Text: Philippians 3:14-21
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Oct. 8, 2017
When I was a young child my Pentecostal church used to sing a gospel song whose refrain when something like this: "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through If heaven's not my home oh Lord what shall I do, the angles beckon me from Heaven's open door and I don't feel at home in this world anymore."
The chorus reflects a profound and classic sense of irony. It has a great appeal to someone who is down and out, who has found living in this world to be harsh, a grind, one that wears them down. And so early Pentecostal adherents bought into their message a theme that said to them, "The day is coming when all is not going to be like this. Someday you will have a mansion just over the hilltop in a great city where you will never grow old.
I say it’s an irony because, despite what the critics say, that community was not delusional. They were not simply engaged in wishful thinking. Rather they were expressing a conviction that their future that was breaking into their present reality. They discovered within their community of faith resources that enabled them to face and transcend the hardships they were experiencing. They found resources within themselves that they did not in the here and now at least in part, and will realized in its fullness in the future.
What are those things? Joy, Hope, Commitment to each other. Their Christian experience enabled them to face the reality of their present life. Instead of giving up in hopeless despair, they were enabled to conquer their problems in this life. Their kids grew up experiencing our world very differently than their parents and the kids often became Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Methodists. and who often—ironically—sense the good life is not something in the future but in the here and now.
If you suspect that I am speaking somewhat autobiographically, you, of course, are right. But this morning, it is my purpose to say to you that what I am saying is not just my experience—not just Pentecostal experience— but is to be the experience of all Christians. Critics can say of all of us, that our faith causes us to escape life. I say to you this morning that it is my conviction that our faith enables us to face life—to live life in its fullness. But to do so we are called upon to look at life differently than our non-Christian friends. We are called upon to view life through the eyes of faith. Listen again to my text taken from today's epistle: "For I have often told you...
There are many whose way of life makes them enemies of the cross of Christ. They are heading for destruction. Appetite is their god, and they glory in their shame.Their minds are set on earthly things.
We, by contrast, are citizens of heaven, and from heaven we expect our deliverance to come, Jesus Christ.
We are citizens of heaven—one Bible version gives a more literal translation—conveys, I think, a clearer meaning of what St. Paul is saying to us. We are a colony of heaven.
Philippi was located in Greece, but it was a colony of Rome. They were Greek citizens, but they were also Roman Citizens with all the rights and privileges of Rome, the dominate world power.
We know what colonies are from our own country’s history. Our forefathers and mothers were in America, but they were citizens of England.
Why did they come here? Some came as refuges fleeing from religious persecution. Others came as exiles having left their homeland, because of political turmoil. Still others came seeking better economic opportunities. A few came seeking adventure, having become bored at home.
As Christians, however, those reasons are not the reasons why we are colonists of heaven. But there are some aspects in which we are like our American ancestors of the colonial period. Like George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Betsy Ross, we were born here. Born abroad, so to speak, and have never yet made a trip home. And I might add—not many of us planning to make this trip any time soon!
But like them in relation to England—our way of life—our thinking—our customs—are that of our Eternal Home. I want to look at four such ways in which this is true.
First as Christians, we are called to think differently about time. True we have the same number of days as the Civil year, and we have the date >of the Civil calendar on today's bulletin, but the Christian year starts at a different time than the Civil year and is organized around the major festivals of the Christian faith—Christmas, >Easter, and Pentecost—days in which we observe the major events of our faith—the birth of our Lord, his resurrection from the dead and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We identify each Sunday by its relationship to one of these events. Not only does today's bulletin tell us that today is October 3, 1999 it also tells us that this is the 19th Sunday after Pentecost. As Citizens of Heaven, why shouldn't we have our own time.
We anchor ourselves to God's mighty acts of revelation and redemption. We are called to live by God's time, not by our time.
We are a colony of heaven and Christ is our calendar.
The first one is easy for us, the second is a little more difficult to accept. As citizens of heaven we are called upon to think differently about our honors and assets.
In writing to the Philippian Church St. Paul stated, whatever assets he had, he counted them but loss for the sake of Christ. He was writing about his birth and upbringing and claims for high regard as a religious person.
He said, I was an Israelite by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee, but he went on to say, whatever assets I had, I wrote them off for the cause of Christ. The expression, "to write off our assets" does not sound like anything we would like to do. We may lose them if the market crashes, or if our investments fail, but for us to write them off?
This has to do with what we value, and the priority we give to what we have. Much of the things that Paul prided in himself came to him by the accident of birth.
In the eyes of his community he found himself on third base and he thought he hit a triple.
Other things, like becoming a Pharisee, were out and out achievements, the result of long study and hard work.
As a result he was rewarded by the community and gained a great deal of inward satisfaction. All of us can identify with Paul. We can easily recognize counterparts to these things in our own lives. Pride in lineage and birth, pride in family, pride in church tradition. They are the things that make us what we are, by heritage, or by achievement.
Is it wrong for us< to feel this way? Of course not. But Paul is reminding us that they can become stumbling blocks for us rather than assets if we forget that our citizenship is in heaven,
He is reminding us that we are not simply earth creatures—we are a colony of heaven and Christ is our ultimate asset.
Third, as Christians, we are called upon to think differently about suffering.
Paul's goal was to know Christ, to experience the power of His resurrection and to share in the fellowship of his sufferings.
All of us know about the experience of suffering and we don't like it. We have medication to ease the suffering of illness. We have counselors to help us through the pain of broken relationships—it is good that we do.
But as Christians we are called upon to hold another perspective on suffering as well. We know that Christ has come to us in our pain and in our brokenness. He has identified with us in our humanness, in our weakness in our suffering. We know that through His death he has transformed suffering so that in His resurrection He can bring wholeness to our lives.
If we can see our lives as a share in Christ's sufferings we can come to believe that in faithful and patient baring of our own burden of pain we join ourselves to Christ in a redemptive good in ways completely unknown to us.
We are a Colony of heaven and Christ is in our suffering.
Finally, as Citizens of Heaven we are called upon to think differently about the future. Long-range planning has become part of our world. We try to tell our children what profession or career will be the best for them to enter in order to live fulfilled lives. We invest and save so that in retirement we can live comfortably. But this is about the near future.
What about the longer future? What about death?
Paul says we are citizens of heaven and from heaven we expect our deliverance to come—Jesus Christ himself.
He will transform our bodies and give us a form like his own resurrected body of immortality. The ravages of illness, the weaknesses always present with us, the brokenness of physique and emotion all will pass away in the transformation of the Christian hope. This is our confidence because Jesus himself was raised from death. We are a colony of heaven and Jesus is in our future.
Thanks be to God.