Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 17, 2014
The pope is at it again. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I pray for this guy because he’s shaking things up, and that’s risky business. In a homily delivered on November 7, he described what he called “pagan Christians.” Offering his spin on the New Testament letter to the Philippians, he reflected on Paul’s challenge to those early Christians. Paul asked: Was their citizenship in heaven or on earth? The new pontiff spoke about religious observance in our own time, those who may attend mass on Sundays but forget about a commitment to the way of Jesus the rest of the week (those for whom Monday may not have mattered in terms of discipleship). He said they were Christians in name only. Pagan Christians. He challenged hearers to think about where they gave their hearts, their allegiance, their loyalty. Asked another way: Where was their citizenship?
The way for someone to check their spiritual nationality, he said, is to ask some questions: “Do I like to brag? Do I like money? Do I like pride?” Alternatively, he said, “Do you try to love God and serve others? If you are meek, if you are humble, if you are a servant of others, then you are on the right path. Your citizenship papers are in order and they are from heaven!”
Here’s my experience, based on what the pope said. I have dual citizenship. I’m sometimes a pagan. A pagan Christian but pagan nonetheless. On occasion, on a good day, by God’s grace, I locate my citizenship in heaven. I sometimes trust. I often don’t. Emily Dickinson put it this way: We believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour. She said that it makes the faith nimble. (Nice turn of phrase, Emily.) But as one preacher put it, I’m often a functional atheist, my attitudes and behavior demonstrating that I don’t really believe God is around or involved or active or relevant. I’m not proud of that. I’m not unaware of it either. Saint and sinner at once, to channel Martin Luther. That’s why grace is such a good thing.
So how would you describe your spiritual nationality? Where are you giving your heart this Monday morning? Where is your citizenship? May God grant us the grace to find our home in heaven, starting this Monday morning with a little heaven on earth. By holy coincidence, last week I came across a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (below), shared with me by one of my spiritual guides. Reflect on this poem as it reminds that we are all in this together, all on the receiving end of God’s mercy.
– Jay Sidebotham
Christians and Pagans: A poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944
All go to God in their distress, seek help and pray for bread and happiness, deliverance from pain, guilt and death all do, Christians and others.
All go to God in his distress, find him poor, reviled without shelter or bread, watch him tortured by sin, weakness and death. Christians stand with God in His agony.
God goes to all in their distress, satisfies body and soul with His bread, dies, crucified for all, Christians and others, and both alike forgiving.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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