I'm But a Stranger Here
“I’m But A Stranger Here” In Jeremiah 26, the Prophet Jeremiah speaks a word of warning to the people of Judah saying, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Provocative words spoken to a society comfortable with meting out swift, trial-less justice, a reality which Jeremiah acknowledges when he commends himself into their hands when he speaks, “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city. . .” Jeremiah here foreshadows Jesus’ own role not as a priest or king, but as a prophet. In Luke 13, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: 26 when he responds to King Herod’s desire to kill him, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Jesus, of course, would not return to Jerusalem until the events of Passover week. The salient point of these lessons is not necessarily that “heaven is our home” and that earth is not, but that our home is not our home. It might be easy for us, were we suddenly transported to the vast wastelands of Iran or the cold Siberian tundra, to opine for our home—for something better. Yet, Jeremiah spoke to his own people, just as Jesus spoke to His own people. Neither the Hebrew prophets nor Jesus spoke to strangers primarily. Jesus’ message, of course, was meant for all people, but it was the Jews who forsook him during His lifetime, and He was crucified in the familiar city of Jerusalem, the place where we first encounter Him preaching at age twelve. This holy city of the Jews would reject the one sent to save it.
Can we then sing, “I’m but a stranger in Plano, heav’n is my home; Texas is a desert drear, heav’n is my home. Danger and sorrow stand round me on ev’ry hand; heav’n is my fatherland, heav’n is my home”? Probably we chuckle, for neither Plano nor Texas seem particularly dangerous to most of us suburbanites. We are familiar in our comfortable surroundings with the people we know, roads we frequently travel, and merchants whom we patronize. New York City, Calcutta, Constantinople—now those are foreign to us! But not Plano! Yet, this is what Jeremiah and Jesus experienced—their message was rejected by the people they knew in the environment with which they were most familiar. What if suddenly people in our city were hostile to Christians because of our faith and practices? We can all think of instances of Christian discrimination, perhaps even close by, but it is doubtful that we have received much of that in our lives. It is easy to grow too fondly attached to our easy, pleasant, earthly existence which, in comparison to many generations prior to us, confronts us with little hardship.
This hymn text, written Thomas Taylor in 1836, is, coupled with its tune, probably one of the weaker in the hymnal. Granted, it is a favourite of many. Its rather maudlin text is a bit dreary even by Victorian standards, and how we twenty-first century enlightened folk are still singing of the Fatherland is beyond this writer’s understanding! Of its tune, composed by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, hymnologist Erik Routley observes harshly that it evidences “. . . the disastrous rubbish which a musician of outstanding gifts thought appropriate for church use.” This writer doesn’t think it is *that* bad!