Are you a pilgrim or a tourist? (Hebrews 11:8-16) #sermon #podcast

camino de santiago 1 cropGrowing up in the church, I would often hear the phrase, “We’re just pilgrims passing through,” usually in response to someone’s passion for changing the world. It means that since this is not our “true home” (heaven is), we shouldn’t worry about what happens to our world other than keeping our family safe. Hebrews 11 talks about the Israelite patriarchs who “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (v. 13), not because they considered earthly life irrelevant compared to “heaven,” but because they “desired a better country” (v. 16). Those who see our lives on Earth as a brief visit are tourists; those who are seeking a kingdom of God that requires more than one lifetime to build are pilgrims. Which are you?

I. Tourists are taking some time off; pilgrims are starting a new life

When you travel as a tourist, the idea is to take some time off from your busy, hectic life and return to the same busy, hectic life refreshed but basically unchanged. When you travel as a pilgrim, what you are seeking is an entirely new life. Hebrews 11:9 says about Abraham that “by faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.”

If we are truly living as pilgrims, then we should be about as attached to the way we are currently living as though we are living in tents in a land that isn’t yet what God has promised to make it. It is tremendously ironic to say that you’re just a “pilgrim passing through” as a means of justifying a comfortable life in which you have settled in completely and see no need to change anything.

II. Tourists make chit-chat; pilgrims make brothers and sisters for life

When you’re traveling with a tourist group, your hope is for the trip to stay as pleasant as possible. You can make light banter with your traveling companions, but you’re going to try your hardest to avoid saying anything that could possibly result in an ongoing conflict that would make the trip unpleasant. This is the way many people approach church, especially in my beloved United Methodism. We’re experts at being nice.

I call this form of (non-)community benevolent anonymity. One thing I will concede is that many of us are actually just introverted rather than being shallow. But that’s the reason why we need to be intentional about creating discipleship spaces in which true pilgrimage can occur. We need a space where we can be vulnerable enough with our traveling companions that we can truly be the brothers and sisters that Christ has called us to be.

III. Tourists pay for services; pilgrims bear each other’s burdens

When you’re a tourist, you pay somebody else to carry your luggage. In a church environment, what tourists put in the offering plate is payment for a service, the heartwarming songs and inspiring message that offer them a brief one-hour vacation from their lives. To be a pilgrim means that you consolidate your resources with other pilgrims and share the responsibility of carrying your tools. One person carries the tent, another the cooking supplies, and another the food.

In the same way, pilgrims offers 10% or more of their income to God not as a tax or tip for great singing and preaching, but in order to say that percentage of their wealth belongs to the community at large. And we absolutely do not cease being a part of the community with which we share our wealth after we share it. It’s still our money (or more precisely, money that we carry in stewardship for God); it’s just that meaning of our has expanded. If we give money without participating in the ministries that spend the money, then we’re tourists, not pilgrims.

IV. Tourists want to know the future; pilgrims trust God to lead them

When you’re a tourist, or at least a responsible one, you do a lot of shopping around before you go on a trip. You want the tour company that gives you the most bang for your buck. If one visits 5 museums in Paris and charges $200, then you’re going to pick that one over the one that charges $250 for 4 museums. Tourists need to know exactly what’s going to happen. If something happens that was unexpected, that’s cause for a refund or perhaps even a lawsuit.

In contrast, Abraham “set out, not knowing where he was going” (v. 8). To be a pilgrim doesn’t mean being flippant and lackadaisical about the future. It doesn’t mean you don’t make budgets or covenants or engage in any sort intentionality. But it does mean that you’re willing to adapt to whatever God throws at you. A pilgrim plans for the journey, but a pilgrim is unanxious about the future because God will provide and one of the ways God provides is through the shared resources of the pilgrims who trust God together.

V. Tourists are seeking photo ops; pilgrims are seeking salvation

There are three basic photo ops having to do with the church: when you baptize your baby, when your baby gets confirmed, and when your baby gets married. So if you’re a tourist, you only need to go to church three times, plus of course the annual photo ops of Christmas and Easter. Some tourists may go to church and Bible study regularly, but they’ve basically checked out of the journey of discipleship, because to them, salvation was a one-time event that happened on the day they prayed Jesus into their hearts.

When you’re a pilgrim, you hunger for salvation. One of the first Christian martyrs, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote that he would know whether he was actually a Christian or not according to how he reacted when the lions were tearing his body apart. For pilgrims, salvation isn’t the wildly successful industrial complex that it’s become in megachurchianity. It’s a quest to see the face of God. The closer we get, the further we realize we have to go, but this realization does not disappoint us because the joy increases all the time. Accepting the gift of Jesus’ justifying sacrifice for our sins is the first step on that journey, but we will not stop being saved until we are in eternal communion with God.

3 thoughts on “Are you a pilgrim or a tourist? (Hebrews 11:8-16) #sermon #podcast

  1. It seems to me that the Christian-as-tourist point of view, the belief that our earthly lives are inconsequential and only the attainment of eternal salvation matters, is just a convenient rationalization for living a self-absorbed, self-referential life. We establish our personal relationship with Jesus and assure ourselves of preferential seating in Heaven. Done and done.

    However, the tourist’s acceptance of a simplistic solution to the complex problem of making our often-rather-sorry human selves worthy of reception into the Eternal Divine misses the point of why God put us on Earth in the first place. Pilgrims understand this. Pilgrims understand that we earn our salvation through our lived experiences, actions, and words every minute that we occupy this mortal coil. Tourists believe that they are saved merely by claiming to have faith. Pilgrims know that faith without good works is dead. I believe that faith which is proclaimed from the rooftops but is not demonstrated through acts of humility, charity, and mercy is not faith at all; it’s an empty shell with nothing living inside it.

    In conclusion I should say that, as a cradle-Catholic-turned-Episcopalian, I come from a religious tradition that places great emphasis on a life of service and good works. The whole saved-by-faith-alone concept is utterly foreign to me–I just don’t understand how that would work. So, I hope I haven’t said anything offensive to anyone of another Christian faith tradition. If I have I apologize for my ignorance.

  2. Yes this is what we are called for; to be Christ’s pilgrims. The other thing I think needs saying is that we all have some tourist and some pilgrim in us. Few of us are so bad as to be only tourists and few of us are so good as to be 100% pilgrim. After all, being a tourist is essentially a reason to be lazy; “Hey, I just want to lay back and zone out, man.” And we all have the capacity to be lazy. At the same time, the truth of the matter is that living life as a tourist, while it appears ad the easy-life, is actually an unhappy way to live. Sooner or later, but almost always (It’s what we call being visited by the Holy Spirit) you see how empty your tourists-view of the world is. Tourist hearts are stony things that weigh heavily in the chest. They pump no blood, but produce spiritual heartburn aplenty. This is every tourist’s curse and secret. That ability to come to your pilgrim senses is what God is always waiting to give us and what God loves about us; we soak up his love so readily!
    And this duality that we share (tourist/pilgrim) must be understood if we are to be pilgrims to each other. I want to be a pilgrim always. I slink back into tourism often. But because I have tasted pilgrim spirits, have drank pilgrim wine, I pull myself up out of my tourist chaise-lounge and make my way to the scary places. Christ calls us to enter scary places. Ours is to call from the scary places to the tourists among us: to hold the hand of the brave tourist who senses his or her stoniness and humbly share the joy we have found so that it will not be so scary to them.
    And when we get there together, we find that instead of being scared, we are glimpsing paradise. Pilgrims know what Christ meant when he said the Kingdom is at hand.
    The glory of all pilgrims is that they see the promised land. Perhaps when we die we enter the promised land. But isn’t it good enough to have seen it? The fact that it is there is essentially being there. And knowing it is real is to belong to eternity.

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