By Paul Koch –
I’ve always liked the word “sojourner.” It is a rarely used word these days; in fact I’m not sure it was ever used a lot. In Scripture it is used to describe a person who has attached themselves to a community in some way, shape, or form but are not actually part of the community. They are there maybe because of war or famine or some other tragedy but they do not possess the legal rights of the citizens. Some translations call them simply foreigners, or aliens, or even resident aliens. Today we might simply call them undocumented workers. A sojourner then was one who tended to live on the fringe of the community, not sure where they belonged. They were the broken and desperate people that we often pass by with a look of pity or disregard.
All communities have sojourners. In fact, the whole nation of Israel was itself was a sojourner when they lived and were enslaved in Egypt. And throughout their wanderings, in the wilderness those forty years after God delivered them, they picked up stragglers along the way: sojourners who received the blessings of the community but had no rights within the community itself. To this day we have sojourners in our states, cities and towns. Those who live on the fringe, the wanderers who stop to find comfort and security but whose voices are silent with regard to the future course of such a community.
Who are the sojourners in our midst? Who are the ones that hold on to the edge of the community? Who gathers close to our Lord’s gifts though they have no right, no legal claim to them? These are not just frivolous questions, but crucial to understanding our purpose and mission. Our Old Testament reading today is from the book of Deuteronomy where the Israelites have gathered on the plains of Moab. Before them stretches the land promised to their fathers. In preparation to go and take possession of what the Lord has given, they are reminded of the decrees and promises of God. And settled right there in the midst of this Word to his people, God speaks about the sojourner. He says, “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” The sojourner is part of the focus of God’s love; the sojourner is not forgotten by our God.
Now what we do is define the sojourner according to our specific preference. The wanderer or foreigner is a foreigner from a specific point of view. In this community, we may define ourselves first as Christians, disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Further we may see ourselves as those who stand in the lineage of the Reformation of the church. We add to that a specific confession of the Reformation, that belonging to Luther and those who followed in his footsteps. Now we’re not done just yet; not only is this community part of the church of the Lutheran Reformation it is a specific form of Lutheranism that we call the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. We may not have ever been to Missouri or even know what a Synod is but still this is how we define ourselves.
So we may find the sojourner in the weary Baptist who peeks in on a Sunday morning and sits in the back pew. We may find the sojourner in the Christian of Reformed persuasion who enjoys the fellowships, but gets a little disturbed when we start baptizing babies. We may even find sojourners in fellow members of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, if they come from a different tradition of worship from ours. If they grew up in a church where the pastor doesn’t wear these vestments or doesn’t chant the liturgy or light candles or sing from a hymnal. These things may seem so foreign, even weird to them, that they will become as a stranger in a strange land, a sojourner right in our midst. And so based on our preferences and traditions we begin to define what is meant by the sojourner.
Yet, in our text today God doesn’t allow us to just define the sojourner according to our narrow perspective of choice. Rather, we are given in His Word a cosmic, expansive view of things. God pulls back and allows us to see things from His perspective. We hear, “Behold, to the Lord your God belongs heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” Our God is not just ours. He is not something that we possess, or that we control and define how we want. This is the One who created the heavens and the earth; He holds all things in his hands. His community is that of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. All people are sojourners from His perspective. He is God of gods and Lord of lords, the Great, the Mighty, the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Not one of us has legal claim to anything that is His.
We may like to think that we have a claim upon our God that places us over others. But the truth is we have more in common with the beggar at the gates or the homeless man downtown than we do with our God. We are the desperate sojourners. We long to be near Him, close to His light and protection and blessing. But we have no right. According to the law we are transgressors, branded as the disobedient wandering and lost sheep that reject again and again the commands of our Creator.
And somehow, I think we know this. We know that we are all as sojourners. We are a people who are broken and lost. We have lives filled with doubt and worry. Oh you may put on a nice smile when you walk through the doors, but all is not well. There is a lot of hurt, a lot of disappointment and fear. You have strained and broken relationships. You have done things you wish you could take back but can’t. You have allowed those you love to slip away; you have failed to help when you could. You feel the weight of sin and know what it is to be a sojourner.
What incredible news that this great and mighty God, this Creator and Sustainer of all that we know, declares that He loves the sojourner? He loves the outsider, He loves the one who has no legal claim to what is His, He loves the broken and poor in spirit, He loves the sinner, the fallen and aimless – He loves you. And His love changes everything. His loves sends forth His only begotten Son to become a sojourner among us. He stands in human flesh, breathing the very air that He created. He wanders in our midst weeping alongside us and perfectly loving where we have failed. This great sojourner takes then all our filth, all our sin, all our failures whatever they are and He claims them as His own. And for them He dies, He does as a sojourner so that you might be called brothers and sisters, so that you might not be foreigners or aliens but the very children of God.
Truly our God loves the sojourner, for he loves each and every one of you. He frees you then to love the sojourner as well; love the wanderer and stranger in our midst, love the broken and hurting. As you have been loved, so you now love. As you have been forgiven, so now forgive others.