Settled Pilgrims

Settled PilgrimsThere is a recurring theme in Scripture of the people of God as pilgrims. Much of the narrative of Bible is built around the framework of nomadic journeys. There is the story of Abraham and his journey from Ur to Canaan, and the story of the Exodus when the Israelites journeyed out of Egypt and then traveled through the wilderness for 40 years before reaching Promised Land. Annually, the Israelites had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast days. Then there is the story of the Babylonian captivity and the return to the land 70 years later. Even Jesus built His ministry around traveling, as He sets His sights on His ultimate journey towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

These travel narratives serve as fitting parallels to the Christian life. In the New Testament, Peter calls Christians “pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11), and Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are traveling through, not residents to this land but aliens; never fully at home in this world.

This is a helpful reminder. In the trappings of monthly mortgage payments, weekly trash days, daily commutes and unceasing loads of laundry, this journey can seem quite entrenched. This transience feels rather settled. I’ve lived in the same county for thirteen years and the same house for five. This doesn’t look like the life of a nomad. I feel quite at home here.

But from the perspective of eternity, years pass by like moments. When we do reach our true home, we will understand how fleeting this time was. We are just passing through, like travelers stopping for a layover on our way to a final destination. A few days and a few decades each look like a blip from the perspective of eternity. I am a pilgrim; this word is not my home.

This is a biblical mindset, but it can lead to an unjustified conclusion. Like a traveler who trashes his hotel room before checking out, some may react with indifference to these stops along the way. Why worry about the condition of the room when you’ll be leaving in the morning? Housekeeping will take care of the mess after you are long gone. Similarly, some Christians respond with indifference to the concerns of this world. Environmental issues, social justice, poverty, immigration reform, health care and corporate greed become the wet towel left on the floor, the garbage on the nightstand, and the food crumbs all over the bedspread. Why should we care? We’ll check out in the morning. Someone else will clean it up.

God’s word to the Hebrew exiles through the prophet Jeremiah offers a helpful corrective to this attitude. He writes to those who have been carried off to Babylon. Temporarily displaced, false prophets have been offering trite assurances that this captivity will not last long. In contrast, Jeremiah informs the people that this displacement will linger. Even as pilgrims, they cannot treat their current locale with callous disregard.

This will be an extended visit, so they are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; increase and do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you to exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).

Establish roots in your community
The people are instructed to settle down; trade in their tents for houses, plan on staying long enough to plant and harvest a garden, marry and have children. This all suggests stability. It is good to be established in a community, involved in the local fabric of life and familiar with your neighbors. You learn of current issues affecting your community by being connected in that community. Conversations at the grocery store, in your neighborhood or with co-workers will reveal the most pressing needs in your community.

Work for the benefit of your community
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city or town where God has placed you. Speak out for justice. Volunteer locally in ways that will enhance the community. Get involved in the local schools, serve the needy, visit the elderly, campaign for local candidates, or consider running for office yourself. Get to know what organizations are already addressing the issues of greatest concern and partner with them to help your community.

Pray for your community
Ask God’s blessing on the city or town where he has placed you. Pray for the specific issues you are aware of and for those on the frontlines addressing these issues. If God blesses the community, the blessing will overflow to you. While this is not our ultimate home, it is our home for this season, and for this season I can be a blessing to this community, and this community can be a blessing to me.

Phil is a freelance writer from Syracuse, NY. He blogs regularly at: aploddingpilgrimage.blogspot.com.

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