Let’s face it, we are living through some challenging times. It seems that every way we turn something tragic is going on in the world. I sometimes wonder if it is really a good thing to be able to see and hear about every tragedy that goes on immediately. If we could somehow spread out the problems so that you didn’t face a pandemic, a hurricane, a tragic ending to a long war in a very difficult part of the world, plus the normal kinds of challenges that go on all the time, it would be nice. But we are living in a time when they are all stacked up in one week. Watching the scenes of people trying in every way imaginable to get to the airport to escape with nothing but what they have on their backs in Afghanistan has been heart breaking. The very thought of being left in an area where your past work, your faith in Christ or your family background might lead to extreme persecution and death is horrible to imagine. But I also imagine what it must be like to be among those who made it on the airplanes to escape. Imagine being stacked onto such a flight, wondering where you will actually be taken, wondering what comes next, imagining the reception you will receive and worrying about all the family and friends you either left behind or who have gotten on similar planes wondering where they will be a year from now. The very image of being an exile in life is difficult to imagine. There is something deep inside us that longs to be home, with family, with friends and with a community that we both love and are loved by on a regular basis. Thinking about that image, led me to thoughts about pictures drawn for us of the Christian life as described in the Book of I Peter. In the very first words of that Book it says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and sprinkled with his blood.” The concept of being chosen or elect at the same time being exiles is intriguing. The whole notion of being God’s chosen people is a powerful blessing. Peter will move on in chapter two and verse 9 to say we are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people called to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Just as the Nation of Israel had been God’s very special people or chosen nation in the past, Peter tells us that today, if we are followers of Jesus, we are that special and chosen group of people. Even when we are scattered all over the place and unable to be with each other as much as we would like, we are still among God’s special people. Many of us learned this passage of Scripture from the King James translation many years ago and remember the fact it was translated as “God’s peculiar people.” It is interesting to remember that the word peculiar in 1611 was a surveying term and used to speak of that plot of land that was inside the staked out lines. If one purchased a lot to build a house on and the surveyor staked out the property lines and pulled a string around that lot, what was inside the circle was referred to as a person’s peculiar. It belonged to him in a special way. So, God is telling us that while the whole world and everyone and everything in it belongs to Him, if we are his followers, disciples of Jesus, we are his special people bought with the very blood of Jesus. What is absolutely amazing is that the very next verse in I Peter 2:11-12 challenges us as God’s special people on our mission for the Lord. “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles , to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” So, we are elect or chosen by God as his very special people. Yet, as far as our place in the world, we are exiles, strangers, foreigners sent on a mission to the place where we find ourselves.
I think about those people coming into this country or some other country as exiles. Can’t you imagine them thinking, “This just doesn’t feel like home.” Even when we move from one neighborhood to another in the same town or area, we often struggle to feel at home in the new place. What in the world would it be like to move into a place where we know nothing about the people, the heritage there or even the language that they speak. How could you ever feel at home?
But here is what I’m reminded of in this whole picture. God doesn’t call us as his people to make ourselves at home in this world. We are exiles, whose citizenship is in heaven. We are on a pilgrimage. We are headed home. While there is a sense in which we need to feel at home in this world to show others the way to the Lord, it is vital that we always feel a sense of being foreigners here. If we are exiles in a new land we long to be accepted, loved and appreciated. God’s answer is to live in a way that even the ones who are looking for something to criticize in us may see our good and godly lives and be brought to God by our lives.
Be careful not to become too much at home in this world.