Reflections on Hebrews 11:8-12 by Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace

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.
By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old –
and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised.
Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead,
descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and
as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
Hebrews 11:8-12

How often do we think of ‘faith’ as it relates to those ancient and “great ancestors” of our Christian heritage? I find that I often think of those “courageous” saints upon whose faithful witness and shoulders we are able to stand. I find much encouragement in remembering their acts of faithfulness – whether it be Moses leading through the wilderness against all odds; Esther – revealing her identity in order to save a people; Ruth – leaving a familiar life to walk with her mother-in-law; Joseph, who forgives past injustice and opens his life of privilege and security to those who had wronged him; or Abraham – who leaves all behind to go to new and unknown land. How about the disciples – who leave family and friends for a mission that clearly turned in an unexpected direction? Then, there are, of course, the more contemporary heroes that have shaped our minds. Consider Martin Luther King, Jr. and his quest for righteous equality. How about Mother Theresa who in her simplicity gave human touch, hope and acceptance to those rejected by the world? In the face of these and other great witnesses, it is easy to perceive our own faith journeys as bland, irrelevant or convenient at best. Perhaps you have asked yourself on an occasion – how would I fare if faced with such monumental challenges? Would I be willing to touch those others reject? Would I risk imprisonment for my understanding of the Gospel? Would I find it in my heart to forgive those who have intentionally hurt me? Would I be willing to risk my security in order to save others? Would I be willing to lead into an unknown future? Would I be willing to leave the comforts of my life to build a new life in a new land with a new people? These questions are the themes of great movies. These questions are the themes of our lives. What role does faith play for you and me? How are we like those great people of faith before us?

I am struck by the fact that many of the great heroic figures of faith – like Abraham – are called to live nomadic-style lives. I used to have a literal understanding of ‘nomadic lifestyle,’ which allowed me to think “faith” of this importance was limited to a few chosen men and women. That was my way of rationalizing that not everyone is called to this “Abrahamic” kind of lifestyle or level of faith. As I grow older, and at times, even wiser, I’ve come to understand this ‘nomadic lifestyle’ in new ways. Nomadic, in a spiritual sense, does not necessarily require our leaving our homelands or homes. It is clear that many of us will live in the same place for many years. Nomadic should not be limited to physical transplanting from one location to another. Instead, I believe ‘nomadic’ includes the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical challenges of moving beyond and letting go of the human symbols that offer us security and compliancy to ways of life – ways of life that include thinking and acting in manners that do not reflect the values of the one Jesus in whom we claim to believe and follow. It is this call to move beyond that will require us to call on “Abrahamic-like” faith in ways that challenge and even surprise us.

It is my belief that each of us has been called in one way or another to venture out in faith – into places and spaces unimaginable and at times, even unwelcomed by us. I believe that we are each called to step out of what keeps us complacent and comfortable into places that make us nervous and uncomfortable – deep places where we turn to God for sustenance and guidance. In fact, today I would argue that when we find ourselves feeling too complacent and smug about our views and lifestyle, it is probably time to reflect seriously on whether or not we are living out the values of our faith. And if not, it is probably time to be ‘nomadic.’ It is probably time to once again step outside those values back into the values of our faith.

This is a wonderfully rich text in that it invites me to think about those whose faith has served as a courageous example for my own life. It invites me to think about the many ways that faith has sustained me through these deeper and difficult times; of how faith in God; faith in the companionship of our Lord Jesus and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, has carried me through those wilderness moments into new possibilities.

I love the truth that God keeps calling us into new places and spaces of possibilities, allowing for new life – even when and especially when we can’t imagine what it will be. I love even more that you and I are descendants of faith. I love the imagery of the stars and the grains of sands that represent each of those who have gone before us and who will follow. We are blessed to be part of an intricate tapestry, rich with examples and stories that strengthen our own journey; journeys of those who have been invited, responded, fallen and been redeemed. As you begin this week, I invite you to reflect on how your faith has been sustained by the stories of the past. I invite you also to reflect on how you have been invited (willingly or not) into a “nomadic” season – and how faith in the God of creation has accompanied you along the journey. And as you do so – know also, that your faith serves as encouragement for mine own.