Wayfaring Stranger

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 15:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

 

Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the faithful may not see God’s Kingdom or promised land fully and in this life. In his last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” he said this:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

-MLK Jr. Speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” 3 April 1968

Many prophets of old and of today have yearned to see the Promised Land. Many have worked hard to see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Many have looked forward to the city whose architect is God. And yet we still wait for what is unseen, sure in what we hope for.

Abraham received a call from God to travel to the land he had been promised. God promised Abraham the land of what would be Israel and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and grains of sand on the beach. After his many labors including war, encounters with angels, family drama, and more, Abraham found himself on his deathbed. At the end of his life he had not yet been given the entire land of Israel, but a small plot of land. At the end of his life, he had not yet had descendants as numerous as the stars, but only two sons, Ishmael, who was cast out from his own home, and Isaac who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.

Moses, by God’s hand, delivered his people out of slavery in Egypt. He helped the Israelites escape the clutches of Pharaoh and wandered with his people in the wilderness for 40 long years. After laboring through war, internal bickering, food scarcity, family drama, and more, Moses neared the end of his life. God brought Moses to the top of Mount Nebo to see the land he had been journeying so long to find, but told him that he would not enter it. Moses died never actually stepping foot in the promised land.

The list could go on and on with folks who have been given the promise of God’s reign on earth, lived a life of faith in response to that promise, but did not ultimately see it come to pass in their lifetime.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many other prophets waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise that the Jewish people in exile would one day be brought back to Israel and establish a kingdom of justice and mercy that would last forever. But they ultimately died before that promise was realized.

Paul, Peter, Bartholomew, John, and many other apostles waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of the return of Jesus and his Kingdom of abundant life to be actualized here on earth. But they ultimately died before that promise was realized.

Martin Luther King Jr. waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of an end to racial segregation and all of God’s children, black, brown, and white, to truly live as sisters and brothers.

 

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of an end to military violence against its own citizens and for swords to be beaten into plowshares.

 

The audience to which the author of Hebrews writes has endured many trials. On account of their faith in Jesus, they have been thrown in prison, plundered, abused, and publicly ridiculed (Hebrews 10:32-34). They are waiting for a time when they will be set free from these powers of the world and they are waiting on God’s promise to give them rest and true peace.

We too continue to wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

For those struggling to make ends meet, who have to decide whether or not to put food on the table or refill their prescriptions- we hope in the promise spoken through Isaiah: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

For those who are living with a deadly or debilitating disease or love someone living with a deadly or debilitating disease, we hope in the promise expressed by the psalmist: “O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” (Psalm 30:2-3).

For those surrounded by violence- for those whose loved ones lose their life to war, for those whose neighbors are being gunned down in their own streets- we hope in the promise of God to one day have our swords beat into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks (Micah 4:3).

For those systematically oppressed and left in poverty, shame, and pain because of their race, gender, sexuality, family- we hope in the promise of God to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24).

Christian life is not easy. Faith is no easy thing. Countless of the faithful before us have endured many trials and held out hope for the actualization of God’s promises without seeing it come to full fruition. We are called to continue to have hope. We remember that countless others have been given the gift of faith to trust God’s promises of new and abundant life, of everlasting justice and peace, and enduring mercy even though they did not see the fullness of those promises realized. Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Abraham, Paul, Peter, Bartholomew, John, Martin, Oscar, and more have been so transformed and empowered by the love of God that they boldly waited, worked, and believed that God would see to it that God’s promises were fulfilled.

We continue to encourage each other to keep faith that is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. We must remind each other that God’s will is the one that will ultimately be done. We must lovingly remind each other that the world we occupy and the injustices, sin, and death that inhabit it is not what God’s city ultimately looks like. We must lovingly remind each other that, like Abraham and Sarah, we are staying in a promised land as though we were living in a foreign land. Injustice, sin, and death will not last, and even if we do not live to see the day when our land truly becomes God’s promised land, we must lovingly remind ourselves of the steadfast love of God that does not fail and will see this through.

The early 19th century song, Wayfaring Stranger, describes this journey well. The life of faith is one where we journey to God’s Promised Land where death and sin are no more, but the vision of that Land propels us to keep journeying. God will deliver God’s promised land and that hope guides our journey in life so that we might live out the joy, peace, justice, understanding, and life that we hope for.

 

Wayfaring Stranger

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger

Traveling through this world alone

And there’s no sickness, toil or danger

In that bright land to which I go

And I’m going there to see my mother

And I’m going there no more to roam

And I’m only going over Jordan

And I’m only going over home now

 

And I know dark clouds will gather me

And I know my way is rough and steep

And the beautiful fields that lie just beyond me

And I know my needs are rough and steep

 

And I’m going there to see my mother

And I’m going there no more to roam

And I’m only going over Jordan

And I’m only going over home now

 

Cause I am a poor, wayfaring stranger

Traveling through this world alone

And there’s no sickness, toil or danger

In that bright land to which I go

And I’m going there to see my mother

And I’m going there no more to roam

And I’m only going over Jordan

And I’m only going over home now

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