Have you ever felt like you just don’t fit in? That you don’t quite belong? That what you live for and believe in seems disconnected from much of what appears to be going on around you? That you were made for this moment in time and yet struggle to find how best to live out the gifts you’ve been given? That there are moments of great sweetness and at the same time moments of painful bitterness? That you can feel so alive with something and yet live with some angst and turmoil in your heart, mind, and soul?
If so – good! You are living as a resident alien. You are participating in the already and not yet of God’s world. You were made for now and for a beautiful future. You exist as Jesus’ gift today and you are raised up for life and saved by him. You belong to this earth and to God. You are light and light eternal. You are a resident alien.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul has called the Philippians to be part of a spectacular journey – namely, to live and die like Christ, to model their lives so closely upon Christ that they bear within themselves the very mind of Christ. Yet he also calls them to “rejoice” (3:1), because in them, in their ordinary life together as a congregation, God is enjoying them as divine representation in the world. Great demands but also great joy at the wonder and adventure of being the church.
The image that evokes this adventure for us is found in Philippians 3:20 – “our commonwealth is in heaven.” One translator more vividly translates this politeuma as “We are a colony of heaven.” Think on this image. You, We, the church, are a colony of heaven upon this earth. We exist to bring heaven to a full and rich realization for the world.
This image for us as church is not too startling nor overwhelming. We all, and it seems within so many passing conversations of which I am a part of, whether that be for pastoral care reasons, within a faith formation realm, or a leadership component for how we can more faithfully live as Our Savior’s for the sake of the world, have our minds fixed on heaven. Perhaps our minds are fixed on this because we are made for heaven. We are made for more than now. We are made for a promise and a future.
However, we need to remind ourselves that being made for heaven is both now and eternal. And so this vision of Paul in Philippians, we are a colony of heaven moving and having our being upon this earth. This is life giving! This adds great meaning and value to our lives! This raises the stakes on what it means to live and breathe as the church! This shouts the call for the church to fully live, grow, thrive, reach out, expand, go deep, to be of good cheer and support, to be long in prayer and faithful in all things, to be steadfast and longstanding with the poor, powerless, and disenfranchised, and certainly, for the church to gather often for worship and song, for bread and wine and water to be defining marks of a gathered community, and for the gospel to fully come alive through regular teaching and devotion. How else would a world come to know the gift of heaven that God desires to bring about, without a ‘colony,’ a ‘covenant community,’ a ‘gathered people,’ living out the promise of faith, hope, and love in a world culture that is defined by marks of separation and despair?
We as the church live as a colony, a different kind of colony for sure, perhaps even as a whole different kind of animal (we can thank those Frontier Airline animals for this characterization), of one type of culture in the midst of so many others. In baptism, our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, and we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens. And so we as the church survive in this world by supporting one another through the countless small acts through which we tell one another that we are not alone, that God is with us. And as the Scriptures remind us, “God is at work in us, both to will and work for his good pleasure.” We exist to fully participate in God’s dreams for the world. That makes us a different kind of colony, a whole different kind of animal.
The church is not God’s social strategy for achieving a better society, even though that may happen if we were to fully participate in it. The church, as envisioned in the whole tapestry of Scripture rather, is an inbreaking of a whole new society. There are stories of promises, instances, imaginative examples of life in the kingdom of God. The stories aren’t necessarily how to be better individual Christians, but rather pictures of the way the church is to look. The scriptures overarching direction is pointed toward which God is desiring to move the entire world. The church is invited in to live the long haul, the difficult times, to be a part of the transformational processes of God and God’s hopes and dreams for the world.
And so we as the church don’t give up or abandon this life or world. Rather, we see the world aright, to grab hold of the world wisely. The world is a place of trials and temptations for us, but also a place of great opportunity for serving, for pouring ourselves out, a world of servant leaders, the church serving Christ. We are the first fruits of God’s ongoing creation, and thus as church we live the already not yet, more than most. That can feel lonely. That can make you angry and pessimistic. It can cause you to ask, “what is the point in all of this.” And it can also gift you with the fullest and richest life possible.
As Lutheran Christians we are invited to live the beauty of the and versus the but. Some examples may include: I am tired and energized. I am troubled and focused. We are questioning and faith filled. We are hurting and blessed. I am sick and strong. We are pouring it out and being filled up. What a difference it makes in the approach as we live as resident aliens. Our faith culture touching the world’s cultures. Our church community gaining in heaven sent perspectives. We not giving into the temptation to retreat or sell out on the Jesus work we are called to. Rather, living as a colony of great promise!
These past months of ministry work here at Our Savior’s has been strong. Our monthly newsletter and the stories that are being told attests to so many of the great things happening through the church. These happenings can only be the work of God within our midst. How fortunate we are to be called, invited, and offered up, as resident aliens for God’s church on earth.
May we all enter into God’s promises, and may this church named and claimed Our Savior’s be a home for Jesus resident aliens throughout our community and world.
Residing for this purpose with you,