“Stop the boats” has become a central election slogan for both parties in this election campaign. That name “Asylum seeker” has come to be associated with negative things, like cheat, illegal, stupid, unfortunate, preyed upon, misled……
We hear the stories of people leaving their own country and being named, “Asylum seeker”, and wonder, what would you have to be hoping for to be an asylum seeker? What would you be certain of? How motivated by a hope would you need to be to trust some dodgy person with your life savings as you step on to a very rickety and severely cramped boat for a 2000km sea journey with your loved ones in tow? You would have to have a great hope of finding a better place – a place of asylum, safety, prosperity – life.
This word from the writer to the Hebrews speaks of God’s people in the past (before Jesus) seeking “a better country”, a better place – seeking asylum with God in the world.
“People are looking for a country of their own……they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them”.
Friends, are we seeking God’s asylum these days? Unlike the home country of people wanting to run the gauntlet and reach our shores because of poverty, oppression and hopelessness, we are happy to be here for the most part. Are we or should we be desperate enough to risk all for God’s new heavenly country called, “The Kingdom of God”, as Jesus named it?
Whether we are still seeking God’s new country as intensely as assylum seekers on boats, or have even a minimal interest in what God is offering, God is not ashamed of people looking for something – a better country, a heavenly country, a place of belonging. God is not ashamed of asylum seekers who seek his better place.
I got to thinking…….
What seen or unseen things am I absolutely certain about?
• I am alive right now.
• I will always pay tax.
• I will always be an Australian
• I have people in my life that love me, depend on me and will always do that.
• I have people around me that I will know for some time – short or long.
• I will experience conflict, hurt and pain of all kinds in the future.
• I will experience some good moments – achievements, places, mile stones of myself and my family.
• I will experience grief and loss in various ways – some very painful, some not so.
• I will die sometime – it could be any time.
• I don’t know where I will live or work in the future – maybe you do.
• I don’t know who I will work with in the future – maybe you do.
• I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow or after that – I know you don’t know that for sure either – even if you have planned it out.
When we think like this two emotions might be near – One is exhilaration: The future is open. Good things can happen in our lives. We can see new things, live new experiences and find new people and joys. We can see God in new ways.
The second is deflating for the ego. We hit the realty that we don’t know much really. We hit the realty that we can’t see much and that we certainly cannot control much! I am not as big or as important or as good as I think I am.
As a modern person I tend to put my faith in technology and work. If I get the right stuff then I will create conditions for illusive happiness. If I work a lot and make a lot then I will be able to get a lot of the things I need to create the conditions for “happiness” for myself and my family and friends – maybe even the country or the world!
But when I hear this “Faith Hall of Fame” that the writer to the Hebrews speaks of, I hear nothing of working hard or buying technology or things. Obviously in the Creator’s scheme of things, his “better country”, has not much to do with either hard work or achievements or things.
He says our hope comes from a “faith that is being certain of the things we already hope for and certain of things we do not even see”.
So, what do we hope for and what don’t we see? Let’s think about that now…..
What am I really hoping for?
• To see more of God’s world.
• To enjoy life with family.
• To work in a role that fulfils my aspirations
• To contribute something good to the world
• To live a long time?
• To see the grandkids come along
• To ride my bike tomorrow.
• To witness another WC Eagles Premiership (wait a long time for that one!)
So it seems that we are all asylum seekers; small and great and God is not ashamed of us. In our pondering of life and the future and our certainties, we are actually seeking God and his presence. With the promises of God in our ears – the promise of belonging, community, life, forgiveness – we are actually all seeking his better country, his better city he has prepared for us. We have a deep longing inside of us to search for a find God’s certain hope of a better way, a better place, a better life in him.
All these people the writer to the Hebrews holds up as people who hoped for things unseen and who were certain of the things for which they hoped did so because they were in relationship to God. We need the same.
He goes so far as to say that all these people of faith only saw the better country from a distance because they were waiting for us to join them before entering it in full. They knew God’s power and grace. We know it more than them because the new country has come to us – Jesus has brought God’s heavenly country to us in person and it is there we live and move and have our being – with Jesus.
By the cross and the tomb, Jesus has opened up the new country for us and these OT witness of God’s grace. We are not just looking at the new country from a distance, we are in it already – in part, but soon, fully. By our baptism we entered it and by God’s sustaining word we are sustained in the heavenly country.
Friends, are you longing for this new country of God’s these days? Are you still seeking his all embracing love and acceptance in your very soul?. In your list of things hoped for, is God’s affirmation and love for you and his promises to keep you in his future for you there?
You may have given up on anything good in your future. You may have replaced God’s future with your own – thereby going it alone and “hoping for the best”.
God calls out to us today and invites us back into his future for us. He calls us to receive certainty of his presence, his enduring and broad love and kindness for each of us. He reminds us that we have a place at his table and share his family name and that we have one foot in the new country and one foot still on the journey to it with him.
A wonderful prayer by Thomas Merton goes well with this reading, and we can almost imagine the letter-writer including it as a closing: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone” (Thoughts in Solitude).