Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 12, 2019
Text: 1 Peter 2:11-23
Two words describe the Christian: a sojourner and an exile.
In the Old Testament, these were freighted terms. The idea of sojourning in a foreign land began with Abraham who was a foreigner in the land of Canaan, meaning he had no blood or legal claim to the place where he was dwelling—the land which God had called him to and promised to his descendants. He was a temporary resident. As a sojourner, that status got handed down to his children, Isaac and Jacob. Even though they had influence and great possessions, they had no lasting claim to the place where they lived. When his wife Sarah died, Abraham even pleaded with the native people, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; ggive me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)
This condition of sojourning expanded when the sons of Jacob went to live in Egypt. Even though they were gifted the region of Goshen, it was clear they had no permanent claim on that. After the favorable Pharaoh died, they became slaves. “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, ewho did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, fthe people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 gCome, hlet us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them ito afflict them with heavy jburdens.” (Exodus 1:8-11)
Later, when Israel crossed the Jordan and received their promised inheritance, the Law of Moses reminded them of where they came from, and commanded, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
Sojourners had a place near and dear to God’s heart because that was the condition of his people—temporary residents of a place, putting down tent stakes, but only for a time.
Then there’s “exiles.” This isn’t exile with the sense of judgment that 587 BC brought with the destruction of Jerusalem. The word used (parepidemos), which means someone who is “passing through” but who still makes relationships with the people they live along side. While sojourner refers to legal status, exile or pilgrim (1 Pet. 2:11 KJV), has the sense of destination. You are here today, but one day you’ll move on toward your goal.
But there is a similarity to the Babylonian exile in what the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in chapter 29: “4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
5 nBuild houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and opray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…
10 “For thus says the Lord: tWhen seventy years are completed for Babylon, uI will visit you, vand I will fulfill to you my promise vand bring you back to this place. 11 wFor I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, xto give you a future and a hope. 12 yThen you will call upon me and come and pray to me, yand I will hear you. 13 zYou will seek me and find me, when you seek me awith all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, band I will restore your fortunes and cgather you from all the nations and all the places dwhere I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer. 29:4-7, 10-14)
To be a sojourner and an exile means belonging to God, even while you live among those who do not. It would be natural to want to isolate oneself and wait it out, but that is not what God’s desire was for the Israelites living in Babylon.
It’s with this in mind that St. Peter addresses us: “11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles ito abstain from the passions of the flesh, jwhich wage war against your soul. 12 kKeep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, lthey may see your good deeds and glorify God on mthe day of visitation.”
As sojourners and exiles, Christians are resident aliens in the present world. We do not have any lasting claim on it (in fact, we know that any such claims will be superseded by the Day of Christ’s return). All buildings of stone, contracts among men, nations and wonders, even the stars of the heavens—are passing away and will one day be laid waste. As for us, we have no permanent claim even upon our place in this world that we work so hard to sustain.
So, while the people of the world around us scramble and fight and toil to get every last penny they can, we know that what we have, we have today, but our present and future belong to God. As the Apostle encourages us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
We are just “passing through” this world. And like the Jews in Babylon, we are to make homes, take spouses, multiply and live. We are to pray for the welfare of the nation in which we live, even while our benefit from it is only for a time. It’s not that we live fatalistic lives, unmoved by the evils around us, focused only on escaping this evil world in the end. Together as the people of God, we live lives that are built on the bedrock of promises from the almighty, eternal God. When the world suffers, we suffer with it. When our fellow human beings suffer tragedy, it’s right to feel it with them and to walk alongside them.
In fact, this is the witness that we still have to our family and friends who have drifted away from their faith to follow the course of this world. They go without the means of grace God gives in this place, because their friends told them retirement was about finally living for yourself; because the basketball coach told them their kids wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship if they didn’t dedicate everything to the team; because someone told them “nothing happens in Church” and it was all empty ritual and after all you only have so much free time on the weekend. But the hope of the world is empty, and its rewards are fleeting.
Sometimes in our status as sojourners and exiles, Christians are reminded of how little we belong to this world. Just as Abraham had no legal right to the place where he was dwelling, and just as the sons of Israel had their freedom taken from them, so it sometimes happens to Christians that they are mistreated—even though they belong to the God who desires the salvation of all people. Case in point is the bombings on Easter which took place in Sri Lanka (which is featured on the front of the bulletin). These Christians were celebrating the triumph over sin and death of their Lord, and yet they were treated like enemies. And that’s just one particularly bloody and gruesome example of the world’s rage against those who belong to Christ (one that happened to make it on the news).
St. Peter writes to us because he doesn’t want us to be surprised when we are treated unjustly, discriminated against, or hated for our faith. When we are (and it will happen more and more in our own borders), Peter reminds us that this is the calling of one of who follows Christ—“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
When persecution happens, it is wrong, it’s not fair, it’s painful. But if the Lord is your helper, what can man do to you? “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours
remaineth.” Persecution tests the genuineness of our
faith—do we believe that our hope is not in this world, but in the world to
come? It’s a palpable way that God is
teaching us to renounce the things of this life and look forward to eternity. As our Lord said in Mark 10, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who
has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands,
for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a
hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and
children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
(Mark 10:29-30) May God preserve each of
us in the true faith unto life everlasting! Amen.
 “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LSB 656:4)