Strangers and Pilgrims

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Easter

St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Weaverville, NC

May 7th, 2017

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-17

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen

St. Peter calls the Christians “strangers and pilgrims” which reminds us, that we are called to be in this world, but not of it. This can be either a hard truth to grapple with or a thing of great hope. If your treasures are stored in this life, then the truth that eventually all these earthly things will be lost is painful to hear, but if you store your treasures in heaven, then it is a joy-filled thing.

Before we examine this portion of St. Peter’s epistle, let’s take a step back and talk about the message Christ proclaimed. He routinely exhorted his listeners to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Each Christian has heard this and in their hearts repented and believed, what then does it mean for the kingdom of heaven to be at hand and why are we not living in the kingdom now?

When the earth was created humanity, and God lived in perfect harmony. God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven, but in the fall man chose his own will over God’s. For this reason, the first covenant was established, as a preview of the things to come. In the Old Covenant man could only access Heaven through the blood sacrifices of an animal, and only through moments. The Holy of Holies in the Temple was a place of meeting between the Holiness of the Lord and humanity. This was a temporary device.

When Christ came to earth, that is God was incarnate, we see heaven descending to touch the earth in an extraordinary way. We see miraculous healing and authoritative preaching. Yet, the end of his mission wasn’t to heal a few people, to teach a nice moralistic standard or to reestablish an earthly, political kingdom, it was to open the gate to heaven, it was to start reestablishing the kingdom of heaven in the here and now.

This reestablishment became clear when Christ died on the Cross, and the curtain of the Temple was ripped open.  In his death, the way to heaven was made open. It was that moment in time that our fellowship with God was restored and we saw who our great high priest is.

In a few weeks, we will talk about the giving of the Holy Spirit, it was in this giving that the church was established. The church is not a social club or a place you go on Sunday and forget about the rest of the week, but it is a living organism, it is the kingdom of heaven on earth. We are a part of the kingdom, and we are taking part in it being re-established.

Why then does St. Peter talk about being strangers and pilgrims if we are already home?

We are not already home, but we are on our way. We get the privilege of walking with God in the here and now, but we still stumble and fall, we still get tempted by treasures that are not of heaven, we still get lost along the way.

Near the end of the Book of Revelation, we get a picture of what we are to expect. We are told of the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. When the new heaven and earth are established, then all will be made right, and we will finally be home after this long journey.

This is a lot to grasp, but it helps us to understand that as strangers and pilgrims, our final home is the new Kingdom. This defines how we live and how we think about who we are. It is important to understand and see because it sets up how we read and understand the text we read today.

The essence of this passage is this: The world is not our home, this world is not our glory and, we are children of the kingdom of heaven, and so our lives should reflect a different and greater glory than those who lay their treasure in the hopes of the world. The reflection of this greater glory will set us apart and make us different, it will divide us from our neighbor, and we may very well be mocked for it. Yet, we have a greater hope than we knew before our coming to grace.

As Christians, as residences of the kingdom of heaven, our lives are not like those whose are citizens of the world.  St. Peter spells out what it looks like to be strangers and pilgrims in the here and now.

As sojourners in this world, we are to abstain from fleshly lusts or passions, which war against our souls. We all know the temptations of lust, whether it be sexual lust for another or gluttonous desires or the fleshly desire to let anger rule our hearts, these things destroy our hearts and minds, they rip down relationships, and they assault our communion with God. We flee them because we are learning to love God with every ounce of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We need to understand this, not as the Gnostics did, but as beloved children. There are three ways you can approach the world which we experience. The first way is to ravish everything that comes your way. That is, you devour everything with no self-control, you don’t eat just one cookie but three or four or five, you don’t have one beer, but a 6-pack, or one glass of wine, but the whole bottle. You lash out uncontrollable at those who you feel have wronged you or chase lustily after every person who catches your eyes.

The second way is to forsake everything and view all material as bad. To think, that even to taste a cookie will lead you to mortal sin. There are some who must give up something to walk with God, such as an alcoholic his booze, but this is not the same as viewing all material as evil, for all things were made by God. The people of the second way fail to see the gifts of God as good.

The third way is to enjoy and share the gifts you have been given and share them generously with those around you. It is to delight in the good things in this world, but keeping your eyes ever focused on our home country, on the coming kingdom that is being established. This last way points to a great glory and reminds us again of the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth. We see every gift we are given as a foretaste of that coming kingdom. We are called to live in a third way, we are called to live in self-control, temperance, and patience.

Next, we are to perform good works, not as those who hope to earn salvation through charitable actions, but as a reaction to our salvation empowered by the Holy Spirit. Good works such as charity, kindness, praying, or even walking with a brother or sister whose hearts are breaking. St. John wrote that the world will know we are Christians, that is the world will know we belong to Christ, by our love. We do these good works to glorify God, as marks of our sonship and daughterhood. These good works are marked by joy and love.

True acts of charity are not done that we might have a boastful pride, but rather that our witness to the glory of God would be bright. These works act to keep our hearts focused on the King of Kings and show those who we interact His glory alone.

The next part of this passage can be a hard passage to swallow, especially in a democratic society. However, the Christian is called to submit themselves to secular authority, regardless of the political system.

It may be that a government makes Christianity illegal or requires of a person a thing that flies in the face of the orthodox Christian faith, it is here that the Christian may stand in opposition. However, these points aside the Christian is called to participate in politics as is expected and required of him or her in their society. The Christian’s behavior stands markedly differently for she is not given to ad hominum attacks, that is personal attacks, not given to mocking, judging, or cruelty. The Christian looks for the way to act with the utmost grace in public discourse and policy.

This is a hard thing, for the world is happy to mock, to belittle, and to pick the low road. The temptation to take this low road is strong, especially if the other party has behaved this way. Even in the darkest of days, even with voices mocking us, we are called to glorify God. In all that we do, we seek to shine as lights in the darkness.

The tendency here is to argue that we needn’t heed this requirement, but think about this: it is commonly believed this was being written under the reign of Nero who was notoriously brutal and vicious. If this is St. Peter’s advice under such a circumstance, what must his advice be today? We continue in submission to those who are in authority.

It is in this doing good that we will silence those who oppose us. The temptation is to lash out at those who mock us, those who say of us, they are fools, or backward or worse. However, in behaving in a dramatically different way than the world, we not only silence their opposition, they see the glory of God shining through us.

The freedom we are given in Christ is not a freedom to go out and be vile, to be vicious, to devour lustfully, or to attack those around us. The freedom we are given does not give us license to go back to our old ways free from guilt. The freedom we are given sets us free from the need for revenge, it sets us free from the need to succumb to our lust filled desires, it sets us free from the dreadful burden of sin. The freedom we are given is given to the glory of God so that we can take up the easy yoke of Christ.

So, dear friends, despite opposition, despite hardship, despite whatever trouble we face in the world: Honor all men, not some, but all people: the good, the bad, the vicious and the kind.

Love the brotherhood, love your brothers and sisters in Christ, seek to be kind and gracious to them. Fear God, for ultimately it is in the deepest reverence of Him that we will grow in our relationship with him until one day His kingdom has come and we walk with him, and our hearts will know true joy.

Honor the king, honor those who have been given authority to lead the secular world and in the church, pray for them, pray that they would lead in submission to the will of God and not man. Pray that they would know the grace that we enjoy.

It is by the grace of Christ that these things make us strangers and pilgrims, and in being strangers and pilgrims, we will be set apart from the world. It is these things that the world will see and want to know Christ. It is our calling to let Christ’s light in us shine, that the world may see the goodness of God and come to praise him.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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