I recently preached a message based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 3:17-4:1. In it the Apostle marks a stark difference between those who do not follow God from those that do. In stating this difference, he used a phrase that piqued my interest and was the motivation behind this message.
Paul talks about this difference in this way:
… many live as enemies of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. (vv. 18b-20a)
Citizenship in heaven? What does that entail? As I pondered this, I began to consider what it is to be a citizen of the country I live in, the United States.
The Declaration of Independence states that all of us are created equal, that we are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Like many, I suppose, I have a tendency to take these rights for granted. I am attempting to stay more aware of these things so that I might be better attuned to try to effect change for those who are not being treated equally.
As I think about my rights and responsibilities with regard to being a citizen of heaven, I find that here as well I am a work in progress.
Considering your heavenly citizenship will call you to think and act in ways that will seem contrary to the world around you. And though it will present its own unique set of challenges for each of us, our goal is to simply stay aware of what I’m calling: dual citizenship. Attempting to keep our hearts and mind focused on Christ will, even if it is ever so slowly, work change into us. It is a process.
The process of transformation that Paul mentions in the letter to the Philippians is an on-going event. You and I are being transformed into the image of Christ. Image: something like or reflecting the presence of. I’m not saying that we are to walk piously around with our hands folded.
In fact, the very opposite. Citizenship in heaven does not negate our responsibilities to our fellow humans (and all of creation)! A heart and mind focused on Christ and living as a citizen of heaven should be helping to open our eyes to the world around us. The process of transformation, as it brings us closer to the heart of God, will make our hearts more compassionate. It will show us things to pray for, always a good first response! It will allow you to see with concern the pain or suffering or uncertainty of another without also casting a judgment about them or their condition or its cause. For some, it will inspire toward actions that seek not only the relief of symptoms, but will work for change that can eliminate some of the systemic things that plague us still today.
To sum up, being an active participant as a citizen of heaven will allow us to get closer to the heart of Jesus that Luke talks in the gospel that bears his name. In the 13th Chapter he quotes Jesus as saying that He has often felt as a mother-hen as He laments over Jerusalem. This is a loving and tender picture of a mother-hen gathering and protecting her brood under her wings. This was Jesus’ desire for those who opposed the kingdom of heaven then. I firmly believe it still is today. Jesus invites everyone under the protective wings of God, that includes you and me. May we all, in this Lenten season and beyond, allow that on-going transformation to take place in us; that we grow in our love for God, realizing the blessing of being a child of the Almighty. And may this growing awareness increase our own hearts capacity and willingness to love. With our true desire being to simply honor God as we live in the reality of being a citizen of heaven even as we still live as citizens in the world today. Amen.
Be blessed and be a blessing,