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Monday, October 09, 2006

Seminary Chapel Homily

Seminary Chapel Homily
October 9, 2006
Text:
Hebrews 11:8-16

There is a scene in The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, part of The Chronicles of Narnia, where three of the characters face a dilemma. They’d been given a set of commands to follow from Aslan the Lion, Lewis’s Christ-figure. But there is one moment when to follow the command of Aslan appears as if it could mean their destruction. So the characters debate amongst themselves. Should we obey the command of Aslan or not? What will happen to us if we do?

So the first character asked the second, “Do you mean you think everything will come right” if we do this. And second character responds, “I don’t know about that…. You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow should be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the Sign.” We are told throughout the Narnia series that Aslan is not a tame lion, but he is good.

In a similar way, there is no guarantee that following the commands of God will cause all things to go well in your life. In fact, you can almost count on the opposite to be true, that obedience will lead to suffering. Abraham did not know where God was leading Him. He did not know what would happen. For all he knew, God could have been taking him toward violence and disease and unhappiness. But then the words of Job come to mind, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him (Job 13:15).” We follow Jesus, not because He promises us an easy life, but because He is good. And because He has been good to us. Most especially by dying for our sins.

The Christian life can be compared to a journey. We are nomads who like Abraham walk by faith, who live in tents and look forward to a city with solid foundations. God has called us out of Harran toward the Promised Land. Out of darkness into light. Out of idolatry into truth.

Of course, when you travel, you can never be sure of the condition of your accommodations along the way. You might stay in a dilapidated place with cockroaches and dirty mattresses and stains on the carpet and no hot water. The smart traveler soon learns to bear such conditions because he knows them to be temporary. He knows that tomorrow night’s accommodations could be better or they could be worse.

Don’t become too settled in. For when you stay in a fleabag hotel, you don’t want to spend a lot of effort making the place more suitable. You won’t go out and buy new furniture for your room. You won’t paint the walls and replace the carpet. You won’t do those things, even if you could, because you know that this is just a stop along the way. Likewise, the Christian is an alien in a strange land. He’s never quite at home in this world.

So why set your heart on things which moth and rust destroy? The luster of this world’s treasures and trinkets has begun to tarnish already. We clamor foolishly for things which have no lasting value and neglect the eternal things.

A good example of this is popular televangelist Joel Osteen who wrote a bestselling book with the title Your Best Life NOW! It’s a theology of glory, a gospel of prosperity. He wants you to focus on the journey instead of the destination. People who say that the journey is the best part of the trip don’t really want to get to their destination very badly. The point of running a race is not the running. It is the prize at the end. Keep your eye on the goal, the fulfillment, the consummation. At best, people like Osteen will distract you and at worst, they’ll destroy your faith in God. One of the reasons people become disenchanted with Christianity is because they listen to fanatics who tell them to expect things from God which God has not promised to give. So one of you needs to write the book entitled Your Best Life is Yet to Come.

This is not mere escapism either. Pie in the sky when you die. Although what’s so wrong with escapism anyway? Is it strange for captives to desire to escape? Would it be better for prisoners instead to think only of prison cells and guards and bars on their windows? Doesn’t it make more sense for prisoners to look forward to the day of their release when they can see the blue sky and walk on the green grass? My friends, the stink of decay is all around us. It is a mark of true enlightenment to see that what the world calls progress is really regress, what the world calls life is really more akin to death and what the world calls freedom is really just another form of captivity.

That restlessness you feel, that sense that things aren’t right and that you don’t belong, that weariness with the world. To some extent, that is your heart pining for heaven. But sometimes I think we are not restless enough or at least not restless in the right ways.

Part of your task as preachers will be to stir up a sort of holy restlessness. In the liturgy, we have the sermon before the Eucharist for a reason, to make you hungry. Your preaching should make people desire the sacrament and likewise it should make people long for heaven, which is really pretty much the same thing. All good preaching is eschatological in the sense that it prepares us to die well.

Father Abraham was looking forward to the city … whose architect and builder is God. Many men throughout the ages have sought the golden city, the Shangri-La, the place where there will be no tears, or death, or sorrow, or crying. Sounds like Utopia. The word “utopia” comes from the two Greek words ou and topos, meaning “no place.” But there is such a place. Christ is preparing this place for us. You have a destination. You who have been baptized into Christ, you who have been pardoned by God. Your sins are forgiven. The power of Christ’s resurrection is pulsating through your bodies. You have been liberated from the tyranny of death and made free citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet fears the afterlife and calls it the undiscovered country and says the thought of death “makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others we know not of (Hamlet).” But death is not just a big dark mystery to us. The undiscovered country Hamlet refers to has been pioneered for us by our valiant Savior Jesus Christ. We have nothing to fear. He has civilized the wilderness. So we do not cling desperately to this mortal existence. No, the true sons of Abraham are longing for a better country – a heavenly one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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1 comment:

Carl said...

Thank you for a wonderful sermon, one needed not only for those about
to become pastors for us pastors as well. If I may have your permission, I'd like to pass this on to my grown children. Thanks!

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