13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.
Pilgrims. Wayfarers. Emigrants. Those who left the home of their ancestry to find a new life. We are a country made up of such journeyers. My father came from Denmark with his parents when he was a child. My grandmother came from Sweden at 17 and made her way alone. Grampa also came from Sweden at 17, he with his younger brother to work as farmhands in Palo Alto.
In our congregation are people from Korea, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Iran and other places, for whom this is not the journey of parents and grandparents, but their own setting out for a new land.
This emigrant story, the story of Abraham and Sarah who left Haran for a promised land, is taken up by the author of Hebrews as a metaphor for the spiritual journey.
They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But 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 for them a city.
My grandparents came to stay. They were not passing through this country headed for somewhere else. Grammy was adamant about being an American – though Farmor always knew Denmark was better. She kept her accent and made Hakkebøf and Frikadeller and Æbleskiver – and I am glad because I loved it all, even the pickled herring.
Abraham and Sarah were not staying. Their journey continued through their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren down to the days of Moses. They lived as aliens and exiles, strangers and foreigners in the land. They saw the land of promise for afar.
We are émigrés of the spirit, still on the journey, not yet home, having gone out but not yet arrived.
We seek that better country, the heavenly city – not meaning the city in heaven, but the city that comes from heaven.
The home for which we look lies neither behind nor above us; it lies ahead. The homeland towards which we travel is the world redeemed: the world where grace reigns, where the grave is empty, where every burden is lifted and every tear wiped away. We are citizens of that country where swords are beaten into plowshares and sins are lifted away. Our home is in the realm of compassion.
We see it from afar, yet we have seen it in Jesus and hold it even now in our hands. It comes to us in the word of grace. It comes to us in the bread broken. It comes to us in acts of kindness given and received. It comes to us in forgiving as we have been forgiven. It comes to us as when the moat is taken from of our own eye. It comes to us in the wind and fire of the Spirit. It comes to us in the love of God and neighbor.
We see it from afar, yet we have seen it in Jesus and feel it even now in that splash of cold water that speaks of dying and rising into new life. We are learning the ways of that new country, learning to speak its language and sing its songs, learning to live its joy and life.
We look upon that world from afar. And we may lie in the grave ere it comes. But it comes. We have seen it.