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Theology For Aliens
February 20, 1994

GENESIS 9:8-17, MARK 1:0-15

Through the years a favorite TV show of our three boys is "Star Trek." Besides watching reruns of "Gilligan's Island" and "Brady Bunch," they watched "Star Trek," the same episodes over and over. Even now as adults, when we are together as a family and a "Star Trek" rerun is on, they gather in front of the TV and have a contest to see who can name the episode first. I sit there mystified as the program barely gets started, usually the first glimpse of the first scene, when someone hollers out the name and plot of the episode. Would that they knew the Bible as well!

I must admit that even I find "Star Trek" entertaining. I think "Star Trek" became and remains popular because it touches that adventure spirit in most of us to seek new worlds to conquer, new places to visit, new things to see; the thrill of going somewhere where no other human has ever been. Also, the "Star Trek" heroes are aliens, foreigners in strange lands, and that touches the feeling in most of us that we don't quite belong here--that we are, in the last analysis, aliens on this planet.

We belong to God, not this planet. We are God's people. We are in the world, but not of the world. I am challenged by the book written by two professors at the Divinity School, Duke University, called, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Sounds like a "Star Trek" episode, doesn't it. I am an alien. You are an alien. Do you feel like an alien? To respond to Christ's call is to be part of an alien people, the creation of a new people who align themselves with Jesus Christ. The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief.

This is a new concept for many of us. What too often has happened in Christianity is we have baptized the status quo and told God's people to live within the confines, obey the laws, and be good, nice people. In the Middle Ages, there was little, if any, difference between being a citizen of the Holy Roman Empire and a catholic Christian. The two were synonymous. There have been times in our own history when being a Christian and a good American were synonymous. The Methodist Church has been called "the Republican Party at prayer." A good Methodist Christian, it was preached, embodies American middle class values.

We accommodated ourselves to the prevailing culture, and surrendered to the morals and values of the secular society around us. We have rarely seen ourselves as resurrected people, raised to the new life in Jesus Christ where we are citizens of the kingdom of God. The Old Testament lesson this morning reminds us of the covenant God has established with us. We are different from the world because God has made a covenant with us. God initiates a unique relationship with us. God is our God and we are his people. We are not isolated individuals. We are God's people. The Gospel text this morning summarized Jesus' preaching. Jesus came into the world. Jesus, the Son of God, broke into human existence, with the call, "Come out from the world. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe." We who live in covenant with God are called out from the world into the kingdom of God.

But, we have been sloppy in developing our unique belief system, and in teaching our children and grandchildren who they are, and what they stand for. As a further result of our accommodation to culture, we are finding ourselves vulnerable and baffled at how to live in a world where the underside is not very pleasant. Go beneath the surface of a very pleasant, comfortable existence for many of us here this morning, and you discover an underside of crime, drugs, corruption, homelessness, hunger; abduction, abusing and exploiting of children; uncontrolled greed on the highest levels of industry, banking, and government; skinheads and neo-Nazis who attack blacks, Jews, and gays; bizarre religious cults, and even Satanism. There is beauty and goodness out there; but there is also evil, false values, false religions, treachery, and forces that can destroy you.

I'm calling us this morning to change our mindset completely, change completely the image we have of the church, and the image we have of ourselves. Most of us who are white and over thirty were raised in a church where the main agenda of the church was to help Christians adapt to the world as it is, where the purpose of the church was to make us good, nice citizens rather than transformers who change what is wrong. We used words like accept, adjust, accommodate, partly because we falsely assumed that the United States is a Christian nation, a Christian society. We watered down the gospel, made the gospel socially acceptable, and so relevant to modern society that we threw out the baby with the bath. Atheists used to cause quite a commotion, but it no longer takes courage not to believe. We Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve.

But, walk outside the door and you will see that paganism is the air we breathe, the water we drink. Paganism converts our young and subverts the church. We are aliens in a strange land. A shipwrecked sailor who had been stranded on a deserted island for three years could hardly believe his eyes when one day he saw a ship on the horizon. When he signaled, it stopped, dropped anchor, and a small boat came to the shore. An officer stepped out and handed him a batch of newspapers. "The captain suggests that you read what's going on in the world. Then let us know if you still want to be rescued!" The teacher asked Johnny, "What shape is the world?" "I don't know," Johnny answered, "but my dad says it is in the worst shape it ever has been."

I'm not trying to be pessimistic this morning . I'm trying to be realistic, and tell you we do not belong to this world. We are aliens who have been raised to a new life, called to be God's colony in this alien land. We have been perhaps too tolerant, too open-minded, too accepting of differing opinions. Where we have failed our children and ourselves is not presenting the Christian alternative in order to have a firm, solid basis from which to evaluate the many different religions, philosophies, values, life styles, and cults out there. We can be in this world without being of it. We can be true to the kingdom of God, while living in this world. We can be missionaries to this world, setting examples, telling them of the new life in Jesus Christ, and redeeming this world--not surrendering to it, but redeeming it.

Therefore, it is very important for us to gather together regularly for worship, study, and fellowship. We need each other to sustain one another and encourage one another. It is especially important for us to worship together every Sunday morning, because in worship we are looking to God. We are looking in the right direction, looking to our creator and redeemer. The world is what God loves and Jesus came to redeem. The world is not where we get our sustenance, our food, our power. We derive those from God. Therefore, we need to worship together regularly. A minister of an inner city church was asked why the worship services last at least two hours and fifteen minutes. He smiled and explained,

Unemployment runs nearly 50% here. For our youth, the unemployment rate is much higher. That means that, when our people go about during the week, everything they see, everything they hear tells them, "You are a failure. You are nobody. You are nothing because you do not have a good job, you do not have a fine car, you have no money."

So I must gather them here, once a week, and get their heads straight. I get them together, here, in the church, and through the hymns, the prayers, the preaching say, "That is a lie. You are somebody. You are royalty! God has bought you with a price and loves you as his Chosen People." It takes me a long time to get them straight because the world perverts them so terribly.

We gather together to hear God's word, and to support one another because we are aliens, resident aliens in a perverted world, the Christian colony in a strange land.

Let me ask you this morning. Do you know what are the basic beliefs, the fundamental doctrines of the church? Can you list succinctly and clearly what you believe? Are you able to tell your children or your grandchildren how Christianity differs from the world out there? Are your children and grandchildren being given the proper training in order to discover who they are so they can evaluate what is out there, and distinguish between the good and the bad? Are they in Sunday School regularly? Are you personally growing in your theology?

During this lent and culminating on Easter, I will preach a series of sermons on basic Christian beliefs. I decided to title each sermon very simply. The titles form a simple creed which you can teach children, and memorize yourself. I will preach six sermons: God Made Us, Jesus Loves Us, The Holy Spirit Powers Us, We are Chosen, The Church Nurtures and Challenges, and We Will Live Forever. I hope you will be here every Sunday. Understanding what each seemingly simple title means can do much to help you keep your perspective in this complicated age in which we live. Theology for Aliens will help us understand who we are as a church and how we can live as God wants us to live in an alien society.

Brothers and sisters, you are aliens. You do not belong to this world. You belong to Jesus Christ.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris