Summary: For the anniversary of the Lai Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, a Burmese congregation. You came as strangers, but God has made you His own. Now we American Christians, who have strayed from what we once were, need your passion among us.
Sometimes people of differing cultures fail to understand one another. Sometimes people with differing backgrounds cannot grasp what others are all about. So they end up hurting one another, when, really, they need one another. If you do not understand your neighbor, and if your neighbor is different from you, you may damage each other.
I like to watch the television series, “All Creatures Great and Small”. These are stories about the life of a veterinarian – an animal doctor – in Yorkshire, in northern England, near the Scottish border. These stories have much to teach us. In one of the episodes of “All Creatures Great and Small”, there was the story of a stranger who came to live in Yorkshire. Mr. Pendretti was an Italian. He had been sent to that part of England as a prisoner of war in the 1940’s, and he had stayed there after the war ended. Mr. Pendretti had made friends with a young girl in Yorkshire, but the girl’s grandmother was completely unfriendly to Mr. Pendretti. She wanted nothing to do with him, and she wanted her granddaughter to avoid him too. No one could understand why Mrs. Clark was so much against Mr. Pendretti. Was it because he was a stranger? Was it because he came from another country? Was it because his English was heavily accented?
As it turned out, Mrs. Clark’s son, the young girl’s father, had been killed fighting in Italy during the Second World War. In an emotional moment during the show, she says, “Why should I welcome you here in my country when my son is lying dead in your country?” She just refused to accept this stranger, because she had been deeply wounded. She had been severely hurt.
Good friends, you are like Mr. Pendretti. You are living in a world that does not easily understand you. You are living in a nation that has very little knowledge of your history. You are living in a community that thinks it is wounded because immigrants have come here from all over the world, and some of them break the law or become violent. I would not be surprised at all to learn that some of you have met hostility and anger and misunderstanding.
You must not think that if these things happen, it is your fault. If these things happen, it is because many Americans are wounded people, damaged people, who have forgotten their history and who have strayed from their God. If you have been subjected to an unfriendly spirit, and have been treated as suspect strangers, that is not really about you. That is about those who have strayed from all that God has done in their lives.
Today I want to think about two kinds of people. Two kinds of people, and in English the words sound much the same. There are strangers; and there are strays. There are strangers, who have come here from other places, other cultures, and who may not yet feel at home. And there are strays, people who have been here and have benefited from all that this nation has to offer, but who have wandered away from God. They have strayed. There are strangers and there are strays.
But there is someone else too. In addition to strangers and strays, there are those who are at home and at peace. There are those who are God’s own people, and they know it. They celebrate it. They live it. They are no longer strangers, but they are God’s own, living among the strays.
Peter points this out so beautifully: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
God’s own people are no longer strangers. But God’s own people live among the strays, among those who have wandered away from our God. That gives you a special witness. That gives you a unique place in the Kingdom.
First, let’s think about what it was to be strangers, and how God has brought you out of that. And then let’s think about what our God has called you to be among His strays.
The history of the human race is full of one harsh reality – that we are threatened by those who are not like us. It is not only that we are more comfortable with people who look like us, sound like us, share our tastes, and do what we do. Deeper than that, nearly every culture in human history has learned to hate those who are different. They are treated as enemies. They are at best ignored and at worse made to live in oppressive conditions.