Friday, February 18, 2011

Whose Are You?

I've been thinking about citizenship recently as I muse on two passages from the book of Philippians. First the Apostle Paul's exhortation to this group of house churches in ancient European city of Philippi:

Only, live your civic or public life worthy of the gospel of Christ. (1:27; I added italics and elaboration)
And then Paul lays out the contrast between the life of the citizens of the "secular city" (to use Augustine's term) and that of followers of Jesus--particularly whose they are:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (3:20-21, again, my italics)
I've been thinking about this because I'm working on a sermon for our presbytery (the regional gathering of our denomination). I'm asking the question: What do we need to hear in light of some contentious political battles in our denomination? It seems to me we need to hear about freedom. We need to hear about our citizenship about how to answer "Whose are we?" The answer: we're free for God and therefore free from being defined by human associations so that we can be free to re-engage in this world with love and service. When we know we ultimately belong to God then we can serve this world more effectively, worthy of the Gospel.


At least that's how I see it. What do you think?

9 comments:

Steven said...

For myself; all human defined associations must take second place. My relationship with God has elevated me above those. Being made in the 'image' of God, I can't let others define me. Nor should borders define me.

This has been a long time coming. I had always felt that tribalism was a problem but now that I'm much older I am convinced that it is evil. It separates me from God. And second - a close second - it separates me from my fellow man...also made in the image of God.

I know that this is a sensitive subject and one that cannot be addressed simply. In the past, people lost their lives if the answers they gave indicated less than absolute devotion to some other authority.

We're lucky - or blessed - by the fact that we live where we do. But I don't believe that God blesses nations anymore. Our borders are just lines on a map and some words in a document. All made by man and by this particular tribe.

I could chat about this subject for far too long...so I won't. But, it would be great if you could post the sermon here after you have delivered it. Download it as a pdf?

Anonymous said...

Just found this article this morning, "The Return of Virtue Ethics". Seems to me like it is relevant to this note, as well as your note on "Real Stars".
http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/columns/mark-vernon/the-return-of-virtue-ethics

John

GCootsona said...

Steven, thanks for your thoughtful comments (as always). I don't write out a manuscript for my sermons. So the best I can offer is a podcast when that happens.

Steve said...

The "Whose Are You?" blog entry gives food for thought.
Philippians 1:27 is a scripture verse that reminds me of an
apropos quote.

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)

GCootsona said...

My friend Jeff had difficulty posting. So he emailed it to me. Here it is: "I like your comments and the brief on your message to Presbytery and I would like to read more. I believe, given some of the decisions that have been made by our Presbytery and potential decisions we will face down the road, that dissension and political battles are not the worst reality. Sometimes engaging with the world with love and service will involve very difficult conversation and decisions."

GCootsona said...

My friend Jeff had difficulty posting. So he emailed it to me. Here it is: "I like your comments and the brief on your message to Presbytery and I would like to read more. I believe, given some of the decisions that have been made by our Presbytery and potential decisions we will face down the road, that dissension and political battles are not the worst reality. Sometimes engaging with the world with love and service will involve very difficult conversation and decisions."

Anonymous said...

I don't think our "citizenship in heaven" makes us totally free from "being defined by human associations," but it can give us a different perspective. The contentious battles result from not "discerning the body"..fighting against each other instead of for the body...which you "belong to." Paul frequently speaks of the sin of "strife." The Greek word has politics in mind and refers to the "party spirit"...where each member tries to champion their pet cause above others. Paul points out that just as the human body can't live like that, neither can the body of Christ. The root of the word demonic is daio (to divide) and house divided against itself cannot stand we are told. When we gather others to our cause, that implies disjointing them from the body. All are to make Christ the focus, not a cause.

In the book of James we have one long exhortation against divisiveness and "real religion." It is the singularity of Jesus that keeps us from being divided into "doubles" of "double mind..double tongued...double natured..." all eventually splits the body into "classes" or worse. This is dangerous doctrine...that which doesn't seek the healing of the body.

Paul chooses this significant word ("ergon") in Ephesians 2:10 for “good works." Ergon is the base of our word for “ergonomics." Paul appeals to the great philosophical question of day posed by Aristotle. “The good life,” Aristotle reasoned, depends on how much a person (or thing) fulfills the function for which it was designed. Aristotle also spoke of the "ergon" of the eye, the hand, and the foot, for each of these things has it’s "good and fitting work" only as part of a body. Aristotle said Politicians need to study medicine to rule well to see how a body functions and operate like a surgeon to bring about virtue in the body!

Plato said something sounding very much like James 4:1 long before James did,
“For whence come wars and fights and factions? Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body?” (Plato, Phaedo 66)

Paul was quite conversant with Stoic philosophy. His writings are sprinkled with references. Stoics prided themselves on being “Citizens of the World. Paul takes this idea even further by calling us to be a citizen of Heaven. The word for "heaven" can translate as that realm "which is all encompassing."

While Stoics preach "world citizenship," they recognized that we need the local attachment to teach proper affections to extend to other realms. They urged us to imagine all cultures as limbs of a single body, cooperating for the sake of common purposes. Noting that it takes only the change of a single letter to change the Greek word “limb” (melos) to (meros) “a detached part." St. Paul would borrow and extend the metaphor.

Notice Paul follows Aristotle's argument, that the authority over the "koinĂ´nia" fellowship" life lay in it's "Ergonomic design". Our governing "constitution" is not in a written document, nor is it something subject to democratic changes, rather it is the universal principles of soundness as reflected in the "constitution" of a healthy body!

I recently wrote a couple of blogs on this:
http://billswondershow.com/blog/rants/citizen-of-the-world-or-segregated-societies

http://billswondershow.com/blog/rants/ruminations-on-being-embroidered

Bill Jackson, Oroville CA

GCootsona said...

Bill,
I'm not sure how much we disagree. So let me say this: I think our freedom as Christians allows us to re-engage in other earthly identities. I.e., it's ok to be a "Presbyterian Christian" or an "American Christian." But those are always secondary to our primary identity as Christian, or as followers of Jesus. Once we are free from defining ourselves by labels that will only endure on earth are we then able to use properly.

Bill Jackson said...

"O cunning enemy that, to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook:
most dangerous Is that temptation
that doth goad us on To sin
in loving virtue."
Shakespeare in Measure for Measure

I don't think it's about disagreement, but about re-framing and clarifying. I think you are completely right about bringing all secondary identities into submission to Christ. I am unclear however, how you may see this addressing the 'Political battles." I was drawing on references showing all real politics is local and intimate with "body life" of the church...and then the broader local community. Over-reaching results in an atrophy of limbs and empires of creeds without virtue.

Is it really a "contrast" to say:
"live your Civic life worthy of the gospel...the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself..."
When our sacred calling encompasses our civic life, we are only serving the world indirectly. One is encompassed in the other, and subject to the other.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).

Jeremiah 29:7 directed, " "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare...." And Christians, are in a similar position of exile IN this world, but not of it.

I'm not sure how this specifically relates to (which?) "political battles" in the Presbyterian Church, for while the church is in the world, the "world" should not be "in" the Church. There is strife over what is acceptable IN the Church (life-styles) and there is also the strife about worldly causes the Church is asked to side with (social justice) that are largely outside of it (by definition "civic"). So, while the two realms are in contrast, our life remains consistent to the calling of our "ministry of reconciliation" in Christ...without much contrast (beyond degree of expression).

“Stripping the governments and the authorities bare,
he exhibited them in open public as conquered,
leading them in a triumphal procession by means of it.”
Colossians 2:15

When Paul speaks of "submission to authority," in Romans 13, he show familiarity with Aristotle's understanding that "authority" is derived only from the virtue of the body...mitigating the contrasts:

"Since we see that every city-state is a sort of community and that every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what they believe to be good), it is clear that every community aims at some good, and the community which has the most authority of all and includes all the others aims highest, that is, at the good with the most authority. This is what is called the city-state or political community." --Aristotle

As such, we are free from the definitions of worldly authorities who neglect the higher aims.

Best wishes on your sermon.

Bill Jackson, Oroville CA