Our citizenship is in heaven

by Ken Francis

(Based on Ps 27, Luke 13:31-35, Phil 3:17-4:1)

These are troubling times, and if you’re anything like me you’ll have a heightened sense of anxiety about just what is going on in the world.  Not anxious, not fearful … maybe just a bit unsettled.  This is not the world we were living in ten years ago.  I don’t need to list things, really, but – you know – Ukraine, the threat of a third world war, oil prices and inflation, Covid, global warming, divisions in society, violent protests, fake news … what is going on, and how should we be reacting?

The first time I ever heard the phrase “fake news” was after the US election in 2016, when Donald Trump claimed the crowd at his inauguration was much bigger than the one at Barack Obama’s inauguration.  It clearly wasn’t, but Trump branded such inconvenient truth as fake news.   Now anything gets labelled fake news, whether it is or not, and no one really knows what to believe.  There are lies everywhere, but who can tell which ones are actually lies? Putin does. Does Zelensky?

Scripture has no explicit answers to these challenges, but does promote some clear principles and perspectives, and it behoves us to become familiar with it.  We need a personal understanding of Scripture to guide us, and calm us, and give us accurate perspective during times such as these.

For example, Micah 6:8 is always helpful – “… do justly, Ken, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
There’s some really helpful stuff in Philippians about being content, and not being anxious.

In today’s readings, Ps 27, says, “Your face, Lord, I will seek. [This is verse 8] Teach me your way, Lord [Right?  I want to hear your perspective on things, Lord]; lead me in a straight path.  Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses [yeah? Fake news?] rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.”  BUT [v13], “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait [it repeats it] wait for the Lord.”
One time when Jesus was teaching about the latter days of history (in Luke 21), he said: “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

So … wait for the Lord, and ‘Watch and pray’.  That’s what we should be doing in these challenging times. Perhaps a good answer to the question, Who can we believe? Might be … You don’t have to believe any of them!  Just watch … and pray.

In the Gospel reading:  Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was after him, and he should make himself scarce.  Fake news?  Well, Jesus ignores their warning.  He’s in Galilee, by the way, but he’s on his way to Jerusalem.  And he basically says, I’m ok.  Don’t distract me.  Herod – “that fox”! – he’s of no account.  My time is not come yet, I still have work to do, and anyway, I’m not of this place! I’m bound for Jerusalem. (Then he launches into a moving prophesy about Jerusalem itself.  Jerusalem is very much on his mind and heart, and he’s not concerned for his own immediate well being at all.)
I feel this is teaching us, as we try to figure out what is going on in the world, “Don’t worry yourselves: focus on … well, what should we really focus on?  Him!  What is really true?  He is.  He is the truth, and no one comes to the Father but through him. (John 14:6)  We shouldn’t get caught up in dubious theories we’ve heard of via social media.  That’s getting distracted.  Deceived, even.  St Paul says (in 2nd Corinthians), “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”  And in his second letter to Timothy, he writes, “… impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”

Clear instructions to us from God’s Word in these troubling times.

In Phil 3 Paul reminds his readers – and us – that our citizenship is in heaven.  [v20]  We didn’t read the whole chapter, but Paul starts out saying, don’t listen to these pundits who say you need to get circumcised!  In fact, don’t put any confidence in fleshly things at all.  I myself, he writes, could boast about a lot of things … (and he lists a few from his outstanding record).  Then, [v7], “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  … I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Further on, “… one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Then, forwards to v18, “… as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. … Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, …” and so on, concluding with, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, stand firm in the Lord.”

Our citizenship is in heaven!
Think about that, what that means. We are not even part of this mess.  “Their mind”, Paul just said of ‘fake teachers’, “is set on earthly things.”  Don’t get entangled in earthly confusions or conspiracies.  “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

In one place in the Old Testament we are called “sojourners”.  [A ‘sojourner’ is defined as “a person who resides temporarily in a place”.]  There’s a verse that says, “… we are foreigners … and sojourners, as were all our [fore]fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow …”  That’s us.  We’re not home yet.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  We’re only sojourners – visitors … we are manuhiri, not tangata whenua ….  The point again is, don’t get entangled in earthy things.

Well, what about justice and freedom and discrimination?  Shouldn’t we be on the front line of those?

Yes – by all means.  “Do justly and love mercy …”, remember? If God has called us to such things.  Go for it.  But not if it’s just a social obligation you might feel – and not if it’s going to distract you from God’s real purpose for your life.  Get involved in a cause if you feel God wants you to, although, don’t forget, Jesus didn’t involve himself in temporal causes.  So, be wise about what you concern yourself with.

One more example of how personal attention to Scripture can ‘blueprint’ for us how to deal with doubt and confusion:  James gives some perspective in his Epistle: “Don’t be deceived,” he says.  “… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
“Religion (and here is James’s take on what we should be concentrating on) religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  (Jas 1:27)

Enough.  Scripture guides us.  Scriptural perspective can focus and calm us in the face of anything.  It proposes:  Be not deceived [by anything you read or hear], keep your eyes on the Truth [Jesus], and don’t forget that we are just passing through.  Our real citizenship is in heaven!

I hope to see you there when we get home.

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