Citizens of Heaven (Lent 2, Year C)

The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grace to you and peace from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Philipi was a government town, a Roman colony in the territory of Greece.
It was governed entirely by the laws and customs of Latin-speaking Rome,
even though it was surrounded by Greek territory and customs.
Lots of retired military men had settled there,
    and the imprint of Rome on this settlement was clear.
There was a grand forum that hosted Roman Games, not unlike Rome’s own forum,
    and numerous Latin-inscribed monuments lining the main road,
    testifying to the prosperity of this crossroad.
This was a city whose residents were proud of their Roman citizenship,
    who identified as members of the Roman commonwealth,
    even as they found themselves in an outpost on Greek territory.
And so, when Paul tells them that their citizenship is in heaven,
    it could have been received both as an affront –
    what do you mean our citizenship is in heaven?  We’re citizens of Rome! –
    and as a sensible analogy, for these people understood what it meant
        to live according to the laws and dictates of different place, another reality.

For those of you who have ever lived overseas,
    you might be able to resonate with this idea of living
according to the laws and customs of a distant land.
That’s the reality that St Paul calls us to in today’s second reading.
We are citizens of heaven, he writes. 

Now today is not the time and this pulpit is not the place
    to get into what exactly Paul means by the term “heaven” –
but rest assured it is not a cloudy paradise with harp-playing angels high in the sky,
but more akin to a divine reality that is indeed coming to the world
in order to transform the world
(note Paul’s use of the word “transform” in vs 21).
This heavenly citizenship – or “commonwealth,” another way to translate that word –
    contrasts with those who Paul calls “the enemies of the cross of Christ,”
    whose minds are set on earthly things.
“Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,”
    Paul writes.
We are different, he says.  We live by a different rule, a different set of expectations,
    a different reality.
Our eyes are set not on things in this world, but on things in the world to come.
“Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes,
    “and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul describes this heaven not as a place where we might go to,
    but a reality from which comes our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
    to transform us and the whole world.
And his use of that word Savior, is significant,
    for the Roman emperor was also referred to as a Savior,
    and venerated as a god. 
Where is your citizenship?  In heaven.
Who is your savior?  Jesus.
    For sure, this is a contrasting reality, a different reality,
    than the one in which they enjoy in Philippi.
Such a pledge could have even been considered treasonous.
By reminding them of their heavenly citizenship
    and their promised transformation at the hands of Jesus, their Savior,
    Paul was calling them to live differently than those enemies of the cross,
        to live in anticipation of that new, transformed reality.
To live in anticipation.

Yesterday the Cub Scouts were downstairs in our Parish Hall,
    celebrating lots of hard work and enjoying some playful competition
    with their annual Pinewood Derby,
    wherein the boys race homemade cars
        that weigh in at no more than 5 ounces
        and measure up to no more than 7 inches.
These cars were wonderfully and creatively decorated –
    some painted a patriotic red, white and blue,
    others with menacing flames of fire,
    others supporting their favorite sports teams,
    and even one with a very small tank of water,
        a high speed aquarium sloshing down the track.
And it was fun to watch these boys and their families arrive.
Long before they ever got to racing or even to the design competition,
    they were excited, showing cars to their friends,
    and telling tales about how lightning fast their cars could go.
Anticipation sprung forth from their young, energetic bodies.

A recent study about the effects of vacations on general happiness
    showed that when evaluating people before, during and after their vacations,
    people were most happy prior to their vacations,
        as they were planning every deal the big trip,
        and fantasizing about the exciting or relaxing time they would have.
Living in anticipation of their vacation, people became happier.
It’s like when I tell my kids that I’m going to take them to the grocery store or to the post office,
    they’re excited before we even get our shoes and jackets on!
It’s the anticipation …

We Christians live lives of anticipation,
    of waiting for God’s promises to be fully realized,
    eagerly awaiting the time when “God’s kingdom comes,
        and God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We live between the cross and kingdom come,
    between the resurrection of Christ and the promised resurrection of all the dead,
    between Christ, the first fruit of God’s New Creation,
        and the plentiful harvest of a world renewed by Christ.
We live as citizens of heaven, of God’s sacred state of affairs,
    a holy commonwealth, a kingdom to come …
We live in anticipation.
And in light of this anticipation, this kingdom to come, this heavenly citizenship,
    Paul bids us to live anticipatorily, to live into God’s sacred kingdom,
    to live now a life of promise, to stand firm in the Lord.
And especially in this season of Lent, we live at the foot of the cross,
    its suffering and pain and death.
We live knowing that our Lord died a cruel death at the hands of shameless executioners
    who publicly humiliated and taunted him.
We live in a world filled with suffering, pain, and death,
    where the lowly are humiliated and taunted and callously cast aside …
Yet we live in anticipation of a kingdom of life, a kingdom of resurrection,
    a kingdom of love.
And like the anticipation of a week of vacation or of a day of Pinewood Derby racing,
the anticipation of God’s Kingdom transforms us
    and because of it we can’t help but live differently –
    serving our neighbor, giving clothing to those in need, advocating for the poor,
        raising money and collecting goods for victims of disasters –
    that is, in light of the promised Kingdom to come,
    we can’t help but live according to the laws of heaven rather than of earth,
        to pledge our allegiance to a Savior whose throne is the cross,
        whose Kingdom is love, and whose reign has no end.
Stand firm in the Lord, my brothers and sisters.  Your citizenship is in heaven.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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