The better country
Sermon, Pentecost 12C,Sunday August 11th, 2013,St Petri
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old–and Sarah herself was barren–because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”13 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. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 (Hebrews 11:13-16)
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
PRAY: heavenly Father, by your Holy Spirit acting now in your word, speak to us of that better country to which the Good Shepherd is leading us. Amen.
If you could design a world what would it be? Would it be a world of tropical beaches and endless cocktails and pineapples!? Would it be a world of royal babies and a lovely young princess and prince living happily in their palace among adoring subjects? Would it be a stage – the X Factor – you wooing the masses with pure giftedness? Is it the Barossa – food and wine, family values, healthy living, the land, the ground, the vines, not city, not corrupted by outside influences…a place to “be consumed”?
What do you wish the world was and how should people be to make the world better? Have you given up on the perfect world because you’ve seen too much of the imperfect and broken one?
The world is broken. At every level, the world is broken.
One of the people who most represent the brokenness of the world to me is the Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe. I heard the other week that he promised to step down from his role as President should he lose the election last week. So cynical and corrupt! He managed to rig the election to “win” a so called “landslide victory! After 30+ years of mostly corruption, cronyism, violent oppression, greed and the maintenance of absolute power at any cost – which has brought a once up and coming African nation to bankruptcy and a return to feudalism – and all with the facade of care for the poor, justice and happiness in the Presidential palace, this delusional leader continues his evil way and destroys his people and the land through which God feeds him.
He is like the people to whom Isaiah was sent to speak the word of the Lord. They are a broken people.
They do all the right outward things as leaders in God’s community – sacrifices at the temple, burning incense and praying in their homes, religious observations of festivals and days and seasons and etc – while those on the poverty line or below are left uncared for, those without parents or home left to fend for themselves; those with no income and no life partner exploited by lack of care, concern and real help.
Out of love, the Lord calls these broken people who are breaking their community back to himself. The call to repent and come home is also a call to seek justice, act fairly, defend those homeless, those alone, those vulnerable – and then, and only then, would he make the stains of their blood red past sins change to pure white wool (Isaiah 1:11-18).
Friends, we are broken people too. This brokenness is this ability to be two-faced or unbalanced – where our outward words and actions are not consistent with our inward belief and state of mind. We are masters of deception – not just in front of others but inside ourselves. We deceive ourselves into believing that everything is fine, or as John says, we have the ability to convince ourselves that “we have no sin” (1John 1:8).
So, the truth is that we are all dis-integrated in all kinds of ways. We can put on an outward show of faith in God and love for others while at the same time harbouring a heart full of hate and pain.
We can say all the right things that we think God and others want to hear and yet not lift a finger to actually do the right things God tells us he wants his people to do. That is our brokenness.
Into our deceptive brokenness comes Jesus, God’s good shepherd who can say in all love –
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Really? Do not fear the God who says “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:15)?
Friends, if God can see our deceptive and broken ways; how we can say words of praise to him and then live like he does not exist and that his presence and grace have no demand on our life; and if he knows the injustice, hatred, greed and lust for control over others and his creation, we are entangled in at various levels, then how can we be at peace with him and trust that he is not going to “devour us with the sword” (Isaiah 1:20)?
Why can we have “faith in things unseen and confidence in things hoped for”? Because there is already Someone who has been devoured by the sword! There is One who has been chewed up by all the injustice, deception, hatred, violence and two-facedness we could have ever mustered.
This One triumphed over our brokenness and our dis-integrated heart with all its harmful actions or just plain no action. This One calls himself the Good Shepherd and he triumphed over all of our darkness with love, pure love – freely given to anyone who calls out to him in all humility and honesty.
All of his victory and his grace and his resurrection healing power has been freely given in the font of resurrection grace and everyday since. All of this old dark and stormy stuff was drowned in your font and your stained soul of rebellion against the Lord and worship of self was washed and removed.
Placed on you were the white robes of God’s light, peace and confident hope. Placed on your head was the royal victor’s crown of the servant-king. Written in his book was your name. Written on your soul was your citizenship in a new and better country of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks.
That is why Jesus, the Good shepherd can honestly say to you today;
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Ah, with the Psalmist of old we can sing,
Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
Yes, Lord we hope in you – your grace and power shown in love.
And what now friends? What do we do with the grace of Jesus over running our very souls today?
Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith, Abraham did. He believed God’s promise and he acted accordingly – not with part of his life or his wealth or his status among other but with everything.
That is the call from the Lord to you and me today. Faith is doing God’s doing. Faith is jumping in the wheelbarrow and letting the Lord direct our journey to his better country. Faith is not being a spectator of disciples but being a disciple in real life.
But there is a cost to be people of the Shepherd.
It removes us from the normal way of the world. It makes us feel like strangers. It unsettles us and makes us less comfortable, less settled, less happy with injustice, greed and the like.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the Old Testament people knew this and willingly paid the price. 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…” (Hebrews 11:13)
Faith in God’s gracious love given in Jesus of Nazareth creates the reality within us that we don’t belong everywhere and with everyone. The call of Jesus puts us on a road trip. We become at heart, travellers heading to a destination somewhere else.
And this means that what goes with being settled, being safe, being sure, being comfortable, staying in one place all our lives – not in terms of houses and geography as much as in terms of our relationship with Jesus and other people – must be let go – in the heart – “for where your treasure is, there is your heart also”.
Many times I have known in my own heart that I don’t belong in some places. Many times I have wanted to join in and be like everyone else, have everyone else’s aspirations in my heart – but am unable to join in because of Jesus and his call.
But, I would rather stay in his call than join in with human ignorance and brokenness. Why? Because of the “better country” of which I am a part and to which I am being drawn to.
“They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth…..for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. ….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 (Hebrews 11:14-16)
The better country is no shame, no judgement by, no fear of my Creator and yours. The better country is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads me beside places in which I can eat and drink and rest and grow stronger in faith, and in hope and in love.
Friend, Jesus is calling you to this better country and the call is both a gift of grace and love, and call to be the same.
We are all refugees/travellers/foreigners without real, home, impenetrable security or safety and yet we are citizens of the new and better country of God’s holy community in the world. We are a local expression of this better country in our town.
Friend, God is not ashamed to be called your God; indeed, he has prepared a city for you, and that city is right here – the local church – now, in part, one day in full.
He is calling you to that better country but to journey with Jesus means that you need to actually follow him…..
Share something of the way it feels to know that you are different to others because of your faith in Jesus? How are you different? How does the different approach you have to life show itself when with people who would not call themselves followers of Jesus?
Do you think you find it all to easy to be hypocritical like the people of Isaiah’s day (see the Old Testament text – Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. How has this kind of “two-facedness” sometime shown itself in your life?
When you hear Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32), how do you respond?
What encouragement do you hear from the Hebrews text (Hebrews 11:13-16) when it comes to experiencing that sense of being a “stranger” and “traveller” looking for a “better country” as you live life?
In your view, what is God’s “better country” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks? I said,
“The better country is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads me beside places in which I can eat and drink and rest and grow stronger in faith, and in hope and in love”.
Si, it is to do with living in freedom and peace with God and others – without fear or any shame. Is that part of your view of God’s better country? What else?
The “better country” has already begun. We had our passport stamped at our baptism and re-stamped every time we have shared the word with a friend, received the Lord’s Supper, that word of Absolution, and hear the word preached and taught. How firm is your faith on this at the moment and what would help you believe that you are a citizen of God’s new country?
Pray the Psalm writers prayer to finish…
Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
#Hebrews1113 #Luke1232 #steppingout #faith #bettercountry #journey #Pentecost12C