Christ followers are exiles. Accept it. We always have been, always will be. When Paul said “maranatha” in I Corinthians 16:22 he was declaring that our deepest and most profound hope is rooted in the return of Christ. He’d know well, of course, that the state wasn’t ever going to provide some sort of theocratic rule of law. He never hoped for it, never advocated pursuing it, never even indicated that it was a possibility. Paul never said, “If we can just get a few more red seats in the halls of congress then we’ll protect life in the womb.” Nor, “If only we had a blue emperor, there’d be health care for all, and housing for the poor.” It’s not that issues don’t matter. It’s not that we shouldn’t care. It’s not even that we can’t have robust discussion about these matters. It’s just that, in the end, our calling is to create an alternative ethic and kingdom that will thrive right in the midst of Rome, or Babylon, or the European Union of Socialism, or the United States of Shopping. We have a better hope than the trinkets of any prevailing culture. We have the assurance of the end of the story, an end where all life is honored: the unborn, the homeless, the refugee, the sick, the aged…all! I hope that, no matter your party, or your conviction on particular issues, you can agree with other Christ followers that we’re exiles. Learning to live as exiles is a great topic for conversation. Instead of cursing the darkness, how about we light a candle. We are, after all, the light of the world.
There’s still beauty in the world. See it and give thanks – There’s beauty in intimacy, in friendship, in creation, in children whose eyes are filled with hope, in generosity, in forgiveness, in music and sport, in good food and good conversation, and in stories of transformation, as people move toward wholeness and joy and hope. So perhaps we can look for beauty this week, and take seriously the admonition of the scriptures to “give thanks in everything.” The truth of the matter is that all of us easily become myopic, so fixated on our personal problems, or the global state of things, that we lose sight of the reality that much, much, much, is still beautiful. My neighbor met a man this summer who had ridden his bicycle around the world twice, both north to south and east to west. He told my neighbor, people are still beautiful, still generous, still sacrificial, almost always, almost everywhere. Of course, its not in the news cycle, but it’s true, or at least likely true. Let’s learn to be people of gratitude in spite of temptations to fixate on the darkness.
You are made for joy, so rejoice. The apostle Paul never solved the unjust problems of Rome. It was a culture of peace for the wealthy landowners, all of whom were male. If you were slave, woman, a renter or someone in debt, a non-citizen, the so called “peace of Rome” wasn’t for you. Paul knew this, just like we know this. He also knew, unlike some of us, that no political system, no kingdom of the world, will even last – let alone solve our world’s ailments. He also knew that Christ would bring joy to each human heart, right here, right now. Yes, he fought for justice, addressed social issues (though covertly most of the time); but he also rejoiced, in nearly every circumstance, the joy of Christ remained evident. So he, the one who was beaten, imprisoned, and persecuted as a threat to both Rome and the religious establishment, he was able to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always… again I say, rejoice.” He didn’t write that from a position of privilege. He wrote it from a position of privilege lost. And still, he found joy. So can we.
Here’s hoping you embrace your identity as exile so you can relax and live into the confidence of your citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. May you find beauty there, and hope, and may the light of your joy and gratitude radiate at your Thanksgiving table, wherever you are.