Alienated no longer

(The following is a shortened version of the message that was preached on October 7, 2018.)

Living in a foreign country is not easy. And when I say that, I know that most people here in our church what I’m talking about. Many of us have come from overseas, and we’ve come to Japan and made Nagoya our home. Many of us who were born in Japan have experience living overseas, so we know what it means to live in a foreign country.

As foreign countries go, I guess Japan is, in some ways, one of the easier places to live. We have clean water here, and electricity, and it’s pretty easy to get around on the subway. You don’t really have to learn the language, as it’s possible to go about your daily life without using too much Japanese.

But, in other ways, it’s much more difficult. One of the most difficult things is a feeling of not belonging. It’s very easy to feel that I don’t belong here, I don’t fit in here, I’m not part of this community. You can get this feeling of being alienated.

Academics who have studied cultural theory have a spectrum. And all cultures can be placed somewhere along it. At one end of the spectrum are ‘low context’ cultures, and at the other end of the spectrum are ‘high context’ cultures. In low context cultures, it’s very easy to understand what is going on. Everything is clear, and people speak directly. In high context cultures, it’s much more difficult to understand what is happening. There are a whole lot of signs and signals that members of that culture understand, but outsiders don’t understand.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you have an idea in a meeting, and you tell everyone your idea. In a low context culture, if someone doesn’t like your idea, they’ll say, “I don’t like your idea.” And if they can’t speak English, they will say “You … idea … no good”. I’m from Australia, and that’s a very low context culture. So is the United States. People speak directly.

In high context cultures, communication is much more indirect. In a high context culture, if someone doesn’t like your idea, they might suck in air through their teeth …. and then be silent. When you’ve just arrived from a foreign culture, you don’t understand what’s going on. “Well, do you like my idea or not? … Why are you being quiet?”

There are many groups in Japan. And they have walls around them. Often it’s very hard to break into a group. It could be a sports club, or a music group. Maybe it’s a neighborhood community, or a group of mothers from the local school. These groups are very well defined, and there is a clear line between who is in the group and who is not in the group. And so, it’s very easy to feel alienated. To feel like you don’t belong. To feel like you’re not part of the group.

As a church, we have to make a big effort NOT to become like that. Any person who loves Jesus and believes the gospel should be able to come here and feel welcome, and feel like they belong here.Even if this is the first time for them to visit our church and they walk in from off the street, they belong here.

How do we know that?

Let’s look at Ephesians 2:19-22.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

It says here that a Christian believer is (1) a citizen of God’s kingdom, (2) a member of God’s household, and (3) a temple of God’s spirit.

1) A citizen of God’s kingdom

When you’re a citizen of a country, you have certain rights and privileges that other people don’t have. Last month I took a trip home to Australia, and I had my passport with me. In Australia, we’ve got these automatic passport gates when you go through immigration. It’s a bit like the ticket gates you see at the train stations. You just insert your passport into the machine, look at a camera, it takes a photo of your face, your passport comes back out, the gates open, and you walk on through. It takes less than a minute.

But it’s only for Australian citizens. People from other countries have to go and wait in line and it takes much longer. And if the immigration officers don’t want to let you into the country, well … see you later. You have to turn around and go back to wherever you came from.

But when you’re a citizen, it’s completely different. The gates open wide, you walk in, and you’re home. It’s the same for a citizen of God’s kingdom. When you finish your life on this earth, you’ll leave here. And when you get to heaven, the gates will open wide, you’ll walk on in, and you’ll be home. Because that is where you belong. You’re not a foreigner and you’re not an alien. You’re a citizen of God’s kingdom.

2) A member of God’s household.

In Japanese there is a special word for the house in which you were brought up: JIKKA. Your JIKKA is basically your parent’s house. It’s the house where you grew up. There is something that is so nice about going home to your parents’ house.

I’ve spent 23 years away from my JIKKA, but I love going back. I know exactly where everything is. I know which is the best chair to sit on. I know how to position the cushion on the sofa so that it exactly fits my back. If I’m hungry, I just go to the fridge and open it, take whatever I want. Where else can you do that? You can’t do that anywhere else. Even if you go to your best friend’s house, you can’t just walk over to his fridge and help yourself to whatever is in there.

It is so good to be a member of a household.

And when you’re a child of God, you’re a member of his household. God has everything that you need in his house. It’s all there. Love, joy, peace, acceptance. Where else are you going to get that?

3) A temple of God’s spirit

We, the church, are a temple of God’s Holy Spirit. God is in his church. Of course, that means the worldwide church. All of God’s people in the world, in Australia and Canada and the US and India and everywhere else, when they come and meet in church, God is there, in the midst of them.

That is true of “the church”, in the whole world. But, you know what? That’s also true of our church. Here. Nagoya Union Church. The Lord God is right here, now, with us. 

To me that is so awesome. God dwells in the midst of us. And if the Lord gives you eyes, you’ll see him here. And if the Lord gives you ears, you’ll hear his voice.