strangers and exiles

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Heb 13.14)

The "strangers and exiles" imagery of God's people speaks strongly to me. And it's not just in the New Testament, but throughout the bible. I found this good synopsis online:

The experience of being an alien or sojourner was fundamental to Israel’s early identity. Abraham was called away from kin and familiar land to be a stranger in a new place. In the midst of God’s promises of offspring and land Abraham was told: “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs...” (Gen 15:13). The notion of being a sojourner or alien was actually embedded in the covenant and was part of what it meant to be the people of Yahweh.

Side by side this theme of Israel’s identity another great theme is juxtaposed, viz. the theme of an itinerant God who calls a group of sojourners in an alien land “my people” and who “…has seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry …” (Ex 3:7). “One thing makes this God different from the divinities found just about everywhere in those days. All those deities were linked to particular places— mountains, rivers, cities, regions— whereas the God that speaks to Abraham is a God who is not tied down to one spot. This God is a sojourner God, a pilgrim God” (Brother John of Taize, The Pilgrim God [a book I read just as I was leaving the Dominicans]). This is a God who refuses to live in a temple, in a fixed space, because this is the God of the tent, the traveller God always ready to guide Israel in its journey (2 Sam 7:1-7). The theme of the migrant God reappears in the New Testament. The author of the fourth Gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us (Jn 1:14, literally translated).

This is something that is mostly overlooked by Christians. We are so eager to establish ourselves, institute our institutions, "build the kingdom" here on earth. But, while the people of God are certainly visible, and the evidence of the kingdom is seen in God's real, substantial (and miraculous) provision and protection and healing, God's kingdom is for now "passing through." God's people are strangers, pilgrims, on their way to the City not built by human hands.

This pilgrim kingdom is clearly seen in Jesus' ministry. His "church" (literally "assembly") is an itinerant gathering of followers, without their own place or official membership or authority structure. In this way, they are obviously "not of this world." The kingdom cannot be said to be anything other than themselves. Where they are, there is the kingdom of God. As Jesus said when he sent them out:
"Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'" (Lk 10.8-11)
The kingdom comes near when they come near. Because they are the kingdom.

Jesus says the same in his answer when asked when the kingdom of God was coming:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17.20-21)
Until his second coming, the kingdom is only seen in Jesus' faithful followers. The pilgrim people of God. Yet we seem to be working so hard to make ourselves at home, store up for ourselves every provision and security, build solid and lasting institutions, so we have something to point to and say, "Here it is!"... and in doing so, how are we different from everyone else?

Jesus “pitched his tent” among us. I would like to do the same, without property or office or membership, remaining clearly a pilgrim, a stranger, a passing guest. A question remains, though: Can I do this with a family?

I don't know for sure. But I believe so...