So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners…
I move a lot. At fifty-plus, I’ve still never been in the same place for more than 4 Christmases. It’s not like I don’t try: but life in the lower-middle class (or upper lower-class, whatever) is lived from paycheck to paycheck. My last layoff left me stranded in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in America. My only defense was more mobility. That is one thing I can do. I’ve been doing it since I was born: never spending too much time in one place was a skill my mother learned from her father, the train-riding hobo. Mom and Dad were both in the Air Force: moving was a given.
Someone coming from outside to “here” for the first time or recently is a stranger. We’ve never met him before and he smells funny. Someone who has been around for a while – but ain’t from here – is a sojourner. You can be a sojourner for a lot of time if you’re in a small town. In a big city it won’t take as long before you “become” a native. In and after college, I lived in NYC for 12 years, with 8 different addresses. At the point when I had been in SF for the same amount of time (with 9 different addresses) I began to feel sort of like an SFer. SF, however, is very different than a small town in Alabama. In the latter they will know – nearly forever – that you’re not from there: you stay a Sojourner all your life. At your requiem, the old ladies will say, “He was nearly like one of us, weren’t he?” In SF, a new generation of newbies shows up every couple of years. You’re the relative native in no time at all.
A friend of mine, who was an Episcopal Priest, once said he had gotten use to the idea there was no home for him in this world. I am with him on this – based only on my moving experience, although San Francisco and Asheville, NC, feel most like home to me. (If you ask me, yes, generally I feel rather sympathetic to refugees of any sort or condition.)
The Church, says St Paul, is rather more like San Francisco than that small town in Alabama. One might be a neophyte, still learning things, but from the mystery of Baptism, one already stands at the the One Table of our One Lord, Jesus, both God and Man, surrounded by Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Pious of all ages, especially the Most Blessed, Ever Glorious, and All Holy Virgin Mary. We are all in it, together. We don’t get to say, “You’re not good enough because you came from some other place.” We don’t get to say “you can’t pray in that language” and we don’t get to confuse our country – the “Holy” Mother or “Holy” Father Land – with the kingdom of God and thus make other countries into something less than our “holy” place.
The Apostles (today we remember, especially, St Simon and St Jude) came from one, tiny place and went all over the world. Wherever they went, they had to create/plant/bring Church with the Eucharist, the Apostolic succession and teaching. Whenever Christians came together at the table of the Lord, they were Home.
That is how it is for us – or it should be. We’ve got some growing up to do: when a headline reads “to understand our country, you must look at our church” and then spends pages of space discussing the political situation – with nothing about Jesus at all – you know you’re in the wrong place. It can’t be church married to the politics like that. It’s just an arm of the state. Is outrage! And anyone who has visited such a place knows that the “natives” make all the strangers learn to be natives, not of the Kingdom of God but of that earthly “holy” mother, that sojourners must grow to pretend to be natives looking down on others, and people confuse working out their salvation with dressing up in folk costumes for the highest holy day of the year: the annual Parish Food Festival.
In the world we are strangers to each other. In the Table Fellowship of God we are fellow-citizens: that makes us brothers and sisters to each other and, in the world, we are only Sojourners, now. We’re just here, just passing through.
Come home. Time to leave the childish foolishness of the world behind and go to Church.