A Question of Citizenship

Foxes and hens and enemies of the cross. A question of citizenship—citizenship claimed; citizenship renounced. Sometimes scripture has an uncanny way of shedding light on the looming questions of the day. Such is the case today.

Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who would call it to accounts, defies the powers and principalities of his day and refuses to bow to the lords of fear.

Paul, in a letter to the church in Philippi, reminds those followers of Christ that they are citizens of heaven not subjects of Caesar.  Perhaps raising in their minds the questions that have floated around in my mind this week as I sat with scripture and this weird world in which you and I find ourselves.

Another week of primaries and caucuses and debates and town halls and editorials and sound bites and terrifying tweets as the volume goes up day after day–in almost a direct correspondence to the vituperativeness register.

The apostle Paul pointing out from the sidelines, “Their end is destruction; their god is in their belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things” as the political class—candidates, managers and fans—hurl barbs at one another and at those who would question their behavior.

You and I, we hear all this at a distance. We aren’t bombarded by robocalls and TV ads.   At least not yet. Imagine what it is like to live in an early primary state! Nonetheless the noise is deafening.

There have been times in the last several months when I’ve wanted to step into that Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream”, clasp my hands on my ears and just let out a loud scream or maybe just go back to bed, pull up the covers, and put a pillow over my head..

But the apostle Paul reminds us that screaming is not the way of Christ. Duck and cover is not a faithful Christian response. We are citizens of another realm—citizens of heaven. We follow different laws; we speak a different language; we trade in a different currency; we worship a different God.

The prophet Micah once urged those within earshot to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Laws of living both for the people of Israel and for us, their descendents. When asked about the law and the commandments, Jesus of Nazareth replied, “The greatest commandment is this: love God. The second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself.”   Those are the laws of our land—justice, mercy and love of God and neighbor.

In this season of bullying and bombast we are called to speak in a different language—the language of love, for that is our native tongue. Remember what Paul had to say about that language—“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth….”

Ours is the currency of kindness and connection. Citizens of heaven don’t trade in the currency of put downs or insults or stinging barbs. Ours is not a currency backed by hatred or isolation. We don’t build walls; we build bridges!

Ours is not the God of consumption or fear or power over others. Ours is the God of love. We don’t trade in fear. We have no truck with it. Remember “Perfect love casts out fear.”

And yet you and I live in the United States—a country that includes an amendment to its Constitution that provides that “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”   We as citizens of heaven and as citizens of the United States again and again grapple with just what is the role of our faith in our life—our public life and our private life.

Isn’t that the challenge citizens of heaven face wherever they live?

Isn’t that the challenge that surfaced this week in the controversy surrounding Pope Francis’ comment that “a person who thinks only about building walls, whatever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Then again I wonder if all this brouhaha, this dust up over Pope Francis’ comments, isn’t really a false dilemma. You and I and Pope Francis, too, are citizens of heaven. That’s our primary identity. It’s as citizens of heaven that we live and move and have our being. Our Christian vocation includes hearing and seeing and speaking and voting as citizens of heaven. It is our business to live according to those mandates. It is our business to articulate boldly and clearly the laws we follow as citizens of heaven.   As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

As citizens of heaven, we are called to speak out for justice, to speak out for mercy. To speak out in love. To speak out with God.

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