Citizen

With the Queen’s Jubilee just passed and Independence Day tomorrow, the idea of citizenship seemed a good fit for today.

In an interesting address, the Apostle Paul spoke of his citizenship of a not insignificant city.   This is a multi-layered statement coming from Paul.  Which city was he speaking of?

Tarsus:

Citizen of no mean city: Acts 21: 39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. Please let me speak to the people.” 40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic.

Paul was born in this city in Roman Cilicia.  As such he can make claim to it.  But while this was an important city of its time, could he have meant more by the statement?

Jeruaslem:

22: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

He builds on this in Philippians 3:

5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Here Paul notes his Hebrew lineage and citizenship.  He was educated and came to some prominence in the city of God’s Temple.

Rome:

22: 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”  “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. 29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Today there are discussions of relative value of passports.  Where can it get you?  What protections can it provide.  Are you American, British, Irish?  Well, in the first century it was citizenship of Rome that was the one to have.  It is clear that Paul had citizenship by birth.  

But what did that mean?

Not everyone living in the First Century Roman Empire was a citizen.  There were slaves, freemen, people from client states, and citizens.

Slaves were everywhere.  Different types included civic specialist (often Greeks), gladiators, prisoners of war, house slaves, artisans, and the list goes on.  It should be noted that if the slave of a Roman citizen was freed, they themselves would become citizens.

Most citizens were Roman and Latin lower and middle classes.   Some of these Plebians were ex-auxiliary soldiers who were issued diplomas, others were wealthier or skilled freed slaves.  Others, those granted citizenship on their cities or tribes being absorbed into the Empire.

Above these were the Patricians including the Knights and Senators, Pilate was of the knight class.

There were rights and benefits associated with citizenship.  At Philippi in Acts 16: 37 we can see how Paul’s Roman  citizenship impacted his treatment. “But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.’

And many of you may know Paul later used the right to have his case heard directly by Caesar. 

But I would like to suggest while all these citizenships were held by Paul, the greatest was as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of God:

In Acts 28, we are told that Paul stayed in Rome two full years in his own rented house, welcoming all who came to visit him. 31 Boldly and freely he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, above all Paul was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  The Passport beyond all others and eternal.  

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 19:14

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Jesus speaks of the kingdom being made up of souls that childlike turn to him.  It isn’t about being a Hebrew of Hebrews, but about an open willingness to follow, and to repent.  We are all welcomed into this kingdom not made by hands.

For those that embrace the invitation we can get our Heaven passport.  For there is neither jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.

Jesus the Son of God:

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son — the firstborn of faith, but He is ready for adoption as well!  John 1:12. 12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Galatians 3:26 tells us “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

For those that turn to God we are not only citizens of the Kingdom but members of the royal family for God allows us to call Him father. 

Look at the Lord’s Prayer – Jesus taught us to say: “Our Father” and as His kingdom comes (for which we are citizens) that His will be done.  For His Kingdom will be forever.

So, what is our citizenship?

1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

No matter what your earthly passport says, this world is not our home.  We are only passing through. Our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and ultimately with the Father Himself.  Jesus said that in His father’s house there are many rooms, and he has gone to prepare one for you.


Padre

Based on today’s sermon.

Sacred Space

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).”

When Moses came into the presence of God, he was told that the place was holy. It was a sacred space. The idea of sacred spaces is widely found in human societies. These might be places related to significant spiritual events of the past (such as Jerusalem) or places of numinous (such a forest glade or sparkling spring).

What then makes a place holy? In popular religious language – terms like “House of God,” are often used. This, however, seems to be based on the function of the place. I found it interesting when I visited one of our English cathedrals and the priest officiating made the comment that the space was “a holy place.” He went on to explain that the building was the product of the faith of centuries of devout builders and artisans, and “the stones themselves have absorbed the thousands of prayers said within them.” This is an interesting take, and one which I like at least on a figurative level.

Similar spaces in Spain and Israel, which I have visited, have become places of pilgrimage owing to the associations to persons and events that happened at or near them. The Holy Sepulchre and the Garden of Gethsemane are such “sacred spaces.”

But is that all there is to a holy place?

If we examine the Exodus citation we can see that the holiness of the place is not necessarily intrinsic, but is the result of its proximity to God. Further examination of the tabernacle and the later temple shows that it was the presence of God that made the place holy, from the court of the people, to the holy place, to the most holy place, each coming progressively nearer to the mercy seat of God.

This proximity to God then makes for an interesting take of the idea of which spaces are sacred. Jesus said that whenever two or three are gathered in His name, He will be there in our midst. So yes, “church” structures are such gathering places, but so are our homes, or communities, and above all our hearts.


Padre

Evil?

This is more of a theological musing than an in depth study. I was recently discussing the problem of evil with my students and the idea of the “best of all possible worlds” was raised.

In Voltaire’s Candide, the character of Pangloss takes a accepting, complacent attitude towards the things perceived as wrong in life. He takes the view that this world is the best one possible. As such it can be argued that there is no reason to make any effort to change things perceived as evil or wrong.

This dismissive take, I guess, is one way of dealing with the problem of evil, or the Epicurean Paradox.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but unable?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
The he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God.

Epicurus’ argument is reliant however on the existence of evil as a tangible “thing.” It fails to put “evil” in a context. One counter to this is to contextualise evil. Darkness in the absence of light. Evil similarly is the absence of good. Augustine of Hippo called evil “the privation of good.” Evil is not a thing itself, but the absence of the standard of Good which is God. In a sense it could be argued that without God (therefore reinforcing His existence) one could not perceive “evil.” I will not here explore Augustine’s conception that the creation was perfect because God is perfect, and it was the corruption of free will that cause the “privation.”

An alternative argument for the existence of evil is a step beyond Pangloss. Rather than dismissing imperfection as being part of “the best of all possible worlds,” Irenaeus’ asserted that the perceived evil in the world is meant to be here in order to perfect us in dealing with it. The term he used was soul-building. In much the same way as an infant perfects themselves and move away from their self-centred morality to a higher state through age and experience, our souls too are developed through our responses to “evil.” Put simply, evil serves the purpose of soul-building. What is your take on that? I find it an interesting take, but one fraught with potential problems when looking at the nature of God. These of course can always be countered with the idea that God sees not as we see, and that He alone knows the purpose and outcomes of all things.

I will take a closer look at Augustine’s theodicy in a future post. Till then let us trust in God, and allow Him to transform us as our souls are “built” in His righteousness.


Padre

Afire

FreeBibleimages

One came baptising in Spirit and fire

Filling you with dynamic power

Purging you of your ways old

Tempering and changing you for missions bold

Transformed to be ablaze yourself

A light brilliant eschewing self

And like the flaming bush of long pasts

Your flame will draw others to God’s path


Padre

Thank you Pastor Vince for the message today.

Tomorrow

Consider the lilies of the field

They grow – yet they do not plough or till

God has prepared the place for them

And He does too for us – knowing our wheres and whens

Worrying about tomorrow is a fool’s errand

For it is yet hidden from us around the bend

So trust in the guidance from your heart

And let anxious anticipation from your mind depart


Padre

The flowers and the birds of Matthew 6:25-34 have been purposely conflated but Jesus’ meaning remains the same. Tomorrow is in the Lord’s hands.

Shepherd At The Gate

FreeBibleimages

Like the shepherd at the gate

He knows who is missing – who is late

He is prepared in the wilderness to tread

To seek the lost lamb – homeward to be led

And when all are in the fold secure

He will watch and guide them till they are mature


Padre

Matthew 18: 10-14; John 10

Space to Fill

Altar to an unknown god: FreeBibleimages

We seek to find that which we are missing

And all to often the true God dismissing

We seek fulfilment with money or fame

All to relieve our longing and pain

Yet, living for fashion, some celebrity, or cause

Still lacks something if we take time to pause

For that vacuum which we do feel

Has only one source, that the space can fill


Padre

When the Spirit Speaks

Pixabay

Quiet protector of my soul

Still small voice that keeps me whole

Reminding me of the things to do

And those others I should eschew

Mighty voice of command

Making me ready my ground to stand

Prepared to declare the things I hold

To do so confidently and bold

Comforting voice by my side to take

An advocate for my sake

Defending me before the throne

Claiming me as God’s own


Padre

The Nut of Understanding

Julian of Norwich (CC)

I have recently been looking into the theology of the 14th Century anchoress Julian of Norwich. At the age of thirty Julian was suffering a life threatening illness. The local priest was summoned in order to administer last rites. He brought a crucifix with him and bid Julian to reflect on it as she did she had a revelation or “showing” in which she was, according to her writings, given insights into spiritual mysteries including the Trinity and the relationship between God and His creation.

In this vision, Julian was shown all creation as a small nut which was barely perceptible in her hand. The vastness around it was God, and the tininess of the creation was clear. Yet despite this, it was the focus of God’s love. Julian went on to understand the Trinity not as merely three persons, but three relationships with which God relates to the world, and in particular His people. God is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Lover of creation. It is this relationship and love that assured Julian of a key quote of her work: “All shall be well, and all shall be well,” because God is in control, not us.


Padre

Attachment

“From my youth, these things I did follow.”*

But this fell on His ears as something hollow

For while I had observed the letter

I still could have lived so much better

For my attachment was to things below

Not quick to share – on others bestow

And so I really must continue to learn

To live to the standards of place for which I yearn


Padre

Matthew 19:20