow the power of grief makes us reach, reach forward, reach for the promise with a desperate welcome. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I hear the restlessness so clearly in the voice of the elderly, who having traveled so much of the journey, have found that the golden years are hardly even silver and sometimes less than nickel, and the promise is closer and they are leaning forward toward something “heavenly.” Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I see this faith nourished by restlessness in the many people I know, who struggle with illness, the promise of healing is something they have not received, but they cling to the promise that one day, the promise of God will make their life “heavenly.” Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

I see the roots of this faith in a young person who is deeply struggling to know God because he knows there is something more, and so he is reaching, reaching with longing and tears for something “heavenly.” Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

We see the truth of this faith in a father called Abraham who figured that the promise of God was more secure than the reality of his son next to him. And so, with his son carrying up the wood of the sacrifice, together they trudged up the mountain of faith, mount Moriah. Abram laid his son Isaac on the altar, knowing that the promise was sure, the ram caught in the thicket bleated, the sacrifice provided, God proved himself true. Therefore God is not ashamed to be Abraham’s Isaac’s and Jacob’s God, for he has prepared a city for them.

There was another son, he too climbed the mountain of faith, a different mount, and the wood he carried on his shoulders was not would to be burned but it was wood for The Sacrifice, the wood of the cross on which Jesus gave his life, and chapter 12 tells us that he did this “for the joy set before him.” He saw a promised from the distance he welcomed it, he pressed toward it, he gave himself to his father, he endured the cross, despising it shame and now he sits at the right hand of God. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called his God and father, for he has prepared an eternal kingdom for him, an eternal city for all of us who are joined to him by the same restless leaning faith.


Prayer.
St. Augustine “Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you.”


 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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