We’ve been doing a “topic of the week” for our midweek worship service. Topics that are in the headlines and on your minds. The idea is to search the scriptures in a way to make us think more deeply and clearly.
So last week I picked the topic “Immigrants.” That’s been in the news, after all.
My plan had been to take a closer look at the scriptures instructing Israel to be good to the widows, the orphans and the alien. There are a lot of those, but Deuteronomy 10:12-22 is one of the most important (go look it up, don’t take my word for it). The key verse is “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (v 19).
And then Scripture took me a place I didn’t expect.
Naturally, I went back to the story of how the Israelites came to Egypt: the story of Joseph bringing his family down to Egypt as refugees from a great famine. Its a a ripping good tale full of betrayal, seduction, political intrigue, and an underdog’s rise to power. Who needs Game of Thrones? (Go check it out in Genesis 37-50).
So far, so good. Then, I got to the passage where Joseph introduced his father, Jacob, to Pharaoh:
After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, ‘How old are you?’
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the pilgrimage of my fathers.’
Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. (Genesis 47:8-10)
“The years of my pilgrimage….” Those words lit my brain up. I lingered there, pondering the image of life as pilgrimage. I realized that my sermon had to change – my sermon was no longer about being good to immigrants.
It was about this foundational truth:
A Christian is an immigrant, a pilgrim, a stranger passing through. We may settle for a time, but our hearts are fixed on our true home.
My mind flashed to the book of Hebrews:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Dart forward to Revelation 21: the announcement of the new Jerusalem, the city prepared for God’s people. God will transform the very cosmos. All matter and energy will be renewed and death and weeping will be no more. God announces that He will dwell among His people and be with them.
God with us. That’s our home. For the Christian, home isn’t a place; home is a Person.
Knowing Christ, we get to partly enjoy a taste of home right now, for Christ promises the Holy Spirit to dwell within each of us. To use a clumsy analogy, you can think of the Holy Spirit as a living GPS. While we’re on the road, the Holy Spirit reminds us of all the benefits of home and helps prepare us to be fit for home.
That doesn’t mean we enjoy and care for where we are. A good traveller always learns to love the places he visits. He savors the sights and the sounds and the smells. He cherishes the people and the moments and the activities. He takes it all in and delights in it because he knows that he’s there for only a short while.
But his heart always feels the pull of home.
So what does it mean for us to be pilgrims?
1) Let your vision of home empower you to endure present sufferings. Be confident that something better awaits. Don’t let the difficulties of this world consume your mind (they will if you let them – and they will rob you of joy).
2) Offer blessing to people you meet along the way. Remember that Jacob blessed Pharaoh twice in their conversation. Remember that Jesus calls his people to pray for others and to bless them.
3) Pause and savor the blessings that are here. Remember that they are God’s signposts pointing you toward home. Let the Holy Spirit be your tour guide and reveal to you the wonders found in truth, beauty, and goodness.
Happy traveling! See you when we get home.