'For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.' Hebrews 13:14
Brothers and sisters, what is it that kids always do on British beaches? Surely it is the building of sand castles. One year I can remember challenging my sister to build the biggest and best sandcastle we could using anything we could find. I rushed down the beach and began building with the best wet sand. With the sand already damp, I thought I could save time, and my castle would hold together better. Meanwhile my sister, who was higher up the beach, was building with drier sand, and a little bit of water from a nearby spring. I smiled, I could see myself winning already. Thirty minutes later, I had a pretty impressive castle. My sister on the other hand, had a much more modest castle, the walls kept drooping because the sand was drier, and all in all, it was far less impressive. However, as I lay in the sand watching my sister work, a sudden shout from my mum, made me look up just in time to see the first wave cover my beautiful castle. I’m pleased to say, it survived that first assault, but within minutes, it was all gone, and I had nothing to show for my labours. Needless to say, my sister won the competition.
In Hebrews 13—and especially v14—we have something similar, to my experience on the beach: ’For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’. Though Hebrews is often quite complicated, there are simple illustrations which the author uses to clearly and simply make his point. And verse 14—which is one such metaphor—is as relevant today as it has always been. Today, many of us will have asked—or are asking—the same sorts of questions. How can I make a lasting difference in life? Does my life have any meaning? Is this all there is? In society in general, there is an increasing number of people suffering from depression, and an increasing number of young people in particular, struggling with direction in life. And when we pause for a moment, and lift our eyes from everyday life, it’s not difficult to see why. To many people—not just young people—it is easy to picture life, a lot like my sand castle. We spend hours and days, months and years, working hard to produce something impressive. We spend all our talents, all our money, and all of our health, in working to create something that will last, only for the tide of time, to quickly wash it away. And with life seeming more and more like my sandcastle, is it any wonder, that people just hoard what they can, and spend time trying to find pleasure in the here and now? When this attitude is prevalent, we don’t have to go far, before we find a society where not only is stuff disposable, but so are people, and so is the planet. If nothing lasts—if the tide of time will quickly wash it all away—then why bother caring for anyone, or anything? The author of Hebrews—though—has a very different view of life, for the author is a Christian, and a Christian who may well have witnessed, the most amazing event in history. An event so amazing, that it made it possible for anyone and everyone, to inhabit a city—not like my sandcastle—but much more like my sister’s. That is a sandcastle—or rather a city—which will last forever. This historical event, was of course the resurrection. As we are reminded in v12 of our passage, Jesus died that first Good Friday, so that we could have a clean slate, a new beginning from all our mistakes, and all of our futile attempts to build sandcastles which will not last. With that clean slate achieved—with forgiveness made available—Jesus rose again, promising a new world which would last forever. And because of Jesus’ promise—of a new world, of a new city—we can have hope. Hope that death is not the end. Hope that all we might do is not in vain. And hope that we are able to give our lives for something which will endure forever. There is now—because of Easter—the option for all of us to look forward and to prepare for the coming of the city of God. With both Jesus’ forgiveness and the possibility of work which will not be washed away by the tides of time, we can look forward with hope, and invest in this new kingdom, giving our all to this new city, which will last forever.
But how can we possibly contribute to something which lasts forever? This new city is not laboured for in the usual way, nor with the usual tools. The city of God—which we are told in the last chapters of the bible is fundamentally a gift from God—is not something which we build, but something which we prepare for. As Jesus put it in John 15: ‘I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last’. And the fruit which will last, is the fruit of love. The author of Hebrews, spells it out: ’Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.’ Our first labour of love—our first work which will last forever— is the work of praise. Of singing with our lips, that which we believe in our hearts; of speaking the story of Jesus to those who will listen. However, praise is not the only way to respond. The author continues: ‘And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased’. Caring for those around us, sharing Jesus with those who do not know Him, and loving each person as we have been loved by God. This is the work, which will last forever, and which will continue in the city which will forever endure. So, keep visiting your elderly neighbour; keep sharing your faith with your agnostic work colleague; keep singing in the choir; and keep buying the homeless man at the end of your street a warm meal. The world may scorn you—as they scorned Jesus—for they will see your acts as insignificant. But to those of us with hope—to those of us looking for the city of God—these works of love are the only type of work which is worth doing, for they are the only work which will endure for eternity. We have in v.14 the antidote to the hopelessness and to the lack of meaning which marks our world. We may ask those questions which we repeated before, and find in this world a city which is like a sandcastle about to be washed away by the tide. But having met Jesus—having heard the gospel—we find hope, and with hope we find our purpose. Knowing that the city of God is coming, let us look forward in hope. And as we look forward in hope let us work with all our might for fruit that will last. Amen (from Fr Mike)