Tuesday, February 19, 2013

We Are All Aliens!

We are all aliens.
We are all Foreigners in this land and place.
We often don’t think of ourselves this way.
Especially, if we were born in the United States, and lived here all our lives we think of ourselves as insiders.
In our current body politic we talk about things this way.
There are immigrants, illegal immigrants, refugees, and then the rest of us who have been since birth.
Let us remember that all of us, unless we are Native Americans, come from immigrants.
Every one of our ancestors traversed the sea and came to live here for one reason or another.
My Great Grandfather, Pastor Albert Laurell, came to this country from Sweden.
He came when he was 15 ½ .
He came to attend Upsala University and then go to seminary, and eventually to become a pastor.
He came here because his single parent mother could not support him, so he came to live with his uncle who helped support him financially and emotionally.
When he was in seminary he would go to school for a year, then work for a year to earn enough money, until he was done with his schooling.
I am sure that if any of you traced your family history you could tell a similar story.
When my grandmother would tell me about my great grandfather I would wonder how he found the strength to not only survive but also to thrive in this new world.
What sustained him in his life was the relationship he had with God.

Our alienation is not just about being an immigrant.
It is also about being alienated from our true selves.
We are always searching for our homeland.
Spiritually we are on the journey to find out were we belong.

Our reading from Deuteronomy represents the end of one journey for the people of Israel.
For forty years they had wandered in the desert.
Before that their ancestors had wandered looking for a home.
They wandered looking not to be alienated from themselves and their neighbors.
When they come into the land, cultivated it, and brought forth riches from this land “flowing of milk and honey”, they need to remember that it was God who brought them here.
That just because they have this land that does not mean that they are not still aliens.
“Remember that your forefather was a wondering Armean.”
They don’t really belong here.
As good as it seems this land is not their salvation.
What brings them true salvation is the God who has been there through all their journeys.

Here is the thing about these journeys.
They were not pleasant ones.
Abraham had to wait years to have his promised son.
During the time he was waiting for his son he was wandering from here to there  going to Egypt were he disobeyed God by lying about Sarah not being his wife.
Likewise the story of Jacob is a difficult story.
It is filled with betrayal, with sin, with heartache, and pain.
Jacob steals his brother’s birthright.
Jacob’s sons pretend to kill one of their brothers.
They go to Egypt for food only to become slaves.
Yes, the Israelites where rescued from slavery, but before they came to the promised land they had to toil in the dessert for forty years.
And yet when we read the creed from Deuteronomy it sounds like everything went great that there were no problems.
And the reason for that is because even in the dessert, or sin, or tough times on the journey the Israelites believe that God is with them.
This creed confirms that even in the most difficult of times God’s hand at work.

In that way we are not aliens, because our true home is not a piece of land.
It is not a physical house.
It is not a country, city, or community.
Our true home is with God.

When we feel alienated it is because we have disconnected ourselves from God.
We have begun to think that the land, the richness of the fruit belongs to us and our hard work.
We have become dependent on temporal things for our comfort and security.
The truth is that all of those things can be gone.
We can loose a number of things in our lives that make us feel lost and wondering in the desert.
That is the great thing about God we can never lose God.
God is always there for us.
When we are feeling like we are aliens wandering about it is God who connects to our true home.
When we are wondering, “How did my life turn out this way?”
This is a question the Israelites asked themselves often in the desert.
Why did God bring us out here to die, and be miserable?
How did it end up this way?
They had forgotten that there home was not about place or having certain items, but it was in God who was leading them to the Promised Land.

It is an old saying but it is true that as Christians “we are in this world, but not of this world.”
We exist in this world, and we experience all the pain and hurt that anyone else would feel, but our vision is not only of our current pain it is longer and deeper than that.
It is looking beyond our current circumstances to know that God is leading us to a land flowing of milk and honey.
While wandering in the desert this is the kind of faith that the Israelites had to have.
God never wants them to forget it.
That even though they have now come to the Promised Land they should never forget that they are still aliens, and their true home is with God.
Because my great grandfather went through all of the hard times in his life, my life has been easier, but it is just as important for me to remember that God is my true home.
God is where I belong.
Even though I am settled and had more financial security than my great grandfather it is still God who sustains me.

The reason why Jesus is able to resist the temptations of the devil is because Jesus knows where he belongs.
Jesus vision is beyond the immediate gratification of the moment.
Jesus knows that this current desert wandering he is going through only serves to strengthen him for the journey ahead, the journey that takes him to the cross.
Jesus knows that putting his life into God the Father’s is better then temporarily having his belly full, ruling nations, or controlling a religious institution.
Jesus knows that it is better to rely on God than anything else for his substance and life.
We can share in Jesus’ vision and have faith to know that God carries us through the troubles of this day.

So even though we are aliens, we don’t have to be alienated from ourselves.
As long as we remember that it is a loving God who carries us through the desert into the Promised Land.
As long as we remember that we come from people who have always wandered, but who ultimately found their home in God.
Like my great grandfather, and like all of our immigrant ancestors.

I hope in your Lenten journey you come to see God as your home.
You come to see God leading you through whatever you might be dealing with at this time in your life.
So that you don’t feel alienated, but united with God who is always with us leading us to the Promised Land.

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