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AS STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS
Homily Easter III 2011
by Richard Spear

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." -I Peter ii:11

In last week's Epistle, St. Peter pointed to the hardest lesson of Christianity. He declares that God expects us to take patiently the undeserved punishments we are all prone to receive in this world from time to time. You will recall that Deacon Kalish also took up this theme of persecution in his sermon.

Today's Epistle, drawn from that same chapter of St. Peter's first letter, opens by encouraging us to be like "strangers and pilgrims", and today we may not get the point --even when we retranslate these words as "aliens and exiles" or "foreigners and visitors". In what sense can we be called "foreigners and visitors" to the human society which we were born into --and which we know so well?

After all, foreigners and visitors often don't seem to understand what is going on around them. Not only do they have strange notions and occasional bits of bizarre behavior, but 'folks from away' don't always appreciate the efforts we make to clue them in or perhaps to make them shape up. Why would St. Peter suggest we should join the disadvantaged, and become like "outsiders"?

Peter sees the Christian community as an outsider group. He is referring to the majority of people in his own time when he says "whereas they speak against you [Christians] as evildoers." However, when viewed by the majority in any human society since that time, the greatest shortcoming of the true Christian is that he does NOT ASSIMILATE --he does not completely and unquestioningly accept the values of the world in which he lives. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "Be not conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans xii:2). In that sense the Christian must ever remain a stranger and pilgrim.

St. Peter's advice to "abstain from fleshly lusts" sounds so quaint that it has been retranslated as "abstain from the passions of the flesh" --but his meaning is clear enough when they are defined as "war[ring] against the soul". To place a value upon your soul --and to act accordingly-- is foreign to a society which typically values every action in isolation, and in terms of immediate gratification. However, this alienation from our own society --this role of strangers and pilgrims-- is what St. Peter urges us to take up.

Godʼs call to suffer patiently, is obviously foreign to the common practice. But Peter advocates it: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake .... for so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." He clearly sees this submission as a special kind of liberty --a freedom from the ignorance, malice and false values so prevalent throughout human history.

Liberty takes various forms. Last Sunday's readings revolved around the comparison of humans to sheep --in fact, the second Sunday after Easter has been known as "Good Shepherd Sunday --and the silly sheep, given any freedom, will take it upon themselves at every opportunity to stray.

And modern society asserts an ever-increasing liberty for us as individuals. Yet this type of freedom is the same as that of a shepherdless flock of sheep who lack fences and trained dogs. It is a random freedom --without-direction. It encourages a blind belief in some kind of human progress, instead of faith in Christ's resurrection. This modem liberty is in fact a freedom to wander into confusion, despair, and death. Father David Curry, in the homily reprinted in your leaflet today, characterizes our culture as one of disrespect and death --and it would be hard to disagree with him.

On the other hand, we strangers and pilgrims --foreigners, if you will-- have the freedom that comes from a wider experience that others have yet to share. We are not completely shut in by the evils of our time, or the limits imposed upon us by life in a militantly anti-religious society. Even our submissions to this world's pettiness have wider purpose in the will of God. "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth"
[Psalm 124:81]

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Richard Spear

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