Thursday, June 18, 2009

Let This Never Be Called Home

I preached at church on Sunday from 1 Pet. 1:13-21, which calls the believer to hope and to holiness (related, I'm sure).

The first imperative in Peter's epistle is simply "hope" (usually translated something like "Set your hope", which is a reasonable rendering) in v. 13. God commands us to "hope" just like He elsewhere calls us to avoid drunkenness, to love, to abstain from sexual immorality, or to pursue wisdom. When we don't hope, we disobey God.

Which got me thinking: how come I know so few Christians who really hope?

The answer, I think, has something to do with what we consider to be our home. It is too easy for American Christians to see ourselves as Americans just as much as Christians. My old Baptist church has an American flag hanging on one side of the stage, and the Christian flag (no comment) on the other. Nobody else sees the apparent contradiction?

This identity crisis is no doubt especially common in exactly these kinds of older denominational churches. Many of the senior saints have grown up in a milieu where Christianity is as American as baseball and apple pie. The only question was whether you were a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Baptist.

But 1 Peter is written to the "elect exiles" (1:1), and that name for Peter's audience resurfaces a couple times in the letter. An "exile" of course is a forced sojourn, a necessary ousting from one's real home. Clearly Peter means to remind us that we are all exiles until Jesus comes back and new-creates everything. Then we'll go home. But for now: exile.

For people who are suffering for their faith, it was probably easy to remember this. Perhaps the purpose in using the term "exile" was to remind them that one day they'd make it home (as opposed to reminding them that they weren't there qui). But for people who can have the nation's flag hanging right next to the one that apparently represents Christ, it's difficult to feel exiled.

Which also makes it harder to really hope. The potential martyrs, so far as I know, have always found great comfort in the book of Revelation. Comfortable Westerners by contrast find great fun in it, trying to figure out when everything will happen. Other than that, we're more interested in the parts of the Bible that tell us how to obtain blessings. The martyrs though: they hope for it, precisely because the victory of Jesus is their only hope.

So while I am exceedingly grateful that I am at little risk of really suffering for Christ, I wonder what we have to do to remind ourselves that we are exiles. That there is a home that we are citizens of, and it isn't here. That this land in which we sojourn has nothing for us. That, as Jon Foreman says, "This place where I live/may it never be called home."

When we do that, we'll hope. Let me finish by offering a few practical suggestions for how to cultivate these attitudes:
    1. Read the Bible constantly. Scripture teaches us what we hope for and what our home is like. Scripture reshapes our conception of reality, because so much of this land we sojourn in is a veneer. This is the most important step to take.

    2. Think long and hard about how your national identity relates to your citizenship in heaven. I refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance now because I am not an American citizen primarily. A Canadian wouldn't pledge his allegiance to America, so why would a citizen of heaven?

    3. Simply remind yourself of this truth as often as possible. Do whatever it takes to get it into your bloodstream. So much of this really is a mental battle, and Peter indicates as much when we starts v. 13 with the participial phrases, "Preparing your minds for action and being sober-minded" (ESV). It comes down to how we think.

    4. Spend good time with hopeful people. Like most Christian virtues, the mature version of it rubs off on those who, like me, are not mature in it.

    5. Read about and support martyrs. Nothing reminds us more concretely that we are not in our home than when blood is spilled for Christ.


S G said...

Sometimes I think that Christian's have trouble with the concept of "hope" because we don't really know where our hope lies. We have a vague concept of hope. As Christian's, what is our hope? I think we need to develop a stronger understanding of the resurrection. That it is the resurrection of Jesus which guarantees our future resurrection and gives us hope even when everything else seems bleak.

Have you read any of N.T. Wright's stuff on why Heaven is actually not our home? (see his brief article in Christianity Today I think it is any interesting concept and I'm wrestling with whether the observations he makes, specifically the fact that evangelicals often talk about heaven as if it is were the "end" when in reality the Bible points us towards the new creation, really has significant impact on the way we live our lives and run our ministries.

Carrie Allen said...

Difficult times make me long for "home". The church in America makes me long for me "home".

The other day I refused to say the pledge, and when I explained why to the girl next to me, she thought I was out of my mind (and probably a communist).