A Home for the Homeless
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone-- rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1Peter 2:1-5, 9-10
The first letter of Peter (written sometime in the first century) was addressed to Christians who have been uprooted from the land of their birth. The letter was addressed to “paroikoi” usually translated as “aliens” but one scholar translates it as “homeless” – homeless because they had been displaced from the land of their ancestors and were now searching for a new home. The letter was also addressed to parapidemoi, often translated as “pilgrims” or “sojourners”, or “nomads”, “wanderers,” or “transients” – people who were just passing through from one place to another in search of a new home as well. Many think that the Apostle Peter wrote this letter from Rome where he was exiled and imprisoned and so he personally knew the suffering of being an alien or exile. And so, he acknowledges the pain of separation not only from the land of their birth but also from their loved ones- family and friends- they left behind back home. The author also acknowledges the great difficulty of finding a sense of security, and belongingness to whatever place they try to settle in. They were vulnerable because of their migrant status that limited their legal rights, because of the prejudice they encounter due to their race or ethnic background, because they were economically struggling, trying to make it in their new homeland. And, they suffer a great deal too, because they also were Christianoi, Christians, members of a religio illicita, an illegal religion, making them a target of persecution. Their faith is alien to the larger culture and so they were misunderstood and maligned. Many of us here are “aliens”. We are away from the place we once called or perhaps still call “home”; and though we have made this country our home, yet perhaps, many of us still struggle to fit in. We know the suffering that comes from racial and ethnic prejudice. We know the struggles of trying to make it in this land of plenty. And we know the struggles of trying to live out our faith in a society and culture that has now become “Post-Christian.”
To sustain the hopes of these “homeless” Christians, Peter writes a pastoral letter reminding them that, in whatever new and strange land they find themselves in, far from family and home, they do have a spiritual family and home ~ that is, the Church. Peter uses the term “oikos” - home- to refer to the Church; oikos pneumatikos- spiritual home, spiritual family. The Church is a home and family for those who are struggling to find a home. I exactly know what Peter is saying. When I first came to the US thirty years ago, it was a very difficult time of cultural disorientation and adjustment to a new land, exacerbated by the fact that I was an “illegal alien.” And yet, the primary thing that sustained me was the Church. Church was something familiar to me in this strange land. The Church was my home away from home. The Church was my family away from family. Separated from my own mother, the Church was (is) mother, sustaining and nourishing my hope with the spiritual milk of the Word and Sacrament. And I know that for many of us here, this place, this Church, is also family and home away from family and home. And, we must see to it that we remain family one to another. And, we must also see to it that we become family and home to those who come through these doors looking for family and home. This church is especially situated in the midst of a community peopled with “aliens” -legal and illegal- looking for a home away from their home, people who are seeking a place of welcome, a place where they can belong. Indeed with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country, how prophetic it is that this sanctuary become a place of welcome for all, but most especially those who have come to the shores of these United States looking for a new home.
And yet, despite the struggles the early Christians experienced in their new homeland, Peter reminds them of their sublime calling as Christians. He challenges them not to be solely defined by their sufferings, but their identity is much more than that. He tells them - You are of Christ’s and Christ calls you to be Church. He uses the word, “ekkaleo” “to call out,” and this verb is the root of the Greek term, ekklesia, meaning “church”. You come here to this place because you have been called here. Some of you may stay permanently, some in passing, but each of you come because you have been called to be blessed by this place and in turn, to have the opportunity to bless this place and the people who come in it or live near it. We who belong to this church come here not by accident or mere chance. We may think otherwise but the nature of Church is that we are called into being, loved into life by Christ. Peter says we are part of a people called by Christ to be a genus ekkleton, a new race. A basileion hierateuma, a kingdom of priests serving our divine King who lives in the Church which is God’s royal palace. We are part of a people called to be ethos hagion, a nation of holiness. Called to be laos eis peripoiesin, you areGod’s own very personal possession.
You have been called…called out… singled out… for a divine purpose.
The question is ~ ~ Called out for what?... Singled out for what?
And Peter continues by saying “ [you have been called] to proclaim (evangelion) the glorious saving acts of God who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
A story, one of my favorite stories come from the Muslim tradition:
As a holy man was in deep prayer, his prayer was interrupted by a sight of a very sick man, but he went on with his prayer. Then appeared a poor beggar, and after that, a sight of a human being beaten and worn out by life. Unable to ignore the great suffering around him, the holy man cried out to God: “Great God, how is it that the loving Creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?
And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them… I MADE YOU!”1
To “announce the glorious saving acts deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” is to cry out the Gospel by your very deeds that will transform the world around you. God calls you, God calls this Church to be the light of God amidst the darkness we encounter. Christ calls you to be love in the midst of hate and prejudice and exclusion; Christ calls you- calls this Church- to be God’s justice, compassion and mercy in the midst of apathy and indifference to the cry of the poor and vulnerable. And often times, you are called to be the voice of God- especially when God is excruciatingly silent and the people are desperately yearning for a word of hope. That’s hard. It’s a tough job. But even in the weakness of the Church, even in our sinfulness and brokenness, even in our wanton disobedience to the Gospel, Christ loves the Church- precious to him- and he calls the Church, he needs the Church to go to all places, but especially to lonely places, to places of pain, to places of heartbrokenness to proclaim and announce indeed the word of healing love, and redemption… the grace of God who has called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Story adapted from Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection (NY: Bantam Books), 1992.
©2022 Noel E. Bordador
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