Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Prophetic Imagination and Habakkuk 1:1-4

You may have encountered these optical illusions before.  The images are usually accompanied by a question: "what do you see?"  If it is your first time viewing these images you typically see only one image: an old lady or a young woman, a rabbit or a duck, a vase or two silhouettes.  It is rare for one to see both at first glance.  Yet, once your eyes are opened to the alternative image it is next to impossible to shake or ignore.  Now that you have been introduced and exposed to a new possibility, your imagination is no longer limited but awakened.

This is the mind and conscience of a prophet. This is the imagination of Habakkuk, tucked away in the back of our Old Testament. Once you encounter these prophetic voices and their alternative perspectives, they are difficult to shake and next to impossible to ignore. Walter Bruggemann says it best:

"The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." (The Prophetic Imagination, 3).
In other words, when the market screams "buy this, you must have that," prophets expose the idol of frivolous consumption. When video games, movies, nations, and empires promote violence without consequence and wars without end, the prophets scream reconciliation, peace, and enemy love.  When wealth and resources are possessed by small percentages, prophets declare "jubilee" and protest for economic justice. When bullies isolate, intimidate, threaten, and offend, prophets proclaim "befriend, embrace, and welcome the victim."  When the poor and hungry, both those safe distances away and right next door, long for daily bread and provision, prophets initiate prayers and fasts until all have enough.

The hearts and minds of prophets are so tuned-in to the heart and mind of God that when exposed to real manifestations of evil, injustice, pain, and suffering, prophets refuse to remain still and silent.  Said differently, the prophetic pathos is the divine pathos:

To us a single act of injustice- cheating in business, exploitation of the poor- is slight; to the prophets, a disaster.  To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them a catastrophe, a threat to the worldTo the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 4).

Again, the prophetic lyrics and laments are far more than cynical observations and disenfranchised grievances.  Instead, the voices of the likes of Habakkuk generate from a deep and abiding relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The prophet has an imagination that refuses to settle for any reality not in rhythm with God's dreams for the world.  The prophet then calls on not only God's people, but also God in and of God's self, to incarnate in the world this alternative consciousness of liberation, peace, justice, and cosmic redemption. Said differently, prophets are more than predictors of the future or out-dated fortune tellers.  Instead, ancient and contemporary prophets are those who speak about God's future in desperate need of being manifested in the present.  In this vein, Jesus taught his disciples a rather poignant prophetic prayer, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

And prophets, as the mouthpieces of God, announce that the "on earth as it is in heaven" time is now.

Again, a warning: once you are exposed to the prophetic imagination, to include Habakkuk, your own imagination is awakened and your eyes are opened to a completely new perspective on the world and related affairs. This alternative perspective is difficult to shake and next to impossible to ignore. It may even invite you into a new way of being in and for the world...

So, who is Habakkuk?

Habakkuk is a prophet from the southern tribe of Judah who lived in the latter portions of the seventh century and earliest sixth century.  Therefore, the laments and grievances of this prophet generate from a context whereby the nation of Israel was recently recovering from exile and oppression sparked by one of history's most violent  peoples, the Assyrian empire.  While Israel experienced temporal deliverance, Judah to the south lived in anticipation of an invasion by yet another hostile empire: Babylon.  That is to say, violence is the context; injustice is the reality.  Suffering surrounds the prophet and his community on both sides of his experience. Habakkuk, whose name calls to mind words such as embrace, wrestle, or clasp, struggles with God's covenantal promises and beloved torah, which have little to no bearing on the world as the prophet sees it:

"Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails" (1:3-4).

And Habakkuk cries out emphatically:

"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?" (1:2-3).

Where is God?  Why suffering? The prophet imagines something different and pleas for God to respond...

If you are thirsty for quick solutions and packaged statements to ease your soul, Habakkuk is not where you should turn.  Instead, the prophetic questions are allowed to fester in the pages of Scripture; they are durable claims that resonate with our own shared experience and global perspective.[1] 

How long shall middle school students be pushed around by bullies who seek to leverage themselves at another's expense?

How long must children in Uganda be kidnapped by oppressive dictators and turned into stoic young soldiers?

How long must we saturate our minds with video games and other forms of media that promote violence without consequence and turn human life into digital images able to be snuffed out and reset without concern?

How long must domestic abuse run rampant and uncontrolled, leaving so many frightened and ashamed?

Will justice never prevail?  When will God act and make the world new and right? 

Will salvation ever come?

Habakkuk refuses to ease into his prophetic discourse and chooses instead to provoke God from the very beginning.  You may have done the same.  You may be doing the same?

Again, Brueggemann captures the prophetic vocation:

"[The prophet] has only the hope that the ache of God could penetrate the numbness of history.  He engages not in scare or threat but only in a yearning that grows with and out of pain." (The Prophetic Imagination, 55)

As we begin an exploration of Habakkuk, it seems appropriate to ask:

Where has the world gone numb?
Where do we long for the ache of God to penetrate and transform our world and communities?
Where do we see evidence of violence, abuse, oppression, and suffering?
What would it look like to imagine something different?

At the forefront of many prophetic movements are artists who provoke honest questions and foster hope for change.  Artists have a knack for creating beauty out of just about anything.  Artists often challenge us to see alternative portraits of reality and then invite us to live into them. 

That said, as we quest to hear the cries of Habakkuk and make them our very own, we  become prophetic artists.  We are to paint raw and honest questions on top of real images of violence and injustice.  We must create alternative images over top illustrations of devastation and destruction.  We are called to write hope-filled prayers all around portraits of pain and despair. [2]

As we do so, may our prophetic imaginations be awakened.  Even more, may we leave have the courage to embody these alternative illustrations in our schools, cities, and neighborhoods. May we live into the prophetic hope that the numbness of our world will indeed be overcome by the ache of God who created and will one day redeem all.

[1] I adapted this statement from an excellent comment by Brueggemann in  Theology of the Old Testament, "While the book of Habakkuk is thus context-specific, its durable theological claim is a message of profound hope in a circumstance of profound despair" (244, italics mine).
[2] The youth ministry, when we engaged Habakkuk 1:1-4, painted and wrote prayers over top images of violence and suffering.  In so doing, we invited youth to tap into their prophetic imaginations that are incarnations of the ache of God.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pastoral Prayers for and from Hopeful Samaritans

Pastoral Prayer // Luke 10 // Parable of the Good Samaritan

God of love and grace, we give you thanks on this day for the opportunity we have to gather as a people called your church. We give you thanks for the ways in which you continue to provide for us as a community of faith. We give you thanks for the generosity of this congregation that continues to invest time, money, resources, and abilities so we can be the people you have called us to be. Yet we ask that you would remind us over and again that we are not only called and set apart by you. Instead, in and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, we are sent out from this place to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even more, we have even been reminded in recent days that we are to consider the needs and concerns of others greater than our own (Philippians 2:1-4).

God of the incarnation, in and through Jesus, you neighbored among us. As we continue to wrestle through budgets and contemplate visions for this community, help us to be faithful stewards of all that we have and all that we are so we can be neighbors to others. Still more, when we are tempted to ignore, distracted by hurry, or overly concerned about reputations or limitations, remind us of the sacred and sending waters of our baptisms and the sacred and sending elements of your table. Then stir within us fresh ideas for extending generosity, hospitality, compassion, and concern to those not only in places safe distances away, but also to those just down the road, in our neighborhoods, sitting in our school cafeterias, on the streets of local boroughs, and our places of work. May we even be neighbors by extending invitations to join in the work of this community as we live into your dreams for the world.

God of compassion, we especially lift up to you today neighbors in need, both near and far. We lift up to you our neighbors in Central America, especially new and old friends in Honduras, as they continue to battle extreme rains and flooding. We ask that you would use the churches in these places to be strength and courage to their neighbors. We also lift up to you our Christian neighbors around the globe who continue to pursue discipleship despite intense persecution, some whose lives are jeopardized because of their commitment to the good news of the gospel. We lift up to you Iranian Christians and a pastor there recently sentenced to death because of his faith and witness. We also lift up to you all our neighbors in need of employment, those who continue to suffer due to a strained economy, and this month we intercede on behalf of those who suffer as a result of domestic violence. May we be a people who walk beside victims, share our resources, offer our networks, lift our voices, and embody our concerns for peace and justice. Finally, we lift up to you those in this congregation in need of your presence and care...

Holy Spirit, we invite you to dwell among all of us, as individuals and a community. Occupy our hearts and minds so we, as in-Christ citizens of the kingdom of God, may occupy our communities in anticipation of the day when it will be on earth as it already is in heaven. Until that day, form and send us by the prayer you taught us as we say together...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Think on That: Philippians and the In-Christ Mind

After reading through this portion of Philippians over and again, I am convinced 4:4-7 are more than exhortations to Philippian faith communities.  Instead, I believe these lyrics are the very mantras Paul spoke to himself, prayed to God, and chanted as he sat alone in an isolated prison cell.  If you listen you may be able to hear faint echoes of the apostle as he whispers these words and contemplates how he got to where he is and if he will be able to make it yet one more day. Philippians 4:4-7 is then Paul's invitation to eavesdrop on the internal dialogue of an imprisoned disciple and participate in it just the same.

One of the most common phrases Paul uses throughout Philippians is mind in Christ, a perfect expansion of the in-Christ motif that runs throughout Pauline epistles.


How we think and what we give permission to occupy our minds deeply affects how we live, interact with others, face suffering, focus our energies, distribute our gifts, talents, and resources, and move in rhythm with the gospel.  Paul knew this first hand.  The earliest Christians, for whom commitment to the Way was more than a religious preference but a costly daily decision, were convicted of this.  We, too, would do well to lean forward and ponder the same.

It can be said that to be a follower of Jesus and to exist as an "in-Christ" citizen of the colony of heaven does not come naturally. It is a discipline, a practice, an art form contemplated, considered, and ultimately lived into as individuals within the context of community. We must learn to have the mind of Christ, to think on the Way of Jesus, and ultimately become the people God has called to occupy earth as in heaven.

What do you think about?  What occupies your mind? 

Over the past six months I have spent a lot of time in the car, especially since we have moved and my commute to church is longer than four minutes.  I have occupied my mind during these daily commutes with the constant streaming of disgruntled sports talk radio. The past six months have also witnessed other additions to our family- hungry babies. As I struggle to balance two bottles of formula in the mouths of our fidgety twins, I have watched endless cycles of Sportscenter. This may not be that big of a deal if it was the fall of 2008 with Philly sports, most notably the Phillies, at the apex of their championship push. But this year is quite different.  Therefore, the fruit of my mind tuned into ESPN and 97.5: increased cynicism, deeper criticism, and certainly less gratitude for the wide variety of blessings that have come our way this past year.

Yet, I hear Paul whisper:

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Gentleness evident to everyone.

The Lord is near.

Pray...with thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

These words have hit me like a ton of bricks.  Better said, Paul's internal dialogue has actually become my own.  My mind had become so cluttered with radio voices and other distractions that I had begun to live into the same spirit of these voices.  I had the mind of cynical analysts.

What I needed was to renew my mind in Christ.

Some of you may relate.  The reality is this: we give so many things permission to occupy and form our minds.  The music we listen to, the video games we play, the movies we watch, and the t.v. shows we view also affect us more than we may want to admit. We can also consider how much our minds are exposed to corporate ads, all which tell us that we need to think on and ultimately purchase this or that product.  This is a scary reality:

“The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day. Whether this is a radio commercial, a magazine ad, a logo on the side of a coffee cup or a billboard you pass on the highway, these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again” (Donald Miller, "Christianity and Advertising")

If we consider how much time we "think on" these things compared to how much we center ourselves on Christ, it is no wonder we have difficulty hearing and living into the voice of God.

What we need is to renew our minds in Christ.

Yet Paul calls us to more than an internalized, self-actualized way of thinking.  In-Christ citizens of the colony of heaven are called to a renewed mind, yes!  Yet minds formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus also and especially invite us to a new way of being in and for the world.

I think Mumford & Sons help us out here:

Said differently, where you invest your mind, you invest your life.

Here we meet Philippians 4:8-9, which builds on the previous verses. Karl Barth's interpretation captures it best:

"Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is righteous, whatever is pure, whatever is kindly, whatever is praiseworthy, whatever is called a virtue and deserves recognition- think on that!  And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- do that!  So will the God of peace be with you." (Epistle to the Philippians).
Think on that:

whatever is true
whatever is honorable

Invest your love and mind on these things:

whatever is kindly
whatever is worthy of praise
Virtues that mark the way of Christ

And don't just think on these them, live into them, make them your very life as lived in Christ!

And the God of peace will be with you...Remember, the Lord is near.

The relationship Paul had with the Philippians would have made it a little easier for them to know what these true, kindly, and honorable virtues were. Some have already been mentioned in this prison letter:

Consider the needs of others, even above your own (2:4).
Shine like stars in a crooked world (2:15).
Hold fast to the word of life, who is Jesus (2:16).
Remember and live into your identity as citizens of heaven (3:20).

Still, what is Paul talking about here? I wonder if the Philippians, when they gathered together for the reading of this letter and came to this point, they broke up into small groups and discussed: what are these things Paul speaks about? How can we do them?
So that's what the Imago Dei Youth did last night, here are a few:

May these reflections form and shape our minds in Christ Jesus.  Even more, may we not only think on these things, but also do them as in-Christ citizens of the colony of heaven. And may the peace of God, even the God of peace, lead us forward until all is made new and right


Two of the more helpful disciplines that I have practiced, and invited students to consider, over the years are Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer.  Here is a resource I have used over and again: Lectio Divina/Centering Prayer 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet and Colonies of Heaven

I am not sure what to make of the #OccupyWallStreet movement that continues to spread throughout the country. On one hand, their message and mission resonates with my socio-economic concerns and even appears to move in rhythm with the prophetic pathos of the biblical witness, especially as incarnated by the person and work of Jesus. The Scriptures are chalk-full of attestations to the imbalance of financial power and the unjust distribution of wealth that distort God's divine intentions for a good and beautiful creation and humanity. For example, many have noted the prescribed year of Jubilee as a reaction to, better said, preventative measure against pervasive poverty among a newly liberated Hebrew people (Lev. 25). This Jubilee became, at least as illustrated by Luke, a platform for the gospel proclaimed by Jesus (Lk. 4:16ff), inaugurated in his Messianic vocation, and lived into by the earliest Christian communities that occupied the Roman Empire (Acts 2:43ff; 4:32ff). One of the ancient mantras of these communities, as spoken by Jesus, could be recognized as, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" (Mt. 20:16). This eschatological hope gave birth to counter-cultural praxis that announced the Messianic alternative to an unjust society. In essence, the imperial concerns of the #OccupyWallStreet movement are sure to be shared by ancient Christians scattered throughout another empire.

Jim Wallis writes:
"Here are a few things I do know about the Occupy Wall Street protesters:
When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus. When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus. When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus. When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked. When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable. Pray for those out on the streets. Think of ways that you or your church can be Jesus to them.
" [1]
Said differently, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).

On the other hand, caution is to be raised in regards to #OccupyWallStreet. The church must refrain from a reliance on political protesters and social movements in the pursuit of social change. Even more, as viable and prophetic as these protests may be, the Church must refuse to wait for these movements to begin to incarnate kingdom ethics on earth as they will be in heaven. John Perkins says it best:
"The test will be to see if these trends are more than a movement. Don't hope for a movement!...We must have some people who will keep moving after the movement dies, after it is no longer popular to do what is right."
In other words, colonies of the kingdom of heaven must continue to occupy earth in their prophetic concern and faithful witness that provokes contemporary Aristides to say to today's political leaders, "This, O emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this their manner of life... And see, because of them, good flows on in the world!" (Apology 15, 16). [2] This must be "kept up" even long after social movements tire.

This has rang true of the church throughout history, and if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear, it rings true of particular ecclesial incarnations today. Again, John Perkins:
"There are people moving toward developing church communities, not just for themselves, but for organizing their resources around areas of need. There are Christians seeking and searching for ways to develop the church as the Body of Christ and to equip the saints with the gifts of the Spirit for real service to people. With these trends, I believe that we are quickly moving to a position where we can begin to really preach the gospel in a way that makes reconciliation and love meaningful to all people." [3]
As said in a previous post, these Christian communities are on-earth colonies of the kingdom of heaven, who live into the new creation already here and yet-to-come.

Colonies of heaven occupied Philippi.

Colonies of heaven occupied Rome.

Colonies of heaven occupy the Abrams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. [4]

Colonies of heaven occupy Kensington and Center City Philadelphia. [5]

Colonies of heaven occupy Wall Street.

Colonies of heaven gather and scatter around the globe. Yet I am conviced we are neither to take our cues from political protestors, nor to stifle their warranted cries for justice. Instead, we follow Jesus who is Lord over all systems, powers, financial institutions, and any and all who sustain and promote oppressive economies- to include you, me, and even those who protest along Wall Street and City Hall (Colossians 1:15-20) [6].

As we follow, we may discover the cries of protesters echo the cries of prophets. We would do well to listen. We may notice the aspirations and incarnations of social movements reflect the economy of God and the mission of the Church. But we will never know unless we follow Jesus and sit alongside our occupying neighbors ...which a few friends and I will do tomorrow...

Here are a few photos from that day:

[1] From a great article by Jim Wallis:
[2] A Previous Post: Aristides and Youth Ministry
[3] This comes from A Quiet Revolution, as cited on Church of the Saviour's "Inward/Outward":
[4] If you have never learned of, visted, or encountered the ministry of Church of the Saviour and founder N. Gordon Cosby, stop reading my blog and visit their website: they are by far one of the most faithful representations of the missional church and what it means to be a colony of heaven occupying earth. Youth from Imago Dei Youth Ministry spent a week with their Potter's House community in 2009.
[5] The Simple Way and Broad Street Ministry are also places and communities to check out.
[6] Another article to read that engages the #OccupyWallStreet protests:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Garbage-Cans and Philippians 3

I am neither used to having my attention drawn to trash cans nor regularly inspired by metal containers on street corners. Yet the trash can that appeared to my right when I stopped in front of City Hall today was different. It had a message and a mission.
The city
has a heartbeat
and it's waiting
for you
to provide hope
to become change
to become
litter free.
The city
has a heartbeat
and its waiting
for you
to come clean. [1]
A rather unusual quote to appear on the side of a container reserved for garbage. Still, the garbage-can poetry resonated with my faith convictions and reminded me of my greatest aspirations: incarnations of hope, movements of change, and a litter-free city.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God..." (Revelation 21:1-2)
It could be said that my morning began with a lesson in garbage-can theology.[2]

Yet, more than the reference from John's apocalypse, Paul's letter to the Philippians came to mind as I snapped this photo:

"For [Christ's] sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and and be found in him..." (3:8-9).




Skubala. [3]


All of Paul's previous credentials, identities, and passions were considered garbage compared to his status as an in-Christ citizen within the colony of heaven. His life's message and mission had been transformed and were now wrapped-up in the person and work of Jesus as Messiah. This Jesus was the one whom he believed incarnated hope, inaugurated change, and proclaimed a litter-free city already here and yet-to-come.

Paul followed this Messiah.
The people of Philippi lived into the message of this Jesus.

Christians throughout history have proclaimed the garbage, litter, and skubala of this world, even refuse within churches, redeemed and made new in light of the resurrection of Christ.

Philippians is saturated with images and illustrations intended to form and send God's people into the world. Christ hymn's, tongue-in-cheek statements, subversive phrases, and off-color metaphors litter the letter.

Then I recall the garbage-can poetry I read this morning: provide hope, become change, come clean.

This sounds like a rallying anthem and confessional chant that would fit well within our ecclesial liturgies. It sounds like it belongs in the Philippians Book of Common Worship.

But it came from the side of a trash can.

It was printed on a container filled with skubala.

[1]This poem was written by Gregory Corbin as a part of the "Unlitter Us" Campaign:
[2] One of my earliest potential blog titles was "Trash Heap Dialogue," inspired by Gustavo Gutierrez' interpretation of Job 2:8:
[3] I have vowed never to "litter" my sermons or writings with references to the Greek. Yet this one is too good to pass up. σκύβαλα refers to refuse, garbage, or dung. However, I think the urban dictionary says it best ;)

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Monday, October 3, 2011

In-Christ Citizens: World Communion Sunday Sermon

Sermon Text: Philippians 3:12-4:1



To you and me, these are arbitrary numbers. To a junior or senior in high school, these numbers have come to define them. GPA and SAT scores are sometimes written more than their names, or they at least directly follow, as anxiety-ridden high school students fill out endless stacks of applications for college admission boards and scholarship programs.

These are only a few contemporary identities. There are many others.

There is a temptation to be defined by the letters that come either before or after your name, depending on your level of education or the highest degree earned. Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts. MD. PhD. Seminary graduates receive a MDiv, i.e. Master of Divinity (a rather pompous title for those who confess that God and related speech can neither be possessed or "mastered").

I can think of a few personal identities:

Inquirer for Ordination.

Youth Director.

Father of two.


Who are you?

In an economy and job market that continues to struggle, many of you may have asked this question. As you take a second look at your resume and contemplate an update, you may ponder not only who you are, but also and especially how you are perceived by potential employers. Even more, how are you better qualified than others.

Our identity is also a commodity in a consumer-based culture. Mass media and advertising agencies have developed clever schemes and evangelistic strategies to convince us that if we purchase a particular product a desired image or identity can be attained. This is who you should be? This is who you can be?

This identity quest is a rat race that leaves many of us tired and worn; some have called it a "race to nowhere." We run in place, exhaust ourselves, and often chase an unknown destination. Even worse, we pursue prizes and goals that are said to be important but we are pretty confident they lack any real value.

We may also struggle to define ourselves not only by personal accomplishments, but also mistakes made and maybe past failures that continue to haunt us.

Still more identities...







We are not the first generation to value status and social identity. The first-century, Roman world was also bent on classifications and images.










Roman citizen.

Worshiper of Caesar.

You knew who you were. You were told who you were. Your social and economic identity determined with whom you could and could not associate, where and when you could travel, and whether you could or could not participate in certain cultural festivities.

Who am I? The question was not one that caused internal and emotional angst like it does today. You were not offered options. You were told. Identity was predetermined by birth- no questions asked.

Then we read Philippians. Paul writes to his "beloved" from the (un)friendly confines of a cold and dark Roman prison cell, captive because he suggested and announced to the Roman world that there was another identity available, one which trumped those imposed by Caesar and his patrons.

Paul illustrates the Philippians, who are sure to be a motley crew and social mosaic, as follows:

Partners in a different gospel (1:3-5).

Followers of Jesus, Son of God, whose name "is above every name" and will one day be confessed by all- even Caesar (2:6-11)?

Children of God (2:15).

Shining stars in the midst of an often dark and crooked world (2:15)

The true "circumcision" (3:3).

Runners in a new kind of race (3:14).

Yet none of Paul's carefully crafted metaphors and identifications carry as much weight as what comes to us in Philippians 3: 20: "But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."


In heaven.


From heaven.

Jesus as Lord.

What about Rome?

What about Caesar?

What about social status?

What about the race to nowhere?

Paul suggests that only one identity matters: our "in Christ" citizenship within the kingdom of God. A citizenship that is offered and available to all.

There is a temptation to allow this identity, i.e. citizenship in heaven, to be limited to a future anticipation and eternal residence whereby we will all one day go.

Is that it?

N.T. Wright writes about this illustration:
"If someone in Philippi said, 'We are citizens of Rome', they certainly wouldn't mean 'so we're looking forward to going to live there'. Being a colony works the other way around. The last thing emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed [sound familiar?]. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there...The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord's Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth" (The Prison Letters 126).

That is who we are. We are in-Christ citizens of the kingdom of God who are called to bring to life in the present world the anticipations of the renewed and resurrected creation yet to come.

Paul says it this way, "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (3:12).

Forget what is behind and live into what is ahead (3:13)

Practice resurrection.

Live as patriots of the colony of heaven.

I love that this text comes to us on World Communion Sunday. Today we celebrate the Church Universal. We are reminded on this day that this colony of heaven knows not national border, denominational affiliation, conservative or liberal agenda, not even rich or poor social status. I can hear Paul say, "you are not a number. You are not your GPA, SAT score, or revamped professional resume. Your allegiance is not paid to a flag and your loyalty resides not in any one institution." Instead, we are united around a table. We come to this table drenched in the waters of our baptism. We are then sent from the sacred table marked as an "in Christ" people who participate in the good news of the gospel. We are on earth colonies of the kingdom of heaven.

There were colonies of Christians scattered throughout a racially segregated nation who believed the church was called to confess Christ by pursuing reconciliation. The result: The Confession of 1967, which served as today’s "Affirmation of Faith.”

There are colonies of “in-Christ” citizens in West Chester. Many worship here, others gather in Methodist and Episcopal, Catholic and Baptist communities around town.

There are colonies in Honduras. Youth there continue to contemplate how they can "design their future under the will of God," maybe in partnership with youth from this congregation? Medical clinics are also constructed in La Entrada by retired dentists and doctors, who then offer their expertise and services to provide healthcare to those in the most rural parts of Central America.

There are colonies in Mexico. The Estado 29 orphanage in Ensenada has seen dreams of new employment opportunities become realities through an internet café, which has then made other dreams of college educations affordable for recent graduates.

There is a colony of believers located in an old Presby church on Broad Street in Philadelphia, where pastors, artists, entrepreneurs, and social service agencies work to alleviate homelessness and offer solidarity and hospitality to the marginalized of the city.

There are colonies in Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine.

There are colonies of the kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1)

We are all citizens of this kingdom, who gather around this sacred and sending table, in anticipation of the day to come when the whole of creation will be transformed and made new.

Until that day, we stand firm and faithful. We quest for opportunities to bear the marks of this kingdom in the present.

Who are we?

We are in-Christ citizens of the kingdom of God. May we be creative and faithful stewards of this identity today and every day. No matter what the cost.


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