23rd Sunday After Pentecost: Heart And Home
On Thursday morning we woke up uncertain about the results of the 2022 midterm elections. Many of us are disappointed with the results. As a Christian, you must keep in mind that in a contentious and divided political atmosphere there are things to consider that are even weightier than politics.
If you ever visited another country, you know how fascinating it can be – Different language, different culture, different sights, different smells, different food. It is all wonderfully interesting. But while there, you are always aware of the fact that you are not from there. And you are not actually living there. You’re just visiting there. In fact, it doesn’t need to be another country for that to be the case. Any trip away from home causes the same feelings. And with most trips away from home, even wonderful vacations, we are usually a little relieved to be home again.
In today’s epistle reading, Paul tells us that, as Christians, our whole life is like this. Paul tells us in verse 20 that: “Our conversation is in heaven. And it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” "Our conversation" here does not mean our talking together, as we generally use the word now, but something quite different. It means our citizenship. So that when the apostle says, "Our conversation is in Heaven," his meaning is something like: "We are strangers and pilgrims on the earth — and we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Already in heart and by title we belong to that country — Heaven is our home." As baptized Christians, in other words, we are no longer citizens of earth, but of heaven. We live here on earth; that is true. But we are no longer from here. We are just passing through, on our way home. And our true home is in heaven.
This word "conversation," though it does not mean talking together — yet it relates to our conduct as well as to our home. "Our conversation is in Heaven" means that our home is in Heaven, and that our way of life is also heavenly.
The true citizen of Heaven not only has his home in Heaven, but his heart is there as well. Not only does he look forward to dwelling there hereafter, but even now he seeks to be holy and heavenly in life and character. Concerning these citizens of heaven, Hebrews 11:13-16 says, "All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them,and confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. For they that say these things, do signify that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they had doubtless time to return. But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city."
Those who live the life of faith, and love their Savior, and strive to serve God — are different in their whole conduct from men of the world. It is plain that they are not of this world. Their life shows it. Their conduct is in Heaven.
I want to share an example of what this might look like – what it looks like to live in this world, but not of this world. And this is from a famous letter written back in the second century, called the Letter to Diognetus. This letter reads almost as if it is written by someone from another planet, who is trying to describe this group that they have encountered, called Christians.
With this in mind listen to an excerpt of this ancient letter:
"Christians display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers …
They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives …
To sum it up – what the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world … The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world."
We dwell in the world, but we are not of the world. Because we are Christians. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our forever home is not here. We are just passing through.
Our Hope Is Not Found on Earth
I suppose we all know that our hope is not found on earth. But it can be easy to forget. It can be easy to get so caught up in this world that we forget that this is not our forever home. This is not where we are from. And when we forget that our true home is heaven, this life can weigh us down.
When we remember that our citizenship is in heaven, that our forever home is not here on earth, it changes how we live here on earth. Our life here has a hope, a resiliency, a buoyancy, that nothing in this world can weigh down. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal,” as Thomas Moore’s beautiful poem and hymn puts it. Or, as Paul reminds us in First Corinthians: “If it is for this life only that we have hoped in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Our hope is much greater than anything this life can offer, because our citizenship is in heaven. And this gives us a certain lightness to living here. Our sorrows don’t overwhelm us. Our worries don’t depress us. Our possessions don’t possess us.
We care about this world and this life, of course, but not in the same possessive way that we would if we were only citizens of this earth, and if we were only living for this life. We know that it is not just about this world, this life. We live in this world, yes. But not of this world. We know that one day we will go home again.
But what difference does it make, in our lives here on earth, when we embrace the fact that our citizenship is in heaven?
In his passage on reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that Christians are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). An ambassador is an official envoy who represents a foreign sovereign, providing a link between his host country and the country he represents. Ambassadors work to build relations and develop policies that favor both the host and the home of the ambassador. An ambassador is appointed by the leadership of those he represents and is given authority to speak on their behalf.
An ambassador must walk a very fine line. He lives in one country, but he is responsible to another. He must represent the message of a leader who is not directly present. He must also embody the character of his home country, following laws and customs that are not necessarily known or even welcome in the host nation. He must do this all while respecting the laws and customs of that host.
In 2 Corinthians 5, instead of a nation, Paul is an ambassador of the kingdom of God. Unlike modern political ambassadors, Paul did not originate from the "nation" he represented. He was no longer a citizen of the world and he no longer saw things as a citizen of the world. He saw things through the perspective of a citizen of the kingdom of God.
Paul's work as ambassador was to spread his Ruler's message to his host nation. That message was reconciliation. God wanted to be personally reconciled to the people Paul lived with.
In a way, Paul was asking his hosts to commit treason against the kingdom of the world and pledge citizenship to the kingdom of God.
They could then follow in Paul's footsteps by becoming an ambassador for Christ in their own lives — as can we. It starts with a change in citizenship. If we are to represent Jesus to the world, we must first belong to the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of self. We must live by the standards of our new King, even though we are temporarily away from Him. Most importantly, as we have already said, we must accept that this earth is not our home — our home awaits us, "eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1) — even if we are imprisoned and abused by our host country (Ephesians 6:20).
Finally, ambassadors must then spread His message: In Matthew 28:18-20, Just before Jesus is taken up into the clouds to prepare a place for us, he tells his disciple, his ambassadors, if you please, “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
As Christians, we must prioritize God’s kingdom over human kingdoms. In the Lord’s prayer, we ask that God’s kingdom might come and that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians have always lived in this world acknowledging “our citizenship is in heaven.”
Now that the elections are done, we as Christians must be tempered by the reality that our true hope is not found in politics but in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the advance of his kingdom. Christians don’t look to elected officials as the means of realizing our greatest hopes or our greatest fears. We must be more realistic than that. So if you are disappointed with the results, don’t despair. Remember that it is not elections in which our hopes must ultimately rest.