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Hope is Now: True Citizenship

Reflections from Our Pastors

My first loves in Paul’s short letter to the Philippians are chapters 4, and then 2. But chapter 3 explicates marvelously what our hope is all about. Mind you, Paul trots out his spiritual credentials in the first few verses. I guess if you aren’t Saint Paul just yet, with nobody to brag on you, you instinctively boast a little.

By verse 7, he’s on a roll though. To those of us who think the way to secure hope is to accumulate, have plenty in reserve, safety measures in place, Paul testified, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Our ledgers are twisted inside out, or just shredded. Hope isn’t a bevy of whatever to make you ready for whatever. It’s knowing Christ. Period Really.

We sing this – but do we mean it? “When I survey the wondrous cross… my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Paul actually prays, in verse 10, not for Christ to spare him suffering, but that he might be so close to Christ he’d feel his sufferings! I love Mother Teresa’s wisdom: “You must give what will cost you something. This is giving not just what you can live without, but what you can’t live without or don’t want to live without. Something you really like. Then your gift becomes a sacrifice which will have value before God. This giving until it hurts, this sacrifice is what I call love in action.”

I chuckle when Paul speaks of those “whose god is their belly, who set their minds on earthly things.” It’s not mere eating and drinking, but all our consuming, all our thick-headed trust in what we can grab, what’s tangible. For centuries, the church warned us against the “seven deadly sins”: greed, gluttony, sloth, lust, anger, envy and pride – which today describe the wished-for, good life in America! God can’t be bought, or consumed. God calls me out of self-indulgence, away from it being all about me, and into the adventure of God, far grander than me and my small satisfactions.

And why should this be so? Is God some spoilsport? Hardly. God knows and would remind us constantly that this world isn’t all there is. Our ultimate destiny isn’t here, but elsewhere. Paul intuits this isn’t futurist thinking, but a present reality: “But our citizenship is in heaven” (verse 20). Citizens of Philippi took great pride, most of them military veterans, in their citizenship in Rome’s empire. Christians yawn. Our citizenship is in heaven. We really belong to God’s kingdom. Try as we might to straddle both worlds, you have to make a choice, a big choice but also a lot of little choices, most of which are counter-cultural. Hope is the steadfast chooser, big choice to live into God’s kingdom, and the thousands of little choices too.

Hope only works when you know there’s a new world dawning. We get glimpses here and there, in worship, in acts of goodness, in souls of integrity, wherever beauty inspires and compassion reigns. Feel like you don’t quite belong here? Is all you garner not all that satisfying? Nagging hollowness festering in your gut? Always wanting more, or something different? All God’s clues, planted in each one of us, calling us home to our native country.

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