Exile – this place is not our home.

Homily 364 – 2nd after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 30, 2019
Epistle: (81-ctr) – Romans 2:10-16 and (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (9) – Matthew 4:18-23 and (10) – Matthew 4:25-5:12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

On Friday evening we sang vespers for Ss. Peter and Paul. As part of that service, we read from the epistles of St. Peter.

I began to speak about the word that leapt out at me – exile. St. Peter tells us in a two of those readings that we are exiles.

The dictionary defines “exile” as having been expelled and barred from one’s native country. To be exiled is to live in a place that isn’t home. Unfamiliar.

Living as a “stranger in a strange land” as I believe the saying goes.

That saying comes from Exodus 2:22, where Moses and his Egyptian wife give birth to a son. The name they gave was “Gershom”, meaning “stranger in a strange land.”

Think about that – Moses was born in Egypt. He grew up in Pharaoh’s family. He married a daughter of Pharaoh, and had a child.

By all accounts, by modern standards at least, Moses would be a product of the place where he was. He would be an Egyptian.

But he wasn’t. And he recognized that. Regardless of location, Egypt was not his home.

We are the same. Regardless of where we were born and grew up, and even where we live, we are strangers. We are exiles.

As were all the saints – our people, our tribe, is not of this land, not even of this earth.

See, our home is paradise. Literally. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great tells us:
God put us in a paradise of delight, promising us eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of His commandments.

But when we disobeyed God, our Creator, becoming subject to death through his our own transgressions, God, in His righteous judgment, sent us forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which we were taken, yet providing for us the salvation of regeneration in Christ Himself.

We are exiled.

And yet somehow over the millennia, we have lost track of who we really are. That isn’t unusual – the Hebrews in Egypt forgot who they were too.

But not Moses. And, not God.

And not the saints. The saints understood that they were people of God, not people of a particular country or land, even when that land was North America.

Their role, as they saw it, was to be faithful to the homeland, the Kingdom of God, but loving and supportive to the natives. The natives could join our Kingdom, too!

From Russian Alaska, to the California Coast, to the Mountains of Pennsylvania, and even to the Midwest – Minneapolis and Chicago. The saints lived out their lives as exiles.

These holy people are family – our tribe. We are their legacy. What will we do? How will we live? Will we become like the natives?

Or will we remain true to our true home? It’s an important question, and not one to pass lightly.

As we anticipate the celebration of the 243rd anniversary of this place declaring independence, perhaps it is a good time for us to rethink our relationship to this place.

Consider the influences, the standards by which we live, the criteria by which our every move is evaluated by those all around us.

This country was founded on freedom – and yet we are enslaved. We have an illusion of freedom. An illusion of control of our destiny. Not because our country is bad – not that any country is bad. All countries are fallen – because all countries are human.

Illusions eventually vanish. So perhaps we are wise to consider what is truly real. Truly solid. St. Paul tells us that faith is the substance, the tangible evidence, the reality of things unseen.

Things undetectable by us. Yet things that exist. This world is the illusion – the deception. The world, the kingdom which is to come is our reality.

We do not – and cannot – have a Christian culture in this land, as Christian culture is real and solid and this land and what it represents is an illusion.

Simon Peter, and Andrew, James and John, were fishermen, Jews, in Galilee. When Christ called them, they left their earthly home, their earthly family, and became citizens in the Kingdom of God, followers of Christ.

They became exiles. And we are heirs of their exile.

So what can we expect in exile? Christ tells us we can expect the world to persecute us, to ridicule us, to mock us and bear false testimony against us – even to dismiss us as completely irrelevant.

In our kingdom, we don’t strive for power – we strive for peace. We don’t strive for prestige, we aspire to meekness. We don’t seek material blessing, but give thanks for all that God provides to us.

And in everything, every good thing, we share. Because we love Christ, because we love His creation and His creatures, and because we are thankful that this land is not our home.

We are exiles. Yet, even in exile, we dwell in the Kingdom of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!