1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. …
13 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. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 ESV)
Abraham is that man who never received the things promised.
He heard, he listened, he trusted, and he believed. In things he would never live to see.
This is what faith is.
I don’t have a home. I am a sojourner through this world, at home nowhere, belonging to no one, no kin have I who will claim me, a stranger and an exile everywhere I go. Like Abraham, I wander, a promise in hand not for myself but for my descendants.
I want a home, and I shall never have one. My home is wherever I put up my tent, water and feed my stock, sleep and wake with Jennifer. I desire a better country, a tribe that will claim me, but I shall never have that and shall never live there. I have a promise of belonging but I shall never belong.
I believe. I trust God. I thought I might live to see the promise of God, to hold it in my hand, to live in it and breathe it and be it. But instead, it is far off, a shimmer on the horizon, more mirage than substance. It is real, but only because God has made that promise, and not because I actually have hold of it.
We who are church are too at home in the world. Too comfortable with place, too attached to a people, too convinced that the way we have come to live is the promise God has made to us and to all people for all time. There is something to be learned from those who wander, that we too grasp the promise of God, perhaps more fully, because we cannot easily mistake the way we live for the promise of God.
As church, we must remember the only promise we have that means anything is that we shall be raised from the dead. Yes, we shall be a blessing and have a homeland and descendants more numerous than the stars in the heavens, but every time we actually try to secure those promises for ourselves, we fail — we act rashly and unjustly, we confuse means and ends, and we think impermanent things are really the promises God made to us all along.
We are exiles, wanderers, just passing through. That is who we really are.