Dual Citizens – 5-9-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

I lived in New York City for 22 years. The rhythms and pulse of the city were my way of life – I could navigate the streets and subways, theatres and restaurants, even drive like a maniac on the rare occasions I was behind a wheel. Like most New Yorkers, I felt I was where I belonged and thrived in the environment best suited to my energy. I didn’t think I would ever leave.

Until I did, to go to Yale Divinity School in New Haven. I had an easy transition, going back and forth on weekends for a few months, until gradually I went less often, and built up friendships and activities in New Haven. Even while living in Stamford, a commuter train ride away, I rarely went in, despite friends to see and such a wealth of culture to enjoy. Yet when I do find myself in “the city,” I easily drop back into its pace and flow. I can get around like a New Yorker, though I am no longer one. “New York” is a language I can speak, but rarely use.

Maybe that hints at what Jesus meant when he prayed about his followers not “belonging  to this world.” This world is clearly not a place to rest for citizens of God’s realm. “… I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

Why such suspicion of “the world?” By the time these words were set down, the early church was into its fourth or fifth, maybe sixth decade. It had grown and spread and developed structures. It had become familiar with controversy, resistance and fierce persecution, not only from the occupying Romans, but from the Jewish establishment which saw this reform movement as a blasphemous threat. It’s easy to read back into these words the opposition the early Christians who wrote them were facing. Yet even apart from that history there is a clear distinction expressed here, between the values of the world and those of the Christian community.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with “the world,” right? After all, God created it and called it good. Jesus entered into human life to dwell in it and save it. Yet Jesus, and Paul and other leaders after him, often used “the world” to mean human-centered society – corrupt, materialistic, full of oppression and inequity. It is the realm which is passing away, of which the saints of God, called to reflect the holiness of God’s realm, are to be wary. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) The pattern we are to conform to is the one Christ laid down for us, and in which the Spirit leads us.

Are we “of the world?” Or “In the world but not of the world?” I tell the newly baptized that they now have dual citizenship – they are still very much a part of this world, and now simultaneously citizens of the kingdom of God, that supra-national realm of supernatural power and peace. That realm is where we will spend eternity. This realm is where we live now, preparing for that other world, and participating in Christ’s redeeming, transforming work here.

Our spiritual work is to love this world as Christ does, because it is filled with creatures and people God loves, AND  to live ready to leave it when we’re called to New Heaven (the original name for New Haven…) See? Someday we all leave the City and go to Divinity School.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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