Election Year Exiles
October 7, 2016
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
When we read the New Testament in present day America, it is always with a degree of imaginative removal, like watching a period piece on PBS. We cock our head: you don’t say! There always seem to be sandals and dusty robes, grapes and flatbread, lots of sheep…bleating. Peter and Paul and all those Marys — they look dirty, but somehow pristine; wisdom makes them seem to glow. They look like Morgan Freeman, or Gandalf, and when they say curious things, it’s hard to separate what’s cultural from what’s timeless. It’s easy to relegate Biblical themes to a Roman Empire movie set — for example, assuming that idolatry was an ancient problem, or that modesty is now outdated. Likewise, the idea that we are all aliens and strangers is hard to grasp in our patriotic “Christian country.” After all, the early Christians (and for that matter, the Jews) lived in enemy-occupied territory; of course Peter would talk like that. Christians were immediately, intensely, persecuted. Even if first century believers didn’t raise eyebrows with their scruples, they already had to dodge hostile centurions and duplicitous tax collectors — ugly facts of life in Palestine. Adding an unusual new faith to their minority status would complicate matters. We read of them crowding into homes after dark, praying late into the night, escaping cities from windows in the wall, let down in baskets. There were actual lions in the Coliseum, roaring in their hunger; actual crosses on the roadsides — how can we relate? We make the lions and crosses into metaphors. We struggle to put ourselves in their shoes. That distance, that us-and-them mentality, makes it hard to live out I Peter 2:11-12: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” OK, we say, got it. Abstain from lust. Be honorable. But we brush past the other bits. Sojourners and exiles? We are Gentiles — what do we know of persecution? We feel our otherness sometimes, for sure — when we pass a packed Starbucks patio as we head to church; when we honestly answer a question to our detriment, sighing inwardly at the recognition that another guy probably would have just lied. And yes, when we abstain from those passions of the flesh, we choose awkwardness over pleasure, a stigma we embrace as the cross we must bear. Even so, we don’t feel very foreign. It wasn’t always like that. About a century after Jesus’ resurrection, one of the first Christian apologists described his people like this:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language, or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. …With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”1Christians used to understand: this world is not our home. Have you ever travelled outside the US and caught a bit of the local news? Boy, you think, they are really worked up about this issue, and I’ve never even heard of it. You watch with a degree of fascination, but you don’t really have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t bog you down, because you’re just passing through. Why then, do Christian tempers flare whenever a friend posts political comments on Facebook? Because we live like Main Street, USA is our home. That’s why a contentious election season is such a jolt. When there is no candidate on the ballot who speaks for our values, we’re shocked. Is there no place for us in either party? Why are we surprised? We are waking from a dream, the pretty illusion that our front porch with its jug of lemonade and cheerful flag is home. Friends, we are not home. It’s not that we should disengage; our civic participation offers endless opportunities to season the world with salt. But Jesus never focuses on our rights; He shines a spotlight on our love. Our votes, our voices, can make a tangible difference, especially if we employ them to speak up for the disenfranchised. Not for financial gain should we clamor and fuss, but for the unborn, the poor, the orphan, the immigrant. Tax relief? Jesus is nonchalant. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Refugees? He is pointed, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” And on the terrible day when someone strikes you? “Turn the other cheek.” When we operate like this place is Home, we assume House Rules. In demanding our rights, we have forgotten how to be poor in spirit. If we lose our saltiness, how can we be made salty again? There is an opportunity just now for our otherness to shine. An opportunity for the upside-down Kingdom to put humble love on display, to quietly decline the invitation to compromise, to resolutely affirm our allegiance to another country. We may be merry when others are downcast, because we know the end of the story. We may be kind when others are crass, because in Christ we are content to lose an argument. If we shake off the lethargic American dream, and begin to live as ambassadors from another country, a better one, we may indeed be called to “give what we cannot keep” (an election? our rights?) “to gain what we cannot lose.”2 What’s still to come is better by far. Friends, we are not home yet.
1 From A Letter to Diognetus
2 Jim Elliot
Catherine Morgan lives in Aurora, Colorado with her husband Michael and three kids. She is the author of Thirty Thousand Days, published by Christian Focus Publications. Visit her blog at catherinesletters.com.]]>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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