By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, 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, for he has prepared for them a city.
I was in 5th grade the first time that I ever heard his name. I remember back then that he was gaining popularity, but he was not yet the cultural phenomenon that he has since become. My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Epps, was a huge fan. She had decided that she was going to tell her 5th grade class his story. So every day she read us a chapter. That’s the first time I met Harry Potter.
I didn’t keep up with the saga, though, to my shame. We read The Sorcerer’s Stone that year, but I hadn’t read any more of the books since then. The first one of the movies that I had ever seen was actually the fourth movie, The Goblet of Fire, and I watched that at Mike Champoux’s house (which I guess is Gerry and Sue’s house; Mike lived there back then). We watched The Goblet of Fire, and I hadn’t seen any other movies. I had read the first book in 5th grade, but that was it. I was all over the place.
By the time the last 3 movies were coming out though, I had jumped on the bandwagon from Platform 9 ¾, but I still had not read the books. I hadn’t read the whole series. So, last year I decided that I was going to start with the first one over again, The Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was going to read through the Harry Potter saga. I am currently reading The Order of the Phoenix, if you’re wondering.
The last time I was in Louisville (which was in January), I was actually discussing with my college roommate, Brady Martin, the cultural success of Harry Potter. I don’t remember how we started talking about it, probably because I told him I was reading the books again (or for the first time). We started talking about how popular it is, how big a deal Harry Potter is, and why people love Harry Potter so much. The books and movies have been wildly successful. There’s a mountain of merchandise that can be purchased. There’s even “Harry Potter World” at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. People love Harry Potter. People in general, people in our culture, love Harry Potter. We were thinking about that, and talking about that. We came to the conclusion, and I agree, that the reason people love Harry Potter so much is because the Harry Potter saga is a story about going home.
When we first meet Harry, he is certainly not at home. He lives with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, and they treat him like a bad hangnail. That’s putting it kindly. Number 4 Privet Drive may be his legal residence, but it is certainly not Harry’s home. He’s not at home. And then, as Harry is whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we realize that Hogwarts, in fact, is Harry’s home. He is at home at his school. In fact, as you live the story reading it through Harry’s eyes, you find yourself wanting to go to Hogwarts too. You wish that you were a student there. You wish that you lived there, because it feels like home. Every summer when Harry returns to his aunt and uncle’s house, he – and you along with him – is counting down the days until you get to go back to Hogwarts… because you can’t wait to go home.
Everyone to one degree or another longs for home. Every human being who has ever lived has his or her own idea about what the good life is. Maybe they call it heaven. Maybe they call it nirvana. Maybe they call it the great society, or the afterlife, or a better place or whatever. Every person has their idea of the good life - a telos, a goal, a home. This is true because all people were created in God’s image, and they were made to be at home with Him. God created us for Eden.
But in our sin, we rebelled and we fell from grace. Ever since we were evicted from the garden, we have all longed to go home. We have this inward longing to be in a perfect place with God, without pain, without sin, without shame. We want the shalom that was lost in the fall. Of course, not everybody recognizes that this is what they want or what they long for. That’s why people try to fill that void with anything and everything in their lives – sex, money, education, substance abuse, activities, religion. They want to feel at home somewhere. They want that community that they long for. God has made us to be at home with him. He has made us to love him.
As St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
This is exactly what the author of the Hebrews is talking about when they invoke Abraham and Sarah in this biblical theology of faith. These early second temple Jewish Christians would’ve sat up straight when they heard the name of Abraham. Abraham was their father in the faith. It’s kind of like walking into a room full of Republicans and evoking the name of Ronald Reagan; everyone stands up straight and salutes. He’s like the father of the party in some ways. Or, think about JFK or someone a Democrat would love. Think about these people that cause us to listen.
Whoa, did he say Abraham? This is serious.
He’s the father of the faith. As we move forward in the text, we are led onward through this familiar phrase – by faith. It is by faith that Abraham obeyed when he left his home to go to the place that God called him to go. Abraham left everything that he had ever known in Ur. He left his family. He left his friends. He left his religion to follow the word of God. Notice that Abraham’s obedience demonstrates his faith.
Imagine if I were to stand up here in front of you this morning and yell, “FIRE! There’s a fire! Everybody get out; there’s a fire!” It would be demonstrable whether you believed me or not whether you were running for the door, right? Joe Gralka could sit here and say, “Sure, Alex, I believe you. There’s a fire, and the whole building’s gonna burn to the ground.” But if his butt is still in the seat, then he doesn’t believe me, does he? We will see who believes me and who doesn’t by who moves; by who acts; by who obeys. Abraham’s faith is made evident because when God calls him to go, Abraham goes. Abraham leaves Ur.
Abraham obeyed the voice of YHWH, even when it was countercultural. When everyone that Abraham knew was worshipping the moon, Abraham heard the voice of the maker of the moon, and he obeyed. The Bible tells us that Abraham left his home not knowing where he was going. By faith, he went to live in the land that God had promised him. And his family lived there for generations in tents.
Abraham was looking for a home, but from a cursory reading, it appears that he always remained a sojourner. He was never fully at home. Not just him, but Isaac and Jacob as well! It would appear that the promise to Abraham was not fulfilled, but the Holy Spirit tells us that his sights were set bigger than a strip of land in the middle east, For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
It wasn’t just Abraham that had faith though, as we see here in Hebrews 11, it’s also Sarah that has faith. Verse 11 says “By faith, Sarah.” She is the matriarch of the faith. It was by faith that Sarah conceived Isaac. Sarah, who was 90 years old, got pregnant.
Sarah, who, if she were out in the foyer of Christ Community Church, would probably be hunched over a walker. If Sarah were out in the foyer, we would probably send a young man to go get her car from the parking lot so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way out in the cold to get it. Sarah, who if she were at our dinner on April 2, we would probably send someone up to get her plate of food for her so that she didn’t have to wait in line. If you saw Sarah in the foyer you know what you wouldn’t do? You wouldn’t say, “hm…I wonder if she’s pregnant.” That would be absurd!
You know, Abraham and Sarah thought so too. That’s why when YHWH told them that she was going to be pregnant, they both laughed. They both said, HA! But, the Holy Spirit does tell us, that while scoffing was her initial reaction, eventually she had faith. She had faith that God was faithful to keep his promise.
Not only was Sarah 90 years old when they conceived Isaac, but Abraham was 100 years old. Abraham – reproductively speaking – the Scripture says, was as good as dead. Things weren’t working like they used to and if you were looking for someone to father a child; the Bible says that Abraham was about as useful as a corpse. But that’s what God loves to do, isn’t it?
God loves to bring life from death. God loves to make foolish the wisdom of the world. God loves to bring victory over strength through weakness. He is the God of resurrection. And that’s what he does. Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah, and this 100 year old man and his 90 year old wife would eventually have descendants that outnumber the stars. They would outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore.
But here’s the ironic thing. Abraham and Sarah never saw those realities come true. Abraham was promised a land, but he died living in a tent. The only land that Abraham owned was the cave that he was buried in. He was promised sons and daughters that rivaled the stars and the sand, but he died only having seen his son Isaac. From Abraham’s perspective, it might have looked as if God did not keep his promise. But we know better than that. Don’t we?
Verse 13 says these all died in faith having not received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. You see, Abraham and Sarah were longing for home. Like all of us, they had been living east of Eden, and they longed to come home to God. When Abraham arrived in Canaan, he couldn’t see the full picture. He didn’t recognize that Canaan was merely a type of the New Creation that was coming in Jesus Christ.
When Sarah had Isaac, she probably didn’t recognize that through faith in the true son of Abraham, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16), that one day all of us, would by faith, be grafted into Israel, and outnumber the stars. “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.” They couldn’t see the full picture, Abraham and Sarah couldn’t see that, but what they did know was that what they received wasn’t everything. They had greeted the promises from afar.
They acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles in the land. They were not home yet. They were longing for home, but they were not home yet. And the Bible says that they could’ve gone back at any point. Abraham and Sarah could’ve gone back to Ur. They could’ve gone back to what was comfortable with their family, friends, and their moon worshipping religion, but they didn’t. And the author to the Hebrews is encouraging this church: do not go back; do not fall away from Jesus. This little Hebrew church would’ve been tempted to go back to Christless Judaism. Judaism was not illegal in the Roman Empire. It would’ve been more comfortable. It would’ve been more socially acceptable. It would’ve been easier because they had grown up in it.
But as Professor Dumbledore tells Harry Potter, “A time is coming when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
The Spirit is warning them now: do not go back! Abraham didn’t go back; don’t go back! Don’t fall away from Jesus! I know you feel like a stranger here. I know you feel like an exile here, so did Abraham. But Abraham was looking for a better country. Abraham was looking for a heavenly city. He was moving toward a city whose designer and builder is God. The warning and encouragement to the church of the Hebrews is: Pursue Christ like Abraham did.
This is the word that we need to hear this morning, as well. Don’t go back. Keep chasing Jesus! Some of you here are the prodigal. You have come from a background of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. You were saved out of a life that is in contrast with Christianity. The gospel call this morning is: don’t go back! When it gets hard, don’t go back. Jesus is better! When it doesn’t feel like the promises of God are going to come true, don’t go back. That is not your home. Your home is a city that is built by God. It is a better country, a heavenly one. Don’t choose what’s easy over what’s right. Don’t go back.
Some of us this morning, though, are not the prodigal. Some of us this morning are the older brother. We’ve been saved out of a life that has been camouflaged in Christianity: self-righteousness, religious activity, and resentment toward our Father in heaven. The gospel call this morning is: don’t go back! When it gets hard, don’t go back! Jesus is better! It’s much easier to be self-righteous than to clothe yourself in the righteousness of Christ. Don’t go back. That is not your home.
Your home is a city that is built by God. It’s a better one; it’s a heavenly country. Don’t choose what’s easy over what’s right. Brothers and sisters, don’t settle for mud pies simply because you’ve never seen the holiday at sea. Chase the heavenly city, the better country, the New Creation, because that is your home.
You know, the Scripture says that Abraham may have greeted the promises from afar, but we’re in a different spot than Abraham, aren’t we? What Abraham saw via shadow, we now see in blazing glory. The faith of Abraham is realized in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like Abraham, Jesus left his heavenly homeland and he sojourned in a desolate land, east of Eden. We spend these 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday identifying with the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness. He left the garden to come to the wilderness to get us. Jesus left his home to come and rescue the children of Abraham who have trusted him by faith. But unlike Abraham, Jesus knew exactly where he was going: to a cross and a tomb.
Jesus sojourned here as a man. You were as I / tempted and tried / human. Jesus lived and He died in our place, so that through his resurrection, we might be brought home. You see, when Jesus stepped out of the tomb on that Easter morning, he was and is the New Creation. And now, by faith, St. Paul tells us that everyone who is in Christ is a new creation, Behold! the old has gone and the new has come. When the Old Testament talks about the heavenly city, Zion, it is referring to Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem was special because that’s where the temple was. That’s what is important about Jerusalem. That’s why it is the holy hill where YHWH dwells, because that’s where the temple is. That’s where God dwelled with his people. It’s the home that we lost in the fall.
This is our reflection during this Lenten season. We reflect on our mortality and, through fasting and prayer, we prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But as we open to the pages of the New Testament, we see that something radically changes, don’t we? The New Testament takes the temple language and reinterprets it for us. Jesus is the real temple, not the building. Jesus said he would tear the temple down and rebuild it in 3 days. Jesus wasn’t just using the temple as an illustration for his death and resurrection! The disciples said, Jesus look at how great the temple is! They’re literally pointing to the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus says yes, I’m going to tear that temple down, and I’m going to rebuild it three days later. The NT tells us that everything the temple was pointing forward to is met in Jesus of Nazareth. He is the true temple of God. Through his death and resurrection, he rebuilds the temple in three days. Jesus is the place where God dwells with man. Jesus is the New Jerusalem.
Be encouraged this morning as you come to the Eucharist. When you leave these walls this morning, there are times when you are going to feel like a sojourner. You’re going to feel like a stranger in this present world system, but take heart this morning church, you have a better country that is your home. You have a heavenly city that is your home. And the church is an embassy of heaven in this far country. What happens when you’re in a foreign country and you walk into an embassy? You’re safe. You’re at home. Everyone speaks the same language. I can understand you. It feels like home. Church, when we gather together as the church and we worship, we are an embassy of the better country. We are an outpost of the heavenly city. What we’re doing is a preview of the New Creation.
As you come to the table of your king this morning, rejoice! This is your true dinner table. You have communion with Jesus this morning. Don’t go back to the fake homes that this world dangles in front of you. Jesus is better. Jesus is your home, by faith. Look around you. Look at these people. Look at your brothers and sisters. These people are your family. This is our table.
The reason that so many people are drawn to Harry Potter and the reason that everyone who reads Harry Potter really wants to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is because they want this! They want this community. This is what they want, church. They want the care, and the comfort, and the community that only comes with the church. That’s why they try to fill that void with anything and everything. Deep down inside this is what they want, because we are the family of God. We are the body of Christ. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
As you come to Communion this morning reflect on this glorious truth: we are home.