“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
As followers of Jesus, one of the most important things we know is our ultimate destination. This is so important because the shape and scope of our journeys will range far and wide, and will likely take us into places we could never have imagined. That unknown could be debilitating if we were to give it our greatest attention. Thus, the knowledge of our journey’s end makes such a difference. This isn’t only true for followers of Jesus, though. It has been true for God’s people since the beginning. Let’s talk this morning about the places we go and the place we will land.
As the author continues to offer up examples of faith for us, we find him here resting his attention on Abraham, the man held up as one of the single greatest faith heroes in all of the Scriptures. He actually explores several different powerful examples of faith from Abraham’s life. This first one is that he left home at God’s call in the first place.
Now, assuming on everything I said yesterday about the relational context of God’s call on Abraham to go to the place He would show him, it was a still a pretty major thing of God to ask. He would have known that too. God is the one who made us. He understands how we work and the cultures we create even better than we do.
In this case, He would have known that for Abraham – let alone his family – the thought of his leaving the clan and heading into the unknown would not have been something adventurous and exciting like the song from Frozen 2. It would have been considered insane. Your clan was everything in the ancient world. It was not just your social system, it was your protection against the incredibly hostile outside world. It was how you came by the things you would need to get through the world. It was your source of employment and income. You couldn’t survive without it. And God called Abraham to leave it behind and follow Him…kind of like someone else would later call some fishermen to do.
What the author of Hebrews makes clear for us here is that, in the short term, Abraham did not know where he was going. God told him to go west until He told him to stop. The command was simple: Go to the place I will show you. And again, this notion is exciting to us because we live in the midst of a culture that has exploration and leaving behind what is familiar for the exciting unknown baked into its very foundation. People have always left their homes and come to the United States not knowing exactly what they will find when they get here, but hopeful because of the promise our nation has long offered of freedom and a better life than what they are leaving behind. We can have debates over just how well we have kept that promise, but the simple truth is that people still arrive on our shores by the millions, driven by the hope of that promise.
For Abraham, though, this would not have been the case. He was leaving his only support system in order to go to where he would not have had any support at all. He was going only on the strength of His trust in the character of the God who was telling Him to go. He was going on the strength of his trust in the willingness and ability of this God to fulfill His promise to make him into a great nation. But in choosing to exercise his trust in this promise – that is, to have faith – Abraham was consciously giving up a settled, safe, and secure life for one in which the present unknowns were always going to be gnawing at the edges of his conscience, whispering to him that the promise of his God wasn’t nearly strong enough to keep him from facing struggles, suffering, and ruin. And Abraham sometimes listened to those voices which consistently resulted in making far more of a mess of his situation than he would have experience had he kept trusting in those times.
In this, Abraham’s challenge is also ours. We long to live a settled life. While the precise ordering of this formula (not to mention the formula itself) is often eschewed and not followed very well today, for a long time, the desire of just nearly everyone in this country was to grow up, get an education, get a job, get a family, get a house, and settle down to a nice, comfortable, happy life. And, pop culture portrayals to the contrary, people who managed to follow it tended (and tend) to have more happiness, comfort, and success in their lives than the people who didn’t. The dirty little secret that many followers of Jesus keep buried somewhere inside is that while we do want to follow Jesus faithfully, we really don’t want Him to call us to leave the safe confines of our formula and journey into any kind of an unknown. We trust Him, but not enough for that.
Thankfully, God doesn’t often call us to go on an epic journey like He did Abraham. And yet, if we are indeed followers of Jesus, we must never forget that this world is not our home. It’s okay to lean into that pattern of cultural success, but in doing so, if we forget that this world is not our ultimate home, we enter into some dangerous territory. If the pattern becomes our god and the thing in which we place our trust, we will start to make decisions based on how we can maintain our illusion of happiness and success rather than what will most honor God. Those decisions may seem to play out in our favor in the short term, but in the long run, they will lead us steadily away from the life that is truly life. They will lead us to a place that is defined by the unknown and in which we will never find the peace and contentedness we are seeking. Our eyes must be ever on the kingdom of God where our permanent home lies.
Faith is what allows us to do this. It allows us to do this because we trust that even when we don’t feel totally settled here, we’re not yet all the way home. We don’t have to make inordinate sacrifices or go to crazy lengths in order to grasp at the straws of a sense of worldly stability because we won’t find it. Instead, we trust in the one who has promised us a home in the future – a home that is built on a solid foundation that will not be moved – and keep moving forward along the path He has stretched out before us. We choose to live with the sense of comfort of home even when we wander because we know we will eventually arrive at home. Our journey will one day be over, and we will have all eternity to relish its glorious end.