Stop the world I want to get off
Have you ever stopped and looked at the world around you and thought: where am I, I don’t even recognise the world I am living in? The sad thing for me about that questions is that you can only ask it if you are older – comparing it to how things used to be. The speed of change around us is alarming: smart phone, blogging, moblie data, Whatsapp, FB, twitter, iPod, iPad, iPhone, I don’t know any more kind of world – 20 years ago none of those existed! Technology has often driven change, whether it was the wheel, printing press, gun powder, the internal combustion engine, the TV, or the computer. All of us are affected by this whether you were born before the TV or born in the age of the mp3 (what is a TDKD90 anyway?).
What does it mean for us to live faithful Christian lives for the sake of Christ in this ‘new’ world? I am not even very old and I as struggling with these questions.
Living while you’re alive
I was reading in my DT about the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. And I thought some of God’s people got to live then; some lived through rebuilding the Temple; some through the 300 odd years before Christ when God did not speak through his prophets once; some through the coming of God’s own Son; some through the violent persecution that followed the birth of the church; some though the dark ages; some through the Reformation. And most people have a romanticised a time when they wished they could live. WHEN WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE?
The limitation of a misplaced longing
Here is the point: as long as you are wish that you were living at a different time you will not be able to live effectively now for Christ and to build his kingdom. And we do that don’t we… We romanticise the past and forget about the shortcomings and failures.
This is the question then: what does it mean to be faithful at this time in the southern suburbs, in Cape Town, in South Africa, in the 21st Century? We are going to consider that question over the next few week in this sermon series I am calling “Trend”. Our departure point is going to be Acts 17:26:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
God has placed you where you are when you are alive. Although it may feel random – Paul clearly identifies the fact that God has appointed where and when you are alive. So this morning I would like to lay the ground work by talking about identity (BE DO GO).
Identity: sojourners and exiles
In 1 Peter 2:11 Peter says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners (sojourners) and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Petr uses the word “sojourner” to explain that this world is not our home. We are temporary residents in a foreign land; we have become part of the life and rhythm of a community /city but we have different permanent home; our citizenship is somewhere in another land.
I have spoken to many people in our country who are been displaced from their homes further north in Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Congo) they understand this concept better because they are living it in one sense.
- Question: Who are you? How do you identify yourself?
- Answer: I am a Zimbabwean, I am Congolese, I am Malawian
- Question: “But you are living here is South Africa. You have job, a car, a house, a bank account
- Answer: Yes, this is how I must live here now to be part of this community and country, but my heart is in my homeland.
- Qusestion: where would you like to stay?
- Answer: I would love to be at home among people who share my culture, values and ways.
As Christians that is our story: our true home is the God’s dwelling place, heaven. While we are here on earth we are to live in that tension. We are not escapists who retreat into holy huddles, or cut ourselves off from the world. We are to participate and integrate into society without selling out to the loves of longings of this world. We are at home but we are never really at home because our true longing is to be at home with the Lord. We strive to maintain a healthy balance between separation and identification. Without separation from the world we will have nothing to say; without identification we will have something to say but no one to say it to!
This identity that we have in Christ answers the question where do you belong, where is home, where is your heart. We have a primary and overriding loyalty, but we also have secondary commitment. Answering the question: what does it mean to be a faithful Christian TODAY in intimately linked to us being prepared to wrestle with the tension between our primary home and our secondary home.
Sojourner case study: Daniel
The theme of sojourner is fascinating because it doesn’t just appear in the NT. The father of our faith Abraham is a called a sojourner – he never possessed the Promised Land. The Israelite were given specific laws telling them how o treat the foreigner among them because they were once foreigners in Egypt. And at other times in their history they were foreigners by captivity (literally exiles).
Daniel is a wonderful example and case study of what it means to hold this tension. When Daniel was young the people Judah were conquered by the Babylonians and he was taken into exile. He was a young man, probably a teenager who sudden found himself in a foreign land among a people who did not practice his religion. He used to go with mom and dad and all his buddies to temple but the flow of that culture didn’t push him towards God.
Read Daniel 1:3-7
So Daniel was going to be indoctrinated with the literature and language of the Babylonian people. And then he would enter the King’s service.
Read Daniel 1:8-16
They chose to abstain from the food he was offered. Why the food? Probably had been ritually dedicated to the God’s of Babylon, and also food would have been unclean by Jewish laws. It ultimately answered the question: who do you worship. And God honoured their balance of living in the culture but still remaining faithful to God.
The rest of the book of Daniel follows this theme: neither he nor his three friends were separate from the culture (learning in mathematics, astronomy, natural history, agriculture, religion and architecture and serving in the government) or consumed by the culture. Daniel excelled in his job (which put a target on his back); he prayer publically, his three friends refused to bow down to the idol of the king; he gave glory to God for the dream interpretation; he gave glory to God for his rescue form the lion’s den;
In Daniel we see an example of what it means to be a sojourner (temporary resident in a foreign land) and yet to be faithful to God. He lived in an ungodly culture, learnt from the culture, absorb what is good, and even served under a leader who does not recognise God – and still be faithful to God.
We have got to avoid one of two extremes: treating the world like it is an evil and dirty place and to be faithful we need to hide away in Christian bunkers so that we don’t get tainted by association. And on the other hand we can’t imbibe all that we see and hear around us with no filter as if it is a gourmet buffet where we can freely over indulge.
So what does it look like to hold calling as sojourners in the 21st century? I would like to spend the next few weeks chatting about some specific areas of tension:
- The rise of the screen (Screens and SM)
- The making of a hero(ine) (Movies and TV)
- The comfort of culture (Relevance of the church)
- The commodity of sex (Sex and marriage)
Ultimate sojourner: Jesus
Jesus was a sojourner because he came from heaven – literally. He left all the perfection and joy of the presence of his Father to be born into a world under sin. He came to a ‘foreign culture’ but he live in it with all its brokenness and failure. Sin did not corrupt him by his association with sinners. He didn’t catch it like a cold from the multitudes who were caught up in it to various degrees. In fact he was so closely associated that they called him the “friend of sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors”. The book of Hebrews tell us he did all this “without sin”.
Nor did he dissociate from their culture – he got involved: weddings, feast, (misdirected) religious celebrations, and dinner parties. He loved people enough to not avoid talking about the truths of the Gospel and he love God enough not to avoid people.
Jesus was hung up on the cross and does for those who know they are far from God and for those who think that they are near to God (self-righteously). So if you feel torn by this tension – Jesus was killed because he live the tension perfectly; if you feel sin all around you like it is about to overwhelm you – Jesus was sinless and yet he was the friend of sinners; if you long for escape from this world to be free from sin – Jesus sweated drops of blood to get you that freedom and peace, the extent of his love is that he was hung up on the cross to destroy sin forever so that we could be with our Father forever.
- When would you like to have lived? And why?
- Often people are living as if they are alive at another time. How would this prevent you from being effectively now for Christ and to build his kingdom.
- Read 1 Peter 2:11. How do the words sojourner and exile help you with identity as a Christian?
- Share about the story of Daniel. How did he balance integrating into society without selling out?
- Share a way that you have wrestled with this tension. How did you resolve it?
- How is Jesus the ultimate sojourner?
- How did he handle the tension?
- How does he help empower your calling?
- Are there other trending issues that you feel we need to be discussing as a church (feedback to Grant if there are)