What is this? In the August issue of National Geographic, the Big Idea column was titled, “We are all migrants”. The author makes the case that as human beings, we are all of us, are on the move from youth to adulthood to elderly, from one location to another, one relationship to another, and one job to another, and so on. The columnist calls out the current political division between “natives” and “migrants”, encouraging us to realize that, ultimately, we are all migrants and refugees dealing with change, sorrow, and trying to find our way. Therefore, we need to have more empathy, understanding, and acceptance for the migrants that come to our borders, work in our cities, and live in our communities. While I certainly agree with his extended metaphor that we are all refugees on some level and, as a society, we need to be more hospitable to immigrants among us, I don’t find much hope for real change in his appeal for a better world if we somehow tap into our potential and try harder as humanity to be more tolerant and kind. Sorry, Lutheran pastor here, prone to skepticism and real about sin. The bible, human history, and my personal experience confirm we simply do not have the capacity to “evolve”. The gospel is blunt, you, me, and the cosmos need a Savior.
What does this mean? I have always loved the biblical metaphor from Hebrews 11 that as people of faith we are travelers, sojourners, and aliens in this earthy life. I say that because I fancy myself a traveler, enthralled with exotic destinations like Lebanon and Singapore. I suppose I am a sojourner, in that I have lived an itinerant life, at least before marriage. I was constantly on the move, never quite settled, restless for new experiences. An alien, in that I have been shaped by a troubled family, bouts of depression, our son’s autism, and God’s mercy in the wake of such difficulties. Maybe we are all a mix of that, thrilled with the new and novel, restless and relentless in pursuit of inner peace, and wounded and worn down by our earthly losses and liabilities, and hopefully healing and growing through it all. Abraham is lifted up as our father in the faith, “even though he didn’t know where he was going, by faith, he made his final destination the promised land, so like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents….for he was looking forward to the city (New Jerusalem) with foundations whose architect and builder is God”. What fueled Abraham’s faith to live as a sojourner was hope from heaven, that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Yes, God came down, born into poverty to an unmarried couple, forced to flee to Egypt as a refugee to escape Herod’s reign of terror, working a blue-collar job, living under Roman occupation, before becoming an itinerant preacher, angering the religious establishment, rejected by the very people he came to save, then dying a condemned criminal on the cross, and finally raised from the dead through the miracle of the resurrection.
What is the takeaway? Jesus (Our Savior) has been where we have been; a refugee on the run, working for a living, having good friends, rejected by people he loved, moving from place to place, enjoying a good party, and, at times, feeling alone, full of sorrow, and wondering if God had abandoned him (on the cross). This matters because Jesus has also gone to where we will be one day, post-resurrection. Jesus is our great high priest, who mediates between the worldly sojourners and the Heavenly King. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, so to help us get from here to there, we need Jesus to advocate for us. That means Jesus prays for us (see the Apostles Creed). We need Jesus to direct us, the Holy Spirit is our local guide, to get us home. And we need Jesus to be our sanctuary even as we are on the move. Jesus is a place of refuge, our constant companion, forgiving, energizing, and equipping us for holy work. As we move from birth to death, baptism to resurrection, from this life to the next, we need to rest, refresh, and reconnoiter with fellow sojourners, around the cross to worship and receive bread and wine to continue the journey. Back to the National Geographic column, there is something powerful and particular, that we are all migrants on the move. With Jesus as the First Refugee of the Coming Kingdom, may we lean on Him to guide and get us there. And along the way, may the Spirit give us the grit and grace to be merciful and generous to our fellow travelers, remembering they are a lot like us.