Citizens of Heaven

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Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Today our theme is “Citizens of heaven”.

I want us to consider this question: “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus”?

To help us explore this I want us to have a meal. Now a meal for me consists of a starter, a main course, and a pudding. Let me tell you what is on the menu for today’s sermon.

The starter – I would like to tell you my story about how I was wrestling with this very question – “what does it mean to follow Jesus” and how living in Wood End helped me fully understand the message of Jesus.

The main course – During this course I want to unpack Jesus’ message and purpose, because that will certainly help us answer the question “what does it mean to follow Jesus”? And finally I want us to enjoy the pudding.

The pudding – Having understood what it means to be a follower of Jesus what did it mean for the church in Philippi and what does it mean for us here at All Saints Allesley.

Let’s pray.

Starter: Wood End

I grew up in a Christian home in a middle class environment. During my childhood and teenage years, I could say that I had encountered God:

  • I had a personal relationship with him,

  • I had encountered the power of the Holy Spirit,

  • I had led worship in front of hundreds of young people month in and month out seeing them fired up to love and serve God.

  • I was convinced that Jesus loved me, and that I would go to heaven

For me that was what it meant to follow Jesus.

But by the time I had got to about the age of 19 or 20 my faith had begun to die. I had become deeply unsatisfied, not with God, but really with Church and the words of Bono rang true “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. I felt like I had missed the point of it all.

About 18 months later I had 4 weeks off work. One morning I woke up, and I remember coming down the stairs of my parents’ house, sitting on the arm of the sofa and thinking to myself “I’m either a follower of Jesus, or I’m not”. Literally about half an hour later my friend Greg Bartlem calls me to say would I like to help for a week in Wood End as part of a mission.

That week turned out to be a week of transformation as my faith got dirty and very real – praying for people, playing football, doing up gardens. It was there I met Kate. I fell in love with her, with Wood End and with God all over again. It was a week when the penny dropped that being a follower of Jesus was more than just “churchianity” but rather it was to be a citizen from heaven, partnering with God in the ushering in of His Kingdom.

Well it was a one-week mission but I ended up moving in a few months later and then living there for 12 years until we moved to Allesley 7 years ago. What did being a follower of Jesus look like for me in Wood End?

Well, sure there was church stuff, like I do here, but we also helped:

  • People back into work and develop IT Skills

  • Tackled fuel poverty

  • Worked with adults and children who had special needs

  • Sexual health and child pregnancy

  • Young offenders

  • I grew vegetables and during harvest time I would invite the kids over in our street to taste fresh vegetables from the ground (Quavers diet!)

  • we’d hang out with our neighbours, start a fire in an oil bin, crack open some beers and we’d hang out.

  • And when those same people wanted to baptise their kids, or get married, or bury their loved ones or start asking questions of “who am I and why am I here” we were there, as their friends walking the journey with them.

And we prayed too, a lot. We prayer walked every Wednesday, praying strategically invoking the name of Jesus here and now in specific places. I started a work based chaplaincy going around the businesses praying with staff members on the industrial estate. We prayed for the authorities. We saw people improve, we saw people removed. Overtime we saw Wood End begin to transform – socially, economically, environmentally and spiritually – and in the name of Jesus.

Our action became prayer and prayer became action.

It wasn’t all a bed of roses either. When living with my friends our house one day was pelted with rocks and missiles, and our only response was to get on our knees and pray. Our house in Sundew Street was shot at, narrowly missing the window where Anna slept. Kate was physically attacked more than once. Our car would be stopped by gangs thinking I was a plain clothes copper. Our car would be stopped by the police thinking I was a gang leader. And our marriage was attacked too.

The joy and adventure of being a citizen of heaven was very real, but so to was the persecution.

But despite all this – my faith was alive. There was fire in my belly. Being a Christian had become less about dogma and belief, less about going to heaven when you die, and more about being an active participant in the coming of God’s Kingdom in this place.

Main course: Jesus

I believe I had stumbled across and finally understood the reason why Jesus had come. And that is the key question that we must answer if we are to fully understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So why did Jesus come? You might say he came for the following reasons:

  • He came to seek and save the lost.

  • He came that I may have life and life in all its fullness

  • He came to heal and offer forgiveness for our sins

  • He came so that we could have a personal relationship with God

But they’re not the main reasons why Jesus says he came. That’s not the mission of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke say why Jesus came.

I have come to declare that the Kingdom of God is near”.

The Greek word used here for “near” is “engiken” which means to “join one thing to another”. That’s what Jesus’ mission is about to join heaven and earth together. The prayer that Jesus taught us himself says “your kingdom come, your will be done” – where? On earth. On earth as it is in Heaven.

So much of what happens on earth doesn’t mirror the rule and reign of Heaven does it? The shooting of Muslims in New Zealand , Climate Change, ISIS atrocities and Jihadi brides, child abuse in churches, burnt out cars and drug supply chains, broken families, cancer, homelessness, broken economic systems, & oppressive political systems.

None of these belong in heaven, and so they don’t belong here on earth, and we as partners with Jesus are called to declare in each and every situation that “the kingdom of heaven is near” and to join earth to heaven, and heaven to earth in Jesus’ name. It is His mission, we just need to see where God is at work and join in.

So, what does His kingdom look like? We know from the example of Jesus:

  • He took care of sick people and healed them

  • He reached out to poor people and those rejected by society – the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes.

  • He encouraged his followers to clothe the homeless, and feed the hungry

  • He challenged unjust religious and political structures and systems and injustice wherever he saw it,

  • He championed nonviolent resistance

  • He authored a new economic system where it is better to give than receive, where investment was about taking earthly risk with heavenly yields,

  • He prayed and he partied like there was no tomorrow

  • And he modelled sacrificial love to point of death on a cross

  • And the difference between Jesus and the other social revolutionaries is that death could not hold him, the grave could not contain him and he lives. Death has lost its sting.

Because when heaven touches earth everything is changed. The dead rise, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, the unwanted are called and chosen.The message of Jesus is about the rule, and culture of God’s Kingdom coming to earth, now, today and in the age to come when Jesus returns. That’s what Jesus is about, and so that is what we must be about too.

Pudding: Philippi

This message of God’s Kingdom was not lost on Paul either as he wrote to the church from Philippi. “You are citizens from Heaven” he declares in V20.

Now Philippi, situated in Northern Greece, had become a Roman colony. Retired Roman soldiers were sent to Philippi to spend their last days in glorious retirement. They were not to go back to Rome and over time those proud Romans colonised Philippi – they bought with them to the locals, their cultures, rules and customs including pledging allegiance to “Ceaser as Lord”. They were not looking to return to Rome, but rather to bring Rome to Philippi.

All of this is important if we are to understand today’s passage which in many ways is the climax of this letter.

We are citizens of heaven” Paul declares in verse 20. Now many Christians have misunderstood what Paul means here. Many have interpreted this as us waiting to go and live in heaven where we belong. But no that’s not what Paul means. This is what Paul means when he writes to the church in Philippi:

  • You are citizens of heaven not Rome,

  • You eagerly await our saviour who is Jesus not Caesar,

  • You eagerly wait for Jesus the King, not Caesar,

  • You are a colony of heaven not Rome

  • As citizens of heaven you are to establish the culture and rule of Heaven, not Rome in Philippi.

And so it is for us here today:

  • We are citizens of heaven, not of the UK, EU or the United Nations.

  • We eagerly await for our saviour Jesus, not Theresa May, Donald Trump or Michel Barnier.

  • We are called to establish the culture and rule of heaven here on earth.

The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is drawing near but heaven and earth will not be fully joined until our King Jesus returns. We do not know when this will be, but until then we as citizen of heaven have a job to do – that is to model what this Kingdom looks like here and now.

For some of us here today, you’ll be smashing this out of the park. Nothing new here – Amen! Great, then your job, like Paul says in this passage is to be an example to others.

But perhaps today, there are some here who have, like I did, missed the point. If that’s you today then I wondered if we could just pray now for you. If you want to stand up that’s fine, or simply sit where you are let’s just pray for you now.

Coming into land: “we already are”

At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “go and make disciples” but a better and more accurate translation is “in your going make disciples”. And I want to encourage us now, because we really are already going. Maybe we need to recognise it more, call it out more, celebrate it more, encourage one another more, but we are actually going, we are actually participating in the joining of earth to heaven, and heaven to earth. Look here’s how:

  • Open Book, Allesley Primary School

  • Embrace

  • Bereavement Group

  • Allesley Festival

  • Mites and Minders

  • Mainly Music

And we are doing this too in our individual lives also:

  • As husbands and wives

  • As parents and children

  • As you go to work

  • As you play and learn

Stand up if….

Conclusion

Saints, you are a citizen of Heaven called to partner with Jesus to join earth and heaven together – stand firm.

Saints, in joy and in persecution, as you follow him – stand firm.

Saints, let us eagerly wait for the King to return – stand firm.

Stand firm…

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.