“A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 4, 2018

“A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about “the caravan.” I’m referring of course to the migrant caravan working its way up through Mexico, heading for the border with the U.S.A. These are not U.S. citizens. Now many of them may be seeking a better life here in America and have good intentions. But there could also be MS-13 gang members, criminals, drug dealers, terrorists, and others who do not want to enter legally, mixed in the crowd. Therefore, immigration officials and Homeland Security would have to screen these people before they let them in. And with such a huge number of them, it may not be manageable.

So the question is: What will happen to the people in the caravan when they get there? Some think we should just let them in. Others say we cannot just let people waltz right in. If they want to enter, they will need to get in line, wait to be processed, and then, if they qualify, they can enter, legally. We’ll see what happens.

Now today, dear friends, I want to talk to you about another caravan. This too is a large group of people all traveling together, all heading in the same direction. And guess what? You are part of this caravan! Yes, you, if you are a believer in Christ and a member of his church. A great caravan–“a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” We are all moving together, heading for a better country. And when we get there, we will not be stopped. Rather, we will be gladly welcomed in. For you and I are already citizens of that homeland. We already have security clearance. Right now, we’re just passing through, heading on our way there. Thus our theme on this All Saints’ Day: “A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!”

Yes, it’s All Saints’ Day, and today we think about that great throng of God’s saints, his holy people from all times and places, who have gone before us. We’re all heading for the same destination. “We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” Look up there, toward the front of the caravan! Is that Abraham and Sarah I see? Why, yes, I think it is! And there–isn’t that Moses and Aaron? Yep, sure enough! Oh, and look–King David! And there are a bunch of prophets–Isaiah and Jeremiah and the rest. Mary, the mother of our Lord. Mary Magdalene, too. And John the Baptist–you can pick him out by his weird clothing. St. Paul! St. Peter! St. John and St. Matthew! Oh, wait! There’s even a bunch of saints coming after them. St. Athanasius. St. Ambrose. And can that be Martin Luther and Katie? Yes, it is.

But look, there are so many more of these saints we don’t recognize. I don’t know them by name–at least not yet. I guess that’s why they call this “All” Saints–because there are so many of them who were not famous. But they were faithful. They may not have been celebrities. But we do celebrate them today. Or rather, today we are celebrating God’s amazing grace to call so many of us, well-known or unknown, big names or no-names, very pious saints, as well as us skin-of-our teeth sinners–to call all of us to faith in our Savior Jesus Christ and to make us all part of this great caravan of pilgrims.

This caravan of pilgrims–listen to how the writer to the Hebrews describes this traveling band. Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, 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, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Here the writer is talking about Old Testament saints like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah–the Hall of Fame of Faith, as it were. But he’s also talking about us. For we too are looking forward in faith, faith borne of God’s promises. We haven’t reached the final fulfillment of those promises yet, but we’re on our way. We know it’s a sure thing. That’s what faith is, trust in the certainty of God’s promises.

So we know we have a heavenly homeland we’re heading to. For now, though, we are marching in the caravan of pilgrims on the way. We realize that we are strangers and exiles here in this world. We are in the world, but not of it. Our citizenship has been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. So now as we are trudging through the darkness on the way home, we feel out of place. Because we are. Strangers and exiles are we. We don’t share the same values as the world around us. We have this internal monitor in us, regulated by the Holy Spirit, that tells us when we’re straying off the path. The ways of the world are not God’s ways. Indeed, they are a dead end. When we get lured and tempted to go the world’s way, we need to heed the Lord’s call to return and repent.

We are exiles now. We’re like Judah of old, sitting by the waters of Babylon, longing to go home. How long shall we sing the songs of Zion here in a foreign land? As we sang: “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” It’s your home, too, and we’re on the way.

We are seeking a homeland. This is not it. Not Bonne Terre. Not Missouri. Not America. This is not our homeland. But we can see it from here. From here in church, I mean. Here we get a glimpse of the glories on ahead. Here we get a foretaste of the feast to come. Because Jesus is here. He has promised to be where even two or three are gathered in his name. Here our Lord picks us up when we stumble. Here our Lord speaks peace to our troubled hearts. Here our Lord feeds us with waybread for the journey. We are strengthened for the road ahead.

This caravan of pilgrims–today we especially remember those who have gone on ahead of us from our own congregation over the past twelve months. And they would be Gertrude Mertsch and Tex Labus. They are the faithful departed we commemorate today. They each came from a land where they were born and raised, and they were with us here for a while, but they also were seeking a better homeland.

Our dear sister Gertrude–she was born and raised in Silesia, in southern Germany. After the war, she and Albert were living in Prussia, and that was part of Communist East Germany. But after some years, she and Albert were able to come over to America and resettle as refugees in St. Louis. And that’s how she ended up here, with us. How we miss her! What a dear lady! But she too was seeking a better homeland. And like all the faithful departed, Gertrude will be raised bodily and see her Lord face to face on the day when Christ returns.

And then there’s Tex. “Emerick” was his name, but everybody called him “Tex.” You know those Texans. They’re pretty proud of being from that state. Texas used to be its own country, and lots of Texans still think of it that way. But Tex Labus was looking for a better country. It wasn’t Texas. It wasn’t Missouri. It’s the heavenly country that awaits us all.

But what will happen when we get to the border? Will we get in? Or will we be turned away? If it were just on the basis of our record, we would be turned away. The Law book says, “No sinners allowed.” You won’t get in that way. But, thank God, there is another way in. Through Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the only way, into God’s kingdom. Jesus shed his blood to cancel the record of your sins. They are no longer held against you, because Jesus, the very Son of God, already paid the penalty for those sins. The record book is wiped clean. Now your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. When that book is opened, your name will be in there, and you will be greeted with a hearty “Welcome in! We’ve been waiting for you!”

Dear friends, our citizenship is in heaven. You have a true birthright citizenship, given to you on the day you were baptized. God has claimed you for his own, bestowing on you the name of the triune God. The Holy Spirit is keeping you in the one true faith, by means of Word and Sacrament. You will make it on your journey. And you are not traveling alone. You’ve got this whole family of pilgrims traveling with you. This caravan is called the church. We are a band of brothers and sisters, all heading for our homeland. And you can be sure you will get there. God’s Word promises it, and he will do it.

Fellow redeemed, in this world we are strangers and exiles. This world is not our home. But by God’s grace in Christ, we also are all saints, God’s holy people, citizens of heaven. And we are heading for our homeland. So today we have reason to rejoice, O pilgrim throng! For we are a caravan of pilgrims–and we have homeland security!

O sweet and blessed country,
The home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country
That faithful hearts expect!
In mercy, Jesus, bring us
To that eternal rest
With You and God the Father
And Spirit, ever blest.

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Published in: on November 3, 2018 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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