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August 13, 2019, 8:15 AM

All Our Journeys - Sermon, 8/11/19


When I first started preaching a million years ago, I came to be known as the “arts and crafts” preacher. And I’m afraid that my reputation for doing arts and crafts has traveled with me, even here to Saint Paul’s. Two of the big events that have happened since I arrived – the Inter-Generational Learning Event and Vacation Bible School – have featured numerous arts and crafts activities.

Time for a true confession from your priest: I hate doing arts and crafts. This is not a new dislike, either. I took painting lessons as a preteen and hated every moment of it. Nothing I tried to put on canvas seemed to look right. Even before I tried painting, a dear friend of the family tried to teach me how to crochet. She quickly became completely frustrated with me, saying that I was the only person she knew who managed to undo everything I tried to crochet.

Considering those two big failures – painting and crocheting – it’s not surprising how much I hate doing arts and crafts. Also considering those two big failures, it’s not surprising how much I respect people who are successful with arts and crafts. One skill that I find particularly impressive is embroidering.

I am always amazed at the detail work that goes into embroidered pieces. Embroidery seems even more complicated than needlework – another arts and crafts skill I never mastered. I remember seeing a pillow with the first verse of today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews embroidered on it.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It sounds like a nice, comfortable, and comforting verse, right? The verse has some of those nice, comfortable, and comforting words in it: faith, assurance, hope. The very idea that faith endures even when it is unseen is nice, comfortable, and comforting.

If today’s reading from Hebrews only contained that single sentence, I might agree that faith, assurance, and hope are, indeed, nice, comfortable, and comforting words. The reality is that Paul writes more than a single sentence about the meaning behind faith, assurance, and hope. After the initial, comforting verse, perfect for embroidery, Paul continues, however, by tracing the Israelites’ journey of faith.

Somehow, the story of the Israelites’ journey does not make it onto embroidered pillows. And I don’t just think it’s because the story is really long. I think the reason the story of the Israelites’ journey doesn’t end up on embroidered pillows is because it is neither nice, nor comfortable, nor comforting.

The Israelites’ journey was the opposite of nice, comfortable, and comforting. Paul says that Abraham set out with faith as his only map – a map that needed some serious updating. But Abraham never gave up on his journey of faith – no matter how difficult that journey became.

The Israelites’ journey found them wandering in the desert in a forty-year search for a new homeland. They rested briefly in different places, always forced to stay in tents – sure signs that they were without a permanent place to call home. But Abraham never gave up on his journey of faith – no matter how difficult the journey became.

The Israelites’ journey saw them walking and hoping for a city that has foundations. Living in tents was not a stable way to ensure the people’s continued existence. Building a city with foundations, however, was a sure sign that the people had found a permanent homeland. So Abraham never gave up on his journey of faith – no matter how difficult the journey became.

God promised Abraham many things, including a new homeland and numerous descendants. Abraham was quite old when he received God’s promise of descendants and he and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age. Because of Abraham and Sarah’s faithfulness to God’s promises, an entire nation of their descendants eventually came into being. Abraham never gave up on his journey of faith – no matter how difficult the journey became.

The gift of children for Abraham and Sarah is not the only reward God shares. The Israelites do, eventually, find a new homeland. Because of Abraham’s faithfulness and God’s generosity, a new nation is born, marked by cities with foundations. Indeed, as Paul reminds us, God actually prepares a city for the Israelites, largely because Abraham never gave up on his journey of faith – no matter how difficult the journey became.

The original hearers of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews would have considered themselves descendants of Abraham and God’s promises to the people of Abraham. In fact, Paul’s original audience was straddling the space between Jewish and Christian. They believed that they had a special relationship with God because they were Jewish AND because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

There was probably very little that was nice, comfortable, or comforting about straddling the space between Judaism and Christianity. There was probably very little that was nice, comfortable, or comforting about seeking a new identity, facing trouble from their neighbors, and dealing with the pressure of living under Roman rule.

It makes sense, then, that Paul’s audience would find comfort in the opening line of today’s reading: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It makes sense, then, that Paul’s audience would find comfort in their ancestors’ journey – as difficult as it was. The Israelites desired a better place for themselves and their descendants.

This is a journey and a desire that some of us recognize – the desire for a better life for ourselves and our descendants and the journey it takes to fulfill that desire. Some of us have been on physical journeys that crossed boundaries and seas and even oceans to find a better life for ourselves and our descendants. Those of us who cannot identify with a physical journey may still see in ourselves that same desire: a desire for a better life for ourselves and our descendants.

We seem to find ourselves living in a time and place that do not respect or even understand that journey or that desire. We seem to find ourselves living in a time and place that seek violence and spew hatred against those who have made a physical journey with a desire for a better life for themselves and their descendants.

Seeking violence and spewing hate do not honor Abraham’s journey or the Israelites’ journey for a new homeland. Those who have made that physical journey know that there is little that is nice, comfortable, or comforting about it.

This morning let us commit ourselves to embodying welcome, to avoiding violence, and to spewing love instead of hate. Let us commit ourselves to honoring others’ journeys – whether physical or internal, whatever the shape of the journey.

Having made those commitments, may we find ourselves hearing echoes of what Paul writes at the end of today’s reading from Hebrews: God is not ashamed to be called their God. May God bless all our journeys, and may all of our journeys bring us closer to God’s heart! Amen.


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