A Question of Citizenship

Flags of different countriesScripture Passage (Philippians 3:14-4:1)

14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. 17Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

 

This passage is pretty familiar. Most people read the words “goal” or “prize” and imagine that whatever it is we are journeying toward is some sort of reward for a job well done. So we assume that if we live righteous (or whatever we think that might be) and godly (really? You are planning to become “like God”?) lives, we’ll get to where it is or what it is or whatever it is that we want to go. But the problem is that Paul is probably not implying that this journey is some sort of course of study for life that is all laid out with prerequisites and gold stars and graduations. Paul is talking about a pattern of life, a way of being, a life lived with the mind of Christ. In other words, we are called to enter that Way of Christ, to become the Way of Christ. It’s not about getting a good report card; it’s about becoming someone different.

 

And then we’re hit with an even more uncomfortable notion. Look around you. What you see, what you know best, what you aspire to be, what you dream of having, what you think you have, what you think you possess—all of that means nothing. In fact, it’s not even yours. Oh don’t get me wrong. We are in no way called to remove ourselves from the world. In fact, we are called to throw ourselves into it with all our might. But we throw ourselves into a world that not only is not ours but is really something that we’re not a part of. To use a well-worn (and now seemingly controversial) phrase, we are “resident aliens”. Our citizenship, where we belong, is not this. Now I don’t think it’s that we belong to another place. We belong to another Way of being. And we are called, with the same mind of Christ, to bring that Way of being into the place where we reside.

 

There is a certain irony that we are hit with this idea of “citizenship” in this politically-charged time that is already filled with questions of who can run for political office based on where they were born. (Getting very tired already…) This is so Roman. The people to whom this original letter was written were probably citizens of a Roman colony. And in that day, “citizenship” was not a right. It was not something that could be acquired. It was an honor that came with birthright. And with that birthright came power. And Paul is contrasting it with a New Identity, a new Way of being that held no class distinctions and no extra credit for having been there as one emerged from the womb. But we still like to reward ourselves for being, I guess, in the right place at the right time, so to speak. The world does it. Our nation does it. Churches do it. We churches like to reward our members first, take care of ourselves first, limit our grace and our mercy to those who are like us, or, even, who ARE us.

 

But holiness and righteousness are not things that can be measured or rewarded or achieved or handed out or held away. They are not part of the ways of the world. Our goal is not to become holy or righteous; our journey is toward a fuller relationship with God, toward having the mind of Christ. It is about relationship; it is about caring and compassion and mercy not just for those like us but for all of our brothers and sisters in this Creation. It is about realizing that we live as aliens, as immigrants (there, I said it!), in a place that is not ours, that is not like us, and yet a place where we live and move and breathe and work and love. We do not possess this. This world, this nation, this church is not ours. It is, rather, the place through which we journey for a season, doing all the good we can, the place where we take others by the hand and lead them home.

 

God leads us to the slow path: to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being. (Michael Leunig)

 

Thank you for sharing your Lenten journey with me!

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

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