(I apologize for mispronouncing Wampanoag right off the bat. I think that I do know how to pronounce the word, but in the moment I got a little tongue-tied)
Where are you from?
It’s one of those questions that seems important… and it’s a question that’s worth pondering on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Just a few days ago, you might have thought about the old story. A group of people from across the sea, our Congregationalist ancestors, arrived on this continent. They met the Wampanoag who already lived here, and those Wampanoag taught them how to survive in this land.
And, as winter and harvest festivals approached, the settlers and the Wampanoag celebrated together.
There’s more to the story, of course. And our ancestors are not the heroes of that story.
Where are you from? Part of our history is bound up with a band of pilgrims who went from England to Holland to here. We aren’t from here.
Where are you from?
Last Christmas, I got an AncestryDNA kit as a gift. You might have used one, or another kit that’s like it. If you haven’t, you probably know someone who has, or you’ve seen the commercials. Either way, you know the idea: you send a vial of spit to a large corporation and they tell you… where you’re from.
And I don’t mean “where you’re from” like “you grew up in Wisconsin” or “you moved here from Ohio”. I mean “where you’re from” like “your ancestors lived here”.
It turns out that my ancestors lived more-or-less where I thought they did. A lot of me is from England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and ‘Northwestern Europe’ (also known as France). The rest of me is from ‘Germanic Europe’ (also known as Germany).
So I’m very British and a little German.
But it’s not like I’m from those places. I’m not from England or Wales or wherever. And I’m not from Germany or Prussia or wherever.
I don’t know enough of my mom’s family history to tell you their story; I think my mom’s dad’s dad’s dad—or something like that—came here from Prussia.
But I know more of my dad’s family’s story. And if you trace back through my dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad—and so on—I am part of something like the 13th generation of Warfields to live in what is now the United States.
And you would think that would make me pretty American. But there’s this weird thing about America. There are people who are from here, and they are called the Wampanoag, and the Apache, and the Chickasaw, and the Seneca, and the Potawatomi.
They are many nations called by many names. And there are millions of them.
And the rest of us are from somewhere else. Whether we know where that is or not. We are Irish and German and Swedish and African and a thousand other things. America is a place that you’re probably not from… even if you’re not really from anywhere else.
In today’s readings, we hear from two kings. And there’s nothing that tells you where you’re from like a king.
On the one hand, we hear the last words of David, the king of Israel. And not just the king of Israel, but the king of Israel. He is George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and King Arthur.
And it’s important to remember that, even though he is the king of Israel (the people) and king of Israel (the land), he isn’t from there. David’s ancestor Abraham came from Ur and lived in the land that would become Israel. And his descendants moved to Egypt and were enslaved. And their descendants were led out of Egypt and conquered the land that would be Israel. And the people who already lived there were killed or enslaved or pushed aside.
But David’s last words establish him and his house as kings of Israel forever. This is what he says: God says that a king who rules over his people justly, ruling in fear of the LORD, is like the light of the morning. And my house has been like that. God has made an everlasting covenant with me and my house. My help and my desire will prosper.
David is setting up an expectation: no matter what trials and tribulations come, someone from the house of David will sit on the throne. If everything falls apart—if there is exile or occupation—eventually, someone from the house of David will rise up and take that throne back. As long as there is a king of Israel (the people) and a king of Israel (the land), that king will be from the house of David.
On the other hand, we hear a conversation between Jesus and a man named Pontius Pilate. Jesus has been arrested and summoned before Pilate. And Pilate is the ruler of Israel and a representative of the ruler of Israel. He is the prefect of Judea, representing the Emperor of the Roman Empire, in charge of a little backwater province of the most powerful Empire in the world.
And he asks Jesus, this preacher and teacher and healer from this little backwater province, “People have told me things about you… are you the king of the Jews?”
And I’ve told you this before: if you were alive at that time, and you were Jewish, and you thought that Jesus was the Messiah, then you would expect an answer. You would expect Jesus to say, “Yes. I am from David’s house, and this is Israel, and these are my people. And I am the rightful king here… and we are taking back this land.”
But that’s not what he says.
Instead, he says this: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Instead, he says this: “I’m not from here. My kingdom is not of this world.”
On the one hand, there is David, establishing his kingdom in one land… forever.
On the other hand, there is Christ, who isn’t from here and whose kingdom is not of this world.
I don’t like to set up choices between the stories in the Old Testament and the stories in the New Testament… but these two readings set up a choice.
Where are you from?
As Iowans, we are from Iowa. And as Americans, we are from the United States. But most of us aren’t really from here. We are immigrants, and children of immigrants, and grandchildren of immigrants, and—and let’s see if I get this right—great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren of immigrants.
And we mark that by saying we’re English or German or African or Japanese or whatever. We have a list of identities—a list of places we’re from and places we’ve been and what it means to be from somewhere else and living here—and… it’s complicated.
But as Christians…
As Christians, we are not from here. We are not from Iowa or America or Britain or Germany or wherever.
We have given up our from-here-ness to be from a kingdom we have never visited and of which we have seen only glimpses.
We have given up our from-here-ness to be pilgrims and sojourners in this world.
We have given up our from-here-ness to be residents of this little consulate of the Kingdom of God.
We are immigrants to the church. And that means that we are now from another place. We are from truth. We are from mercy. We are from love.
And there is something powerful there. Because once we know that we are sojourners and pilgrims, we can welcome those other sojourners and pilgrims. We can welcome people who are coming to this land—this Iowa, this America—looking for a better life. And we can welcome people who are coming to this church, looking for hospitality and hope.
We can be representatives of truth because we are from truth. We can be ambassadors of mercy because we are from mercy. We can be a people of love because we are from love. And we can tell everyone that no matter where you are from, you can be from here—from the Kingdom of God, from the church of Jesus Christ—too.
Where are you from?
It’s one of those questions that seems important. And it’s a question that is important, but not in the way that the fine folks at AncestryDNA try to tell us it is.
It really doesn’t matter if I’m Iowan or Wisconsinite. It really doesn’t matter if I’m American or English or Welsh or Irish or German or whatever.
It matters that I give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger. It matters that I give clothing to the naked and care to the sick and company to the prisoner. It matters… it matters that I love.
That is where I want to be from.