Summary: This sermon looks at the Christian life as a pligrimage and suggests that a successful pilgrimage is dependent upon having a faith like Abraham’s.
A Pilgrim’s Memoirs
For the last 23 years, my family and I have wandered from country to country. As perpetual wanderers, we have often searched for a home church in each country we have sojourned. Yet each time we knew that we would wander again. In a sense we are living testimony to a simple biblical truth: that we are all pilgrims!
A Pilgrim’s Observation
As a pilgrim, I get to see many diverse things, some good and some not so good. Most importantly, I get to see the state of God’s Church, a mixed review at best. I notice a sense of fragmentation tugging at the coattails of the Church’s existence. This is brought about by two forces vying for control of the hearts and minds of God’s people.
On one end of the spectrum is the renaissance of legalism – the rigid, uncompromising legalism of bygone days – the legalistic approach to salvation that gave children nightmares and caused them endless anxiety about judgement. Today, this legalism is marked by the presence of fringe groups with a penchant for extremism. These groups travel the world trumpeting a harsh gospel, causing havoc and divisions in the churches, and undermining the duly elected leadership of the Church.
On the other end of the spectrum is the rampant secularism that pervades certain segments of the Church. There is an intense desire among so many Christians to be and live like the world. This can be observed at both the personal and institutional levels of the Church. At the personal level, God’s people seem more intent on securing their future here on earth, as though we already are in some sort of earthly paradise. At the institutional level, Christian schools are obsessed with accreditations, hospitals are enamoured with community wages, publishing houses are intent with making money.
These fragmenting forces, whether pulling right or left, have the same ultimate consequence: they both turn the Church inward. The Church becomes self-absorbed and, in the process, loses its sense of mission.
However, I also observe another force at work among God’s people. I notice a sense of esprit de corps in God’s Church that is unmatched in this planet. This camaraderie, this oneness, this sense of esprit de corps creates a world body that is bound in faith and in the Spirit. Regardless of where I find myself, I always know when I am among God’s people. This truly is the mystery and thrill of being a pilgrim. There is something amazingly enthralling and captivating about this sense of esprit de corps. Such a sense of belongingness is difficult to match this side of heaven.
Nevertheless, I cannot deny the evident fragmentation of the Church. I cannot help but ask: How can a Church driven by such a magnificent sense of esprit de corps also exhibit such fragmenting tendencies? I think that pilgrimage requires a stable anchor, something to hold a pilgrim’s faith steady amidst the violent waves that seek to capsize faith’s vessel.
A Pilgrim’s Anchor
I would like to suggest that the only anchor that will hold a pilgrim firmly in place is an Abraham-like faith. Such a faith has four principal components.
First, Heb 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went.” The first component of an Abraham-like faith is an obedient response to a call. Each one of us is called by God for some purpose, for some mission, for some unique task. God’s call is never vague, it comes with a great deal of clarity and it serves as the underlying conviction that we are servants of the Lord. The only real struggle pertains to our response. Abraham’s response to his divine call was unconditional and unquestioning. A pilgrim’s faith anchor must likewise be an unreserved, obedient response to God’s call. As Isaiah the prophet stated, we too should be prepared to say, “Here I am, send me!” Unless our faith, individually or corporately, is mission driven, it will not stand the test that lies ahead of us.
Second, Heb 11:9-12 states, “By faith Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents; for he was looking forward to the city with foundation, whose architect is God.” The second component of an Abraham-like faith is the ordering of life according to eternal priorities. Abraham recognised and accepted the transitory nature of his life – he lived in tents – he knew that he could never be more than a resident alien. Living in America alerted me to the fact that there are three types of people as far as the immigration authorities are concerned: citizens, resident aliens, and non-resident aliens. Like Abraham, all pilgrims must accept the fact that this world is not our home and we are simply passing through. We are at best resident aliens and at worst non-resident aliens. Consequently, Abraham trusted in a divinely-inspired future: he looked for a city whose architect is God. Never mind the tents; never mind the alien status. He knew that a better world awaited him.