Sunday Message for 17 March 2019 (2nd Sunday of Lent): “Spiritual Citizens”
Posted On February 28, 2019
What does it mean to have spiritual citizenship? This question underscores today’s lectionary message from Philippians 3:17 – 4:1.
Consider the Old Testament, where God is represented as choosing the Jews as the exclusive group with whom to forge a sacred covenant, yielding preferential treatment if the people kept God’s commands. It all began with the ancient-father Abraham, how his trust in the Almighty ignited God’s promise to favor him and his faithful descendants forever.
As Abraham’s descendant’s, the Jews savored their exclusivity as God provided them a form of redemption (albeit through the harsh Law and brutal animal sacrifices). By their exclusive adoption by God, anyone born with the proper Jewish ethnicity was on track to inherit a favorable status denied to earth’s other people. God’s favor waxed and waned as the Jews variously obeyed and disobeyed the divine commands. Attempting to correct matters, God sent jaw-jarring judgments and powerful preaching prophets. In the end, the Law could not be saved and God forged another way to redeem fallen humanity.
One fatal flaw with singling-out a chosen people is that such a scheme promotes prejudice and discrimination, complicating hopes of universal justice and equality. Thankfully, the Old Testament covenant weakened, rotting from the inside-out. The death-knell came when God was willing to change, recognizing that those ancient Jews couldn’t keep their end of what was already a flawed bargain. The hundreds of fear-based commands irreparably collapsed into a pile of toxic waste.
The Law killed people until it died. Ye just as the mythical Phoenix bird rose from its ashes, so did God’s promise of a new way for a new day. God progressed with a new plan for redemption, resulting in equal access for both Jew and non-Jew. This transformation in God’s approach was highlighted by Jesus, whose message changed everything. Jesus ushered a bold era of salvation, transitioning and reinterpreting the Old Testament legal requirements under a new summarizing commandment: love God and love others. As a result, you and I are now citizens of a spiritual community, not one limited to ethnicity. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NRSV).
Jesus emphasized father Abraham’s true descendants, those who kept the spiritual promises rather than those who simply tried to create, follow, and enforce rules and traditions. The doomed Old Testament experiment with ethnic privilege had ended, and thereafter God altered the spiritual universe. No longer was being born into a privileged group of people a path to God.
Jesus shared the good news of his Gospel to liberate first his Jewish nation. But thereafter Jesus’ followers pressed the message to all humans with missionary zeal. The result is that today we can proclaim the same Gospel of love represented by Jesus’ good news. Smug ethnic identification is a dead-end when it comes to guaranteeing God’s favor. Gone also are the days of free passes to heaven simply because of birthright and slavish rule-following.
Jesus provides a message of redemption through forgiveness and restoration. This means that you can receive and share love and truth with all humanity. Jesus’ new covenant liberates you for unlimited possibilities. You serve God despite who or what you were prior to your spiritual awakening. No longer are you damned by anything outside your control, not your ethnicity, race, color, or birth status.
You share the responsibility and privilege to hear and respond to God’s call. Once redeemed, your citizenship becomes heavenly. The emphasis is on relationship over religion. You are elevated not by genetics or inheritance but by awakening and cleansing. Spirituality depends not on your parents but on your heart, not on your ancestry but on your acceptance.
Consider how people lacking strong ethnic or racial identification can feel left out, especially as other groups huddle and hug based on their shared color, language, or on a smorgasbord of cultural curiosities. What Jesus and other followers of God seek is a spiritual fellowship rather than something based on genetics or culture. With your newly-forged spiritual identity you can surpass all weaker earthly ties and become part of a new spiritually-based family.
You are not alone; you are not forgotten. God loves you and wants you to be a citizen in the kingdom of heaven regardless of your color, what language you speak, where your relatives originated, etc. The family of faith in God’s kingdom is vast and includes people of all ages, wages and stages. You are now a citizen in a love-based community.
God invites you not based on your biology but on the divine plan for redemption. All gives way to love, stretching across time and space by transcending human-imposed boundaries. You are part of one human family celebrating ties through a living, loving God.