Scripture for this Week

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16 NRSV

Every time I visit the valley where I grew up, I have a longing to live there again. I don’t know if it is some weird sentimentality or a sincere desire to be rooted in a place where I have a history. As a United Methodist pastor, I’m a stranger and foreigner in the places I live. It makes me think of the exiles. In Israel, all of the exiles were known by name. They weren’t just anonymous Israelites stuck in a foreign land.

Abraham left for a foreign land as well, and left behind his identity as Terah’s boy and Nahor’s grandson. He knew every back road and side street in Ur, but he didn’t know the land where God was sending him. Abram could point out every house and tell you who lived there for two generations, but he left it behind.

I’ll bet Abraham thought about the land he left behind all the time. The author of Hebrews tells us he had the opportunity to return, and we all have that opportunity as well. We could settle down on a nice piece of land and do what it takes to make a living and practice an easy faith. Wouldn’t that work?

Hebrews also tells us that these strangers and foreigners desired a better country. I’m reminded of the song, “Sweet Beulah Land,” by Squire Parsons:

I’m kind of homesick for a country
to which I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
And time won’t matter anymore

Beulah land I’m longing for you,

and someday on thee I’ll stand.
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah land…sweet Beulah land.

I’m looking now across that river
to where my faith is gonna end in sight.
There’s just a few more days to labor,
then I’ll take my heavenly flight.

Beulah land I’m longing for you,
and someday on thee I’ll stand.
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah land…sweet Beulah land.

The strangers and foreigners who are our predecessors in the faith longed for a better country and I pray that I’ll desire that country too. Their witness is powerful; no wonder God is not ashamed to be called their God.

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