This sign stood outside of Regina Mundi Catholic Church in the heart of Soweto, South Africa - marking the entrance to the church's sanctuary. It was an especially inviting sign to our small band of American pastors who had traveled many miles from home and were on the tail-end of our journey through South Africa. We were that. Pilgrims. Traveling and visiting, on our way from place to place, but always with the expectation that we would be returning home soon.
I wonder if the parishioners of Regina Mundi pay much attention to this sign outside of their sanctuary anymore. After a certain amount of time, if you spend enough time in one place, you don't feel much like a pilgrim. You can begin to feel fairly settled, which isn't entirely a bad thing. There is a certain degree of comfort and peace in the security of being a settler. It's nice to know what to expect, nice to know the faces surrounding you when you walk into a room, and nice to know which streets to take and which ones not to. But to be a person of faith is at the very core an experience of pilgrimage, to live a life that never fully accepts this world as our ultimate home nor is destined to find all that can fulfill or satisfy us in any one, earthly city or town. From Abraham walking away from Ur into the onward leading promises of God to Joseph being taken down into the land of Egypt, the history of our ancestors in faith has been a history of journeying and sojourning. The same goes for God's people in the New Testament: from Mary and Joseph wandering from place to place in preparation for God's salvation to Paul walking and sailing throughout the Roman Empire as he proclaimed a Christ and Kingdom supreme above all earthly powers.
In less than two weeks, we will celebrate twenty years of worshiping in this church building: twenty years of a holy, familiar place where we can meet and laugh and sing and sit in God's presence; twenty years of growing comfortable with where our pew is and with how we sing our songs; twenty years of becoming settlers in this place called Greencastle. But we must not forget that deeper down we are still pilgrims. We meet and worship in this sanctuary, but this is not the place God has designed for us to enjoy forever. We are still on a journey, and we must be ever alert to the Holy Spirit who may open up new doors and beckon us to new calls at any moment.
Perhaps even more importantly: we must remember that surrounding us throughout Greencastle are thousands on their own pilgrimage, on their own journey. Are we making room for them? Are we opening our doors to strangers in our community, making way for the possibility of angels in our midst as the author of Hebrews liked to speak? Do we have a spirit as a congregation that says, "Welcome Pilgrims"?
This coming Sunday we will have the opportunity to say thank you to a family that has meant a lot to our church in the last few years. The Martin family - Brian, Valerie, Caleb, Toby, and Ellie - will be moving to Chicago soon, and this Sunday after worship we will have the chance to gift them with presents and our prayers. I invite you to join us for that. Certainly we will miss them, but we know that our pilgrimages will end in the same location by God's grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.
We will also celebrate our Lord's Supper this Sunday in worship - God's gracious meal given to us pilgrims traveling through this world.
I hope to see you Sunday. God's peace to you,