In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning! So I was recently in a foreign land, much like Abraham as we just heard in the passage from Hebrews. Well okay probably not that much like Abraham. But I’m one of those people that loves traveling to new places but HATES the actual travel part. Every form of transportation scares me on some level. And so I hit a low point in London where we’d been trying to understand how the Underground works all day, got off, realized we missed our boat tour that we had already paid for and was nonrefundable, and then Brian accidentally stepped on my toe really hard. Poor me, right? I thought so. So we found a bathroom where I could clean up the blood on my foot and realized you had to pay to use the public bathrooms, and it was in this moment looking at coins to figure out which queen’s head coin was worth what that my eyes start welling up with tears and all I want is to be home in Charlottesville Virginia alone on my couch with my cat.
We’ve probably all felt homesick while traveling, but we also sometimes feel it in ways we don’t expect, like when we’re at home . For example, Fridays are the start of my weekend, and every Thursday night I get excited thinking about how I’ll spend those hours to myself. And then I wake up Friday morning, sit on the couch with my coffee and my cat in my lap – the same happy place that I wanted when I was crying in front of the bathroom in London – and think “hmmm. Everyone I could hang out with right now is at work.” And I’m already bored. I thought I wanted to be alone, I think Friday off will be the best thing ever, and then it comes and it’s fine . But that’s it. I’m home, but I still have that homesick feeling.
In the passage we just heard from Hebrews, the author describes Abraham’s journey to a distant and foreign land to receive an inheritance promised by God. And the text says that he felt like a stranger and exile on the earth, a man seeking a homeland. We can relate to this feeling of being a stranger in our homesickness, right? Maybe we had expectations for how something ought to be, and it isn’t what we’d hoped. We feel dissatisfied and miss what we don’t have. We romanticize travel, and then we feel homesick when we’re away. Or we romanticize being home, and then feel homesick when we’re at home. And sometimes we feel homesick even surrounded by the people we love the most.
Think about your last family vacation. It’s fresh on our minds, it’s that time of the year. You plan it out for 6 months ahead of time. In my family, everyone has conflicting opinions, but you somehow manage to plan it anyways. You finally get there, and no one wants to do the same thing. You went on a beach vacation, but half the people don’t actually want to go to the beach. For some reason we have vacation amnesia and have these high expectations for the perfect week with the people we love, and we all manage to hurt each other’s feelings by the end of it.
We think something’s going to be perfect, and it’s not. We desire something more. Things fall flat. We forget that London is dirty and the Underground is crowded, and you actually are not at all a city person.
One of my favorite songwriters, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, wrote a beautiful song called Riches and Wonders with the line “I keep you safe from harm, you hold me in your arms, and I want to go home, but I am home.” And in a podcast interview about the song, Darnielle says “when I say ‘I want to go home’, it’s sad. It means I want to leave this place…and yet he (the narrator of the song) is in love, but he can’t rid himself of the desire to go home to another place…I want to go home, but unfortunately I am already home.” There’s something in us that wants something that isn’t here. We have a deep desire for things to be good and perfect, but that’s not what we experience. And in a relationship like this song describes, that can be a troubling insight. Eventually I think a beautiful, healing, and gracious one, as we feel inspired to have grace for each other, but at first it’s kind of terrible. I remember right after getting married realizing that marrying Brian didn’t solve all of my problems and that was a rude awakening. Nothing in this life, whether it’s our family, our vacation, our marriage, our Friday off, nothing fully satisfies like we always hope and think it will. There’s something in us that desires something more. Homesickness can be when you’re away from home, homesickness can be when you’re at home, homesickness can even be in our relationships.
And then, of course, we experience homesickness for a better world in larger, systemic, dark, and horribly sad ways. Two years ago this weekend, we saw people of color not feel at home and safe in our city. The African Americans that have endured the darkest racist history, and a dark racist present, may not feel at home in their neighborhoods in this country. Things are not as they ought to be. We are all seeking a homeland where we can finally rest.
The author of Hebrews says “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” The way that Abraham set out without knowing where he was going was by faith. And it was by faith because that’s all he had. He had nowhere else to go except to the foreign land. Remember, Abraham is married to Sarah who is barren, and his God tells him to move to a distant land and you will do well and you will have tons of kids. Which was very important then. So of course he did it! Abraham walked by faith because he was helpless. He was at the end of his rope. So he walked and endured homesickness.
This is our story too. We experience homesickness for a perfect country or perfect relationships, and we feel a pain in us that says “something is not right” . We say the provoking thing to our spouse for the third time in a week and remember – communicating is hard and I can be very selfish. For example.
This feeling of homesickness, of desiring another place, of knowing in our hearts that this is not the way things ought to be, isn’t something that we have to conjure within ourselves to have better faith. It’s not something Christians should feel, I don’t want you to think that a good Christian ought to feel less at home. It’s something no one ought to feel. It’s just something that we all experience all the time. This is the human condition – to be always somewhat unsatisfied, even in happy moments, in everyday small ways, and in deep and systemic ways. We may not even realize that we’re desiring something specific, a different home, the city that has foundations, but I think we all are, every day.
And knowing that we all feel this homesickness, remembering our common humanity, can lead us to have compassion for each other. It connects us. It helps us to forgive one another when we step on each other’s toes, or say something unkind to someone we love.
But God gives us more than just community and compassion for one another in our common humanity, as wonderful and important as that is. It’s at this place of hopelessness and homesickness where we meet our crucified Lord and where we meet hope. We do the only thing we can do in our hopelessness, and we look to the cross.
It’s here, at the cross, where we see the essence of homesickness. From the line of Abraham, the man who we read in this passage left his home because he desperately desired a legacy of children, from his line we finally received our savior, the one who could relieve us of our pain. Our Lord left his home on the throne, and came to our distant and foreign and crooked land as a baby in a mother’s arms. And he was homesick often. He was tempted. He wept. He prayed in the early mornings. He asked for God to take the cup of suffering from him because he knew what it meant. But thank God his will is not the same as our will, and he did not fall into despair. He also did not force joy. He walked willingly to the cross, where his blood was poured out and his body broken. He endured this world of sin, took it upon his body, felt deep homesickness from his home with his Father, so that we, his beloved children, could finally be restored to our true home.
This is the good news, and it’s our one hope in a world of homesickness and dissatisfaction. Our God knows what we feel, personally and deeply, and he walks with us. He loves us truly and fully in our honest human condition, in all our ungratefulness and dissatisfaction, and he welcomes us home, finally, into his arms, forever. Where there is redemption, healing, and eventually, no more tears.
Where there is a city with strong foundations and a resurrected Jesus. And it’s here, today, remembering that promise of God where you can exhale, and know that he has not forgotten you in your homesickness and he will not let you go. Amen.