By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Gen. 11:9
Living in tents vs. being rooted in a particular place. That tension dominates the history of God’s people. Temporary vs. permanent, portable vs. fixed—Abraham dwelt in tents and moved around. The people groaned as sojourners in Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In fulfillment of all of it, Jesus said the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
There is a famous second century document called the Letter to Diognetes, which contains a lengthy description of Christians. A famous quote from that letter says, “Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.” Our true citizenship is in heaven, which means we can be at home anywhere in this world, even when far from home. But it also means we can’t really be at home anywhere in this world, even in our own house.
This strange tension hit home to me this morning. As you know from the announcements this past Sunday, my phone died recently and I was cut off from my normal means of communicating with people. The broken phone ended up being unsalvageable, so I got a new one a few days ago. But the flaws of the old one were such that my saved contacts reverted to the beginning of 2014. That means precious few people here in Munster were in my list of contacts, but all kinds of people were in there with whom I hadn’t communicated in years. So I’ve been going through and trying to rebuild a functional contact list, which involves deleting a lot of dated contacts and trying to find good numbers for the current contacts.
But here is the rub; when you decide to clean up the rolls, the phone double-checks by asking you, “Delete contact?” That’s a harsh way to think about it. Do I really want to cut myself off from someone? It seems weird to still have all these old contacts from a place where I wasn’t born but lived for 14 years, but where I no longer live. But it seems even weirder just to delete people from my contacts. At issue is where do you live? Where are your roots? What do you consider home? Is it really wise to delete old contacts? Is it really wise not to?
The same sort of feeling comes when you consider where you will be buried. In your hometown as in where you grew up? Where you retired? Where you spent the bulk of your career? People are mobile. Contacts come and go. Rootedness is the exception. If Heidi and I bought cemetery plots today, where would we buy them? At Concordia in Hammond? It is a hard question.
Learning to live as though at home is wherever you are, while also learning that you will never really be at home in this world—that is one of the hardest lessons of the Christian life. It is a lesson you can ponder as you visit a loved one in the cemetery, as you go through the contact list in your phone, as you look at your Christmas card list, or ponder where you will retire, or where your children and grandchildren will think of as “home.”
I’m deleting old contacts and re-entering updated ones. But we all have the same citizenship, we all have the same home. We’re all sojourners in this life. And by an added gift of grace, we get to share it with other people on our respective journeys home.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?
This summer we’ve been looking at the stars with a scope from our driveway. Amazingly, with a bird scope on a tripod one can see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. It is a strange experience, actually. Isn’t it interesting that the constellations as we know them are mentioned in the Old Testament? These words, spoken by God to Job, speak to the constancy of the stars. If you can get far enough away from the city’s ambient light, you can look up to the heavens just like Abraham did, and it looks the same. Poets and painters use the stars to represent eternity because they just aren’t subject to the winds of change that govern this world.
But it is also a rhetorical question. God is contrasting his own infinite power and knowledge as the Creator with Job’s powerlessness and ignorance. The implication is that Job can’t do anything to affect the stars, but God can whenever He wants. The stars are not eternal. Like everything else, they exist and keep their assigned places at the pleasure of their maker.
We, like the stars, are God’s creatures. But it wasn’t for the stars that God Himself became incarnate and submitted to death. It was for us. From our perspective in this life, the stars seem eternal and our own lives seem so transient. But the real truth is that the stars aren’t eternal, and your life is guaranteed forever. You will outlive the moon and the stars.
With that in mind- that your real home and citizenship is in an eternal city—the chances and changes of life in this world seem less threatening. Yes, change and decay in all around we see. That isn’t a function of our times, it is a function of time itself in a fallen world. But it is not our ultimate doom. The stars might well look at us and wonder at the fact that we will live forever, long after they are gone.
The little frustrations, the complications, the changes that keep changing, sometimes overwhelm us. But the Gospel gives us peace. Fear not! The God Who can loose the cords of Orion has promised to bring you to Himself. Nothing can change that.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana