Thursday, 23 July 2009

Good morning, pilgrim

When I was a teenager and an Anglican I went on a pilgrimage. It was to St Chad's Cathedral in Lichfield and was designed to give folks in the parishes a sense of belonging to the 'mother' church. Nowadays if someone uses the language of pilgrimage we usually think in terms of Eastern religions or Catholicism. Even the old hymn about 'being a pilgrim' is hardly ever sung now. And yet it is a thoroughly Bible idea... not a pilgrimage to 'holy places' but the idea of life being a journey to a specific destination.

I remember while preparing for my teenage pilgrim finding a verse in which Pharaoh asks Jacob how old he is. Jacob's answer captured my thoughts for a long time; And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” Gen 47:9 NKJV Jacob regarded his life as a pilgrimage and knew that a pilgrim lives by 'days' rather than years. The Hebrew word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament and usually translated as 'strangers'.

Centuries later when Peter wrote to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor he had the same kind of thoughts in mind; Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect pilgrims of a Diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 1 Pet 1:1 (This is my own translation) Many Bible commentaries will tell you that Peter is writing to the Jewish Diaspora but I think they are wrong. He is beginning a letter-long metaphor in which he sees the Christians as a New Israel. Parts of which are already gathered 'home' to heaven, the remainder are like the Diaspora Jews of his day (and ours), living abroad in alien cultures and always thinking about 'home'.

An old puritan preacher prayed 'Lord, if you see me in danger of nesting, put a thorn in my nest'. It is a quaint prayer but he was aware of the dangers of settling down and becoming indistinguishable from the culture in which he was living. Christians have always struggled with getting the balance right here. Do we ignore the culture we live in and create Christian ghettos? Do we just add Christian elements to the culture that we are already part of? Do we expect to transform the culture we are living in to a Christian culture? Do we set our face to fight our culture at every step?

There are no neat answers to these questions. Unlike ancient Israel we do not live in theocracies where there is no division between 'church' and 'state'. Christ recognised the distinction between 'church' and 'state' when he said; Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. Matt 22:21. That recognises two kingdoms not just one.

However we resolve the details of our daily lives we do well to bear in mind Peter's reminder; are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Pet 2:9-12 NKJV In the final analysis, this world is not my home, I am just passing through... I need to build that consciousness into my lifestyle.

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