September 12, 2021 Leviticus 19:33-37, Hebrews 11:12-16
Before Scripture Reading:
Faith according to the book of Hebrews is contagious, faith helps us to stand erect – for God’s love strengthens us. Faith enables us to see far and wide with spiritual eyes. Faith makes us sensitive to see God’s work in everyday life. Faith is able to comfort, assure, guide, and sustains us. Today: Faith Makes Us Strangers
Americans, Joe and Sharon were tourist in Austria. When they entered their hotel to check in, the clerk was on the phone speaking German. He paused a moment and said to Joe and Sharon that he would be with them shortly. He said this in English. Joe and Sharon were surprised. How did he know they were not German? They were not wearing baseball hats, or sneakers, they did not ask where the restrooms were, they did not ask, “how are you?”, or asked for ketchup, or required ice in their glass of water. They did not tip or wait to be seated at the restaurant. They did not show any of these telltale signs of being American. How did he know? The fact was that he knew because they simply could not hide it! They stood out! Somehow it was clear that they were not from Austria. The clerk knew that they were not from “here”.
The book of Hebrews says this is how it is, or should be, with people of faith. Faith, the author says, makes us strangers in this world. We cannot hide the fact that we don’t really fit in. We are citizens of God’s kingdom. We are not from here! As citizens of God’s kingdom, our customs are different, the way we carry ourselves, how we treat and talk to others, our values, our ideals, our views of the world, our choices and priorities are not from this world. And therefore, we don’t quite fit in.
The book of Hebrews gives a few examples to illustrate this.
Faith enables Noah, Moses, and Abraham to see further, to see what is invisible – but now their actions make it clear that they are strangers, aliens in this world.
Noah, in Hebrews 11:7, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning. He saw what was to come and he understood the warning. He therefor built an ark to save his household.
Think about this: He acted in a way that most certainly would have been viewed as irrational and odd. Can you imagine the response of his contemporaries? “What are you doing? Are you nuts? Have you seen what Noah is doing? Crazy right?”
The text says he respected the warning. It reveals his anxiety, his uncertainty, and even his personal suffering for doing what was not clear for all to see. And yet, he built the ark. And then it happened, the flood. Now his actions were vindicated, for now those who made fun of him saw that he was right and righteous. They witnessed him and his faith. He in fact became a witness of God’s kingdom. Through his obedient actions they could not say: “We did not know”. They saw as “an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.”
It is the same in Hebr. 11:8 with Abraham. He was to receive an inheritance. The inheritance was still in the future. He still did not have it, he did not see it, and he did not “know where he was going.” And yet, obediently he set out. He had faith and nothing else!
He did what was required, based on faith. He lived in the land “he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in a tent”. The mention of him living in a tent underlines the temporary nature, the uncertainty of his situation. Imagine going to a foreign land and living in a tent – that is what refugees do! Isaac and Jacob joined him as heirs. He looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. He heard and saw the promises, he believed, and he waited for the city. This was where his real citizenship was, elsewhere, in the future, with God. He lived in a strange land, in a tent, for now, as an alien. What mattered for him was what was coming.
In Hebrews 11:23 by faith, the parents of Moses hid their son. They were not afraid of the king’s edict. Their real king for them was not the Pharaoh but God. They were not citizens of Egypt, but of God’s kingdom. And therefore, they ignored the edict because they were only strangers in his country.
Hebrews 11:24-26 informs us that Moses when he was grown up refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He preferred sharing ill treatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He had a different view on what really mattered and was prepared to suffer the consequences. In verse 27 we read that by faith he left Egypt unafraid of the king’s anger, for he persevered as “though he saw him who is invisible”.
These examples make it clear: They were all looking forward to their real home, their heavenly home. The promises they received and saw from a distance, changed their view on this world. They considered their heavenly citizenship to be what matters and they viewed themselves as strangers, aliens passing though this world. They longed to enter their heavenly home.
And when people looked at them, they could see that they were different, they did not fit in. By their actions, people could sense that they were not from here. They were here only for a while.
But this of course did not mean that they were just passively waiting for the time when they would enter their heavenly home. No! On the contrary! Because they saw the new city, because they witnessed with spiritual eyes Him who is invisible, they became engaged to make this world a better place, a new place!
This is how it should be: people who believe in heaven, live in a way that shows what really matters in God’s Kingdom. They want to make visible what is important in God’s eyes, they want to illustrate how the world could be.
You have seen the new heaven and earth. You have seen how things could be. When you’ve seen justice and righteousness then you start working for it now. When you long for the new city, where there will be no pain, sickness, tears, hunger, poverty, and sadness, you become involved to alleviate hunger and suffering, you fight against injustice, you help people who are vulnerable, you visit people who are sick, and you speak out for those who are poor and voiceless.
Anyone who has seen God’s way, who is a citizen of God’s kingdom, will become engaged in helping others with compassion.
And how do we do this? In two ways:
1. By praying for we know that it is God who makes all things new, and,
2. By working as hard as we can, for we know that we are co-workers in God’s kingdom.
And this is how it is: we long for the new heaven and earth that only God can bring, but we also work as if it depends on us.
There is an old Latin expression that explains this: ORA ET LABORA. It means: Pray and work! We pray “Let they kingdom come”, we don’t panic for we know God is doing this. And then we work very hard and do whatever we can to make visible what is important in God’s kingdom.
Someone has once said that Christians like to say: “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these three is the status quo!” We say nice things but we don’t want things to change! We don’t like change. No-one likes change. Christians like to say profound things about what God wants in the world. We like to say God cares about justice, and don’t want people to suffer, or that the poor should be helped. But then when these require changes, we resist the change as much as the next person. We seem to always find reasons why we cannot really accept these changes. Be realistic, we say.
This should not be! If we have faith, as citizens of God’s kingdom, we ought to live by the rules of God’s kingdom. We are different and we look at the world through different eyes. Others will see that we are not from here. They will see that we are strangers, our actions are different, our worldview, our values, and everything about us are different.
“By faith Moses left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.”
We, with eyes of faith, have seen God’s work in the resurrection of Christ. We have seen God’s future, we have a view on the new heaven and the new earth! How will we live? Will people be able to see that we are not from here, but that our citizenship is with God? Or will they not see any difference at all? Amen.