Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alien Culture

When I was growing up we moved around a lot: A few years in Indiana, then a couple in New Jersey, followed by stints in Kansas, then Idaho, then Michigan... My brothers and I were always the new kids. And we yearned to settle somewhere and finally belong. As we all do -- everyone wants to fit in, to be part of the club.

There's something about the Christian movement that makes many modern-day Christians a bit uncomfortable: We really don't belong here. This isn't our place...

Of course there is no question that we should pay our taxes, participate in government, and support the PTA. Certainly we shouldn't be such stern-faced sticks-in-the-mud that we refuse to chat with the neighbors or go to the movies.

But did you catch it on Sunday (if your church pays attention to such things, that is)? The start of Advent is New Years Day for us. In fact Christians have an entire calendar of our own that doesn't begin in January or the Spring. It's designed to constantly remind us of the epicenter of our lives: The life, death, resurrection, and royal authority of the Messiah. That marks us out as different.  (Incidentally, an excellent 2012 Christian Calendar representing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions can be had here from one of my favorite magazines. Authentic Light is utterly unconnected with the people who produce this except that we'll probably get one).

And that's just emblematic of a larger truth: That people who truly follow Jesus of Nazareth have not just a different calendar, but a different ruler and are citizens of another country. We live in our nations here on the Earth in much the same way ambassadors dwell in foreign lands. Or perhaps as underground resistance movements do, since we are busy building the Kingdom of God right under our neighbor's noses -- and inviting them in.

St. Peter was clear on this: "Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives," (First Letter of Peter chapter 2, verse 11, CEB).

Why? Because, "our citizenship is in heaven," said the Apostle Paul. "We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ," (Letter to the Philippians chapter 3, verse 20, CEB)

The earliest members of the Christian movement insisted that, because of the Holy Spirit's action within them, they were a "new race", a new kind of human being. One ancient author, writing probably a mere 30 years after the Apostle John died, described us this way:

"They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land... They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require..."
Letter to Diognetus chapter 5, verses 5 - 13)

One chapter title in C S Lewis' famous book Mere Christianity sums it up well: "Nice People or Changed Men?" As members of the Christian Movement we are not intended to change as little as possible so we can fit in here in this world. That "change" Lewis talks about transfers us "from the control of darkness and...  into the kingdom of the Son," (Letter to the Colossians chapter 1, verse 13, CEB).

Once that supernatural change gets hold of us, it is only in that Kingdom that we can truly settle and finally belong.

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