Sep 14, 2006

No longer strangers and foreigners

We traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas this week. With the correct and correctly completed form in hand, Luz Maria was granted her interview for a tourist visa. Her application was approved as well, so we now expect to visit supporters and prospective supporters in the United States in December. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible.

Last Sunday at Corpus Christi Lutheran Church, while Pastor Edgar Brito and his wife, Mariel, took a much-needed vacation, I led a brief prayer service with a message based on Ephesians 2: 11-22. I composed it first in Spanish, now I present to you my English translation of my own words.

"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no
hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

"For He Himself is our peace and has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

"And He came and preached peace for you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fixed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

Ephesians 2: 11-22

To be a witness for Christ is to be a pilgrim and foreigner in this world, and thus a missionary.

In the Old Testament the Law of Moses often commanded hospitality toward foreigners because the Israelites, the people of God, were called out of Egypt and as foreigners traveled to the Promised Land through many other territories.

For example:

"You shall neither mistreat a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Exodus 22: 21

"The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord, your God."

Leviticus 19: 34

"Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Deuteronomy 10: 19

The New Testament uses similar words.

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

Hebrews 11: 13

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so, some have unwittingly entertained angels."

Hebrews 13: 2

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you
be multiplied."

1 Peter 1: 1-2

In the Old Testament, God proposed to make a chosen nation of the children of Abraham. Toward this end, it was necessary for them to have a Promised Land where they would separate themselves from the pagans in order to show the sanctity of their God. God ordered Abraham to leave his parents and their gods and endure a long journey through the wilderness.

The Lord saved Jacob and his family from hunger using their son and brother Joseph as His instrument and providing a temporary home for them in Egypt. But, when the time was right, God called them back to the Promised Land.

Later God punished his disobedient people by letting them be led into captivity in Babylonia. But, at the right time, He caused them to return to the Promised Land as testimony to the faithfulness of their God.

In each case -- Ur of the Chaldeans, Egypt, Babylonia, life outside the Promised Land was in some ways more comfortable than a dangerous journey to the Promised Land. However, it was the will of God for His people that they become pilgrims.

And even though they were to separate themselves from the pagan culture that surrounded them, they were to show hospitality to strangers as a reminder that they had been given their land and homes by God's grace, not by their own merit.

Why? To fulfill the promise of God to Abraham. The formation of a nation was one part of this promise. The other part was to be a blessing to all nations,especially as the nation which would produce the Messiah, the promised Descendent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David. How would this blessing ultimately come about? Through the gathering of all foreigners to share in
the love and mercy of God. Through the salvation of all of sinful humanity which has been accomplished by Christ´s life of perfect obedience to the Law and atoning death on the cross.

Ephesians 2: 11-22 says the Gentiles through reconcilation with God have become part of the commonwealth of Israel. The last book of the New Testament extends this vision:

"After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all tribes, people, nations and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to
our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

Revelation 7: 9-10

"Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever."

Revelation 11: 15

"Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth -- to every nation, tribe, tongue and people -- saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."

Revelation 14: 6-7

But this vision is contrary to human nature. We feel most comfortable with people of our language and culture. Often we care only for our biological families -- parents, children, siblings -- and nobody else. But for Christians, saved through the suffering and blood of Jesus, the history of
the Israelites is a model for our lives. Like them, we were strangers to God,who nevertheless delivered from slavery and captivity, making us strangers to this world. For we are to show both the holiness and mercy of God in our actions toward those who are different than ourselves. Our Promised Land is not on this earth, but with God in heaven. So life itself is our journey and
our focus is not on the promise of a Messiah that has been fulfilled, but on the second part of the promise -- the gathering of the nations.

Acts 1: 8 says:

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jesusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Jerusalem may be understood as our witness to the people closest to us: our families, our friends, our neighbors. These people know us personally as well as sharing our language and culture. Judea may be understood as those who do not know us personally, yet share our language and culture. For example, those who live in other neighborhoods, cities and states of our country.

Samaria signifies those in our communities or nation that have another language or style of living. In Venezuela, for instance, there Asians, indigenous tribes and people of various other ethnicities.

One might think that proclaiming the Gospel to "the end of the earth" requires little explanation. But I think perhaps it does.

One temptation for the local church is to focus on Jerusalem and Judea and forget about Samaria and the rest of the world. It is our human nature: Share the blessings of God with our families and friends and forget about everyone else. But there is one Body of Christ and the local church is part of this Body. No individual lives in Christ and grows in faith apart from the local
church where the Word of God is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. Likewise, the local church cannot exist apart from the one holy Church, national, international and celestial (for we are as one with the saints in heaven, too).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I was born in the United States and lived in various parts of that country. I was a member and at times, a Bible class and Sunday school teacher, deacon and elder in nine congregations in five different states. In addition, I have many opportunities to visit other local churches. My observation over the course of my life was that when local churches lose the vision of evangelizing all the world, they also lose the motivation for witnessing to friends, neighbors and local communities. The ultimate result is the local congregations withers and dies.

There is one Church, one Body of Christ, one army of God, and it has one mission: the proclamation of the Gospel. This mission includes the support of evangelistic projects throughout the country and the world, and God has given even the smallest congregation gifts to use in this endeavor. It was a great day for the Lutheran Church of Venezuela when Armando Ramos, a son of Corpus Christi Lutheran Church, left his home and his family to become the resident pastor of Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm in Monagas. The Lutheran Church of Venezuela has set a goal of establishing congregations in every state of the land. This is an ambitious goal, but with God's help it can be done. But every congregation in the Lutheran Church of Venezuela needs to train up more young people like Armando who will dedicate themselves to becoming pastors, teachers and evangelists.

All Christians are called to leave behind a life of sin, regardless of the opinions of their families and friends as in the days of Abraham. This is a spiritual journey in which all become strangers to the world. For some of us, answering this call of God means a physical journey as well.

My brothers, I, too, have left my family and my friends to witness of God's love to the lost outside my own nation, but also to witness to Christians here and in the United States of the Lord's great works throughout the world. It is my great honor and privilege to live and serve among the people of

Every day I pray for the holy Church in Venezuela and throughout the world,that God may bless its work and maintain it in the pure Word and its Gospel mission.


No comments: