Ready for Action!

The other day Christy had the idea to make the family a special dinner, since it was going to be the first time in a week or more when we all ate together. She thought I should make hamburgers on the grill. It was near lunchtime and I was already running errands, so I stopped by the store. Among other things, I bought:
  • Bread for the boys’ lunches
  • Hamburger buns
  • Two pounds of meat
  • Lipton onion soup mix
  • Blue Bell ice cream
  • A two liter bottle of soda for the boys

When I arrived home and began unloading, i expected to be greeted as a warrior returning home from a successful campaign, having voluntarily gone to the store for dinner stuff. Instead, Christy snickered. Why? Because she had gone to the store too, and, among other things, purchased:
  • Bread for the boys’ lunches
  • Hamburger buns
  • Two pounds of meat
  • Lipton onion soup mix
  • Blue Bell ice cream
  • A two liter bottle of soda for the boys

So now we were double stocked up for our dinner, which was wonderful. But it goes to show that careful planning, even double purchasing, can make the journey ahead more successful. How many of you, when preparing for a long trip, spend hours the day before packing/strategizing/stressing? How many of you wake up, throw some things in a suitcase, and take off for the airport all at the same time? It probably doesn’t matter all that much, as long as you know where you are going. But what if you have to go on a trip and you have no idea what to pack? Or where you are going? Would that frighten you, or energize you?

The writer of Hebrews lifts up Abraham and Sarah as great models of faith, because God called them to go on that exact type of trip. God shows up, tells Abraham to leave behind family and familiarity, and take off into an unknown future. God promises him his descendants will be as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. And it’s enough. Abraham and Sarah pack up and take off. Even in their advanced years they are prepared to load up the RV, fill it up with gas, and hit the accelerator.

Hebrews Chapter 11 mentions not only Abraham and Sarah, but others heroes of the Bible who exemplified faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Hebrews 11 uses some form of the word faith twenty-four times, and the phrase “by faith,” referring to one or more of the characters just listed, eighteen times.

Faith is an unshattering trust in the promises of God. Abraham’s faith is specifically commended because it is focused on the far-away future, not the immediate. He is not faithful because he believes God will provide tonight’s place to sleep or tomorrow’s breakfast; he is faithful that God will bring him and his family to a home “not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens.” Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, and eventually Isaac, lived in tents, constantly moving from one place to another. They were travellers, sojourners. But Abraham knew one day he would come upon a city where he would no longer live in a tent: “They lived in tents while he looked forward to a city founded, designed, and built by God” (11:10).

This was a city Abraham would never live in during his earthly lifetime; but he looked forward into God’s future and saw the promise revealed. Abraham and Sarah died before seeing the fulfillment of the promise, and referred to themselves as strangers and nomads on the earth. “People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search for their real homeland. They could hardly have meant the country they came from, since they had the opportunity to return to it, but in fact they were looking for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland. This is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them” (vs. 13-16).

Last week’s gospel lesson focused on a farmer God considered a fool, because he was focused only on his own needs. He has an abundant crop one year, and instead of sharing with the hungry or investing in the lives of others he tears down his existing barns in order to build new, bigger ones. Following that parable Jesus offers his well-known promises that God provides all our needs: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life-- what you will wear or what you will eat. Life consists of more than food and clothing. Look at the ravens of the air and the lilies of the field… God provides for them, and God will provide for you” Putting it plainly, Jesus says, “Set your hearts on his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:22-32).

“Set your hearts on his kingdom” sounds alot like Abraham’s “looking for a better homeland, a heavenly homeland,” doesn’t it? The disciple lives in faith. God delivers on God’s promises. We do not need to be tied to earthly things: “Sell your possessions and give alms to the poor. Build up treasure in heaven, where no thief can break in and steal. Be dressed for action, like servants who have done their jobs and are ready when the boss returns home.” That parable of preparedness has a shocking turn: the master himself puts on an apron and serves the servants. Preparedness is a vital characteristic of a disciple, because we do not know when God will show up. We do not know when a great need will be presented. We do not know when we will have an opportunity to share the good news of Christ. We have to be ready for action. Listen to some challenging words of John Wesley on the readiness disciples must exhibit:

Yea, to-day, while it is called to-day, hear and obey his voice! At this hour, and from this hour, do his will: Fulfill his word, in this and in all things! I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of "the wisdom of the just." Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to Him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son: So "laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life!"

Think about it for a second: what is it in your life that is keeping you from being fully ready to follow Christ’s call to discipleship? Do you need more proof? Do you need more stuff? What are you afraid of? What is holding you back? Give it away! Rid yourselves of whatever would keep you from setting your minds and hearts on God’s heavenly kingdom. God calls us to faith. Faith is forward looking, focused on God’s long-term plans. It is our privilege and joy to invite others to see beyond current needs and wants into God’s future. Over and over in the New Testament folk saw themselves as moving from an earthly home to a heavenly home:

  • “So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are citizens like all the saints, and are part of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19)
  • “...You must be scrupulously careful as long as you are living away from your home (1 Peter 1:17)
  • “I urge you, my dear people, while you are visitors and pilgrims, to keep yourselves free from the selfish passions that attack the soul” (1 Peter 2:11)
  • And be patient: “Think of the farmer; how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!” (James 5:7)

So live your life in faith. Emulate those examples of faithful living cited in Hebrews, especially thinking today of Abraham and Sarah. They could not, they did not, have any idea what the future would hold for them. But when God called them, he found them ready for action. Live as those servants in Luke’s parable. The homeowner came home and found the place in order. And he rewarded the servants’ faithfulness by putting on an apron and serving them. Set your eyes on the heavenly city. Set your hearts on God’s kingdom, and your Father, who knows you need things like food and shelter and clothing will provide all this and more. Do not afraid; it pleases God to provide for us. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Go forth from this place in peace.
Go forth knowing your faith is the assurance of things you hope for
  and the conviction of that which you have yet to see with your eyes.
Go down from this mountaintop,
  setting out like Abraham, not knowing where God is leading.
Leave this service, not yet having received all the promises of God,
  but seeing them in the distance.
Press on in faith.
Step back into the "everydayness" of your life
  desiring to see God in heaven,
  not ashamed to be called God's people. Amen.