Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

When I was growing up, I remember going to visit my grandparents in Traer, about 45 minutes away from Brooklyn (Iowa). We had a ritual at the end of trip: to watch for the Traer water tower. It’s like when you come up on Eveleth from the south, you can see the water tower before any of the town (the grain elevators in Traer are in the river bottom). So we had a contest to see who could see the water tower first, and we’d try to spot it over the treeline at the top of a hill. I remember what it looked like, a white tower with a red stripe. The water tower was better than the other landmarks along the way, because it meant that we were just about there, so I especially looked forward to it.

Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is this kind of expectancy, having our destination in sight even before we get there, watching for it even before it’s in sight. The author of Hebrews reminds us of Old Testament heroes of faith. These people were the church before Jesus came, eagerly awaiting a covenant that hadn’t yet entered into time. We especially look at Abraham and Sarah, who received the promise of descendants and land, yet spent their lives wandering in the land without possessing it. Hebrews sees in them an expectation of the “heavenly city” beyond all visible locations, a knowledge that this earthly sojourn is not the final word.

Faith lives in the expectation, the trust that our destination is coming. Faith trusts even without seeing the water tower. Even without landmarks to follow, faith trusts. Faith is trust. It’s not necessarily a clear vision of the goal so much as the trust that it’s there. Some of us trust our vision more than others. We “know” what our cosmic destination will look like when we get there. Others of us don’t see it, we just expect that we’ll get there. Sitting in the back seat of the car, I couldn’t have gotten to Traer, but I knew that my mom and dad could if I just stayed with them.

Abraham knew the destination. In fact, he lived there. But he didn’t know how to get there. He was homeless in his own land, still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Genesis says that when Abraham died, the only piece of ground he owned was Sarah’s grave. And yet, he died fulfilled, because the promise was enough. Even if he was waiting for a heavenly city, as Hebrews tells us, he wasn’t there yet. Nowhere in the world is heaven, but the promise was enough for Abraham.

So when is a promise enough? When can you bank on a promise? When the check written as the promise clears your bank, right? That goes for an anonymous check, anyway. On the other hand, if I were to write one (your trustworthy Eagle Scout of a pastor), you might consider my check more reliable. We might notice a difference in how much we trust people now. Many of us grew up knowing that people could be trusted, in a world where you could get informal credit at stores and so on. That doesn’t happen so much anymore. It’s not that people are less trustworthy now, it’s that people are less known. The world is more anonymous. That matters, because trusting someone’s promise comes from knowing the person.

If I had known the route, I could have gotten to Traer and back. As it was, I knew the landmarks that showed up every ten miles or so. However, sometimes we went farther. There are few landmarks between Iowa and Delaware, especially between the Mississippi River and Pennsylvania, but I was never worried about getting there. Mom and Dad were driving. Sometimes the route changed, even before I could read a map, but I still trusted that they knew the way. I knew them.

Abraham and Sarah knew whom they trusted, too, so they received the promise as truth, even without knowing where it would lead them. They trusted even without knowing how God would get them there, even as they lived in the promised land without being citizens of it! They trusted even when God threatened to take away Isaac, the promised descendant himself. They knew that faith is not about knowing the route or even really the destination, it’s about trust in God. Hebrews 11 is about these heroes of faith who trusted in the promises. They trusted a God they knew in a world they didn’t truly know.

In Luke, Jesus talks to his followers in a similarly unknown world. Life was still mysterious, the future was still unfolding at the horizon. The powers that be still held tight to the status quo, the economic system still profited from injustice. The road to God’s realm still looked rocky. Jesus still talks to an unknown world, where the future is still out beyond the horizon, where communities and ways of life are still changing. Our kids move away, our loved ones pass on, our health declines, we wonder about the world our young people will inherit. You know your own unfolding mysteries.

Jesus’ followers had these same unknowns in their own unique forms, and Jesus said to them – and Jesus says to us – “don’t be afraid.” It’s been said that this is the whole message of the Bible: “don’t be afraid.” Live in faith, because God wants to share the realm of life with all people. The letter to the Hebrews says, “don’t be afraid. The God who made the universe from nothing can make a future from that invisible nothing too.” Remember those heroes of faith, who knew and trusted God. God was faithful to them, and that same God is with you now.

God is with us. Sometimes God calls us to seek her will again, sometimes he shows himself differently than we had imagined, but God is always with us. God may change clothes or guide us down roads we don’t know, but it’s the same God. So the Spirit, through these texts, invites us not to fear, to put our trust deeply in the One we know even beyond knowledge, and to follow joyfully.

You know God. God is far beyond knowing and deep beyond understanding, but God comes to us in ways that we can know. You know your God, as God comes especially to you: in scripture, prayer, worship, or laughter. In service, silence, music, or human love. Your heart knows God, your mind knows God. Your life has been guided by God before, and even if today seems dark, God is still God. The God who was with you still is with you. God is still well pleased to share the realm of life with you, and God is still driving. So we can eagerly expect what comes next, because the next hill may reveal heaven’s water tower. Let me know if you see it first!

Amen.

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