Throughout his first letter, St. Peter urges his hearers to confess the faith without fear, and to persist in doing good, no matter what suffering such boldness brings. He reminds these believers in Asia Minor of the suffering that Jesus endured on their behalf and of the promises that belong to them through faith. Peter sets these charges and reminders in the context of the image of exile, so that these Christians would not forget that heaven is their home.
In addressing his letter to “the elect exiles” in Asia Minor (1:1), Peter identifies his hearers as followers of Jesus, chosen members of the new people of God, travelers on the Christian journey who find themselves exiled temporarily from their true home. When Peter urges them to abstain from sin, he calls them “sojourners and exiles” (2:11), as though he is reminding them not to take on the characteristics of the place in which they currently live (the world), but to hold fast to their identity as citizens of heaven.
When someone asks me where I’m from, I tend to hem and haw, and tell a long, complicated story, simply because I have called so many different places “home” over the course of my life. Certainly, when I am visiting somewhere else I am proud to call Birmingham my home! But when people here notice that I’m not from here, I have a dilemma. Do I tell them about Massachusetts, where my family has lived for generations, or about Pittsburgh, where I grew up, or about Connecticut, where the majority of my nuclear family now lives?
As a recovering nomad, I find comfort in remembering Jesus’ words to those who would follow him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Through that saying, Jesus intended to prepare all his disciples for the reality of the journeying aspect of following him. Encountering Jesus changes us, so that the things that were once comfortable feel foreign. And throughout the Christian life, God constantly transforms us in perceptible ways.
For Christians, even if we have lived our entire lives in the same earthly place, we cannot honestly say that it is our home. Our true home lies not in our past but in the bright future that belongs to us because we are in Christ. Heaven is our home.
When I have reflected on my own sense of home and of belonging, I find that the only physical place that has been a constant factor for my entire life is a place in which I have never actually lived, only visited. It is a vacation spot where my family has gone for several generations, and where many of my relatives have retired. I just might retire to this place one day, and that knowledge of my future residence tends to influence the way I live my life now.
As born again Christians, our inheritance lies beyond, in a place that we have heard of, that we have gotten a taste of, but where we do not yet live full-time. The truth of this promise gives us hope in the midst of the trials of this life, along with the endurance beyond our own strength, to confess our faith in word and deed without fear.