CITIZENS OF HEAVEN

In various ways; taught by Jesus, and spelled out by St. Paul; the New Testament makes it clear that the Christian lives within two realms; the physical realm of the world; and the spiritual realm of the Kingdom of God.
 
The believer’s true citizenship lies; not in the imperfect world of his or her daily experience; but within the perfect Kingdom of God; that they have begun to enter, and where fulfilment awaits them.
 
In several ways; most clearly in the teachings of Jesus himself; the New Testament states that a man or woman's actual citizenship is determined, not so much by what they say that they believe ...
 
... but more by the lives that they lead. ‘By their fruit you will know them’, he said; that is, by the product or outcome of who they really are.
 
In turn, the 'fruit' of a life is determined by a lifetime of thoughts, words and actions, that mould that life, and give it its eventual shape. What 'shape' is your life, or mine, in the sight of God?
Let's take some brief looks at what 'citizens’ ought, or ought not; to be thinking; saying; or doing, with the ‘shaping’ of our own lives, in mind.
 
1)- Almost every morning, in the 'Today' programme on Radio 4, there are misunderstandings between various people. One politician; religious leader, hospital-spokesperson or whatever; will make a statement, and, even while they are speaking ...
 
... someone from an opposite camp, will chip in, and refute what is being said; in such a way as to show that they either didn't listen properly, or else are defending prejudices that they claim are the real truth.
 
Christian Citizens must watch out against the human tendency to take a word; event, or situation; then misinterpret it; and add to it greatly, through exaggeration; then tell it to others, as though it was the complete truth.
 
Before I married, I lived in a flat at Ealing, in London. One winter evening, as I stepped from the rear of a train, I saw my landlady getting out of a carriage towards the front of it.
 
I needed to speak to her about something; and hurried to catch up with her. The road from the station to the house was not very well lit. As I called out; and hurried after her; she looked over her shoulder, and began to run.
 
I called out two or three times, but she seemed to run all the faster. When I got home, she reported that she had been chased by a of a monster of a man, who had leaped out of the dark at her, and that her life had been in peril.
 
Have we never, ever, taken a word, situation or event, and misinterpreted it; then added something, and passed it on as a truth?
 
Jesus told the prospective 'Citizens of Heaven': ‘Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Men will have to give account, on the ‘Day of Judgement’, for every careless word they have spoken ...
 
... ‘For by your words you will be acquitted; and by your words you will be condemned’. (Matthew 12: 33-37).
 
2)- Christian Citizens do not judge others, unless, perhaps, it is a good that is recognised in someone, and spoken about positively.
 
There was a time when I used to take occasional, Sunday morning services, in a distant village church. On most occasions, I would see a man, aged about sixty-five, walking his dog along the main street.
 
The man looked rather bad-tempered, and carried a heavy, club-like stick. The dog hung back on the lead, and had almost to be dragged along. An entirely unjustified thought could be: ‘That man vents his bad temper on the dog, and beats it, with that heavy stick’.
 
The man had a surprising amount of yellowish hair. An entirely unjustified thought could be: ‘No wonder that the N.H.S. is short of money; buying yellow wigs for sixty-five-year-olds’.
 
Psychologists say that we judge, in other people, those things that we most dislike in ourselves. Jesus told prospective 'Citizens of Heaven': ‘Do not judge; or you, too, will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged; and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you’.
(Matthew 7: 1+2).
3)- Bearing in mind that, in material terms, most people in this country lead far better lives than any generation before; there is a surprising amount of negative talk about.
 
Every time that a ‘Christian Citizen’ hears such negative talk; they should take care not to join in it; and create the opportunity to re-direct the talk, into more positive channels.
 
A man named Walter, died in his late 80's. Doctors said that they would have loved to hold an autopsy: not to see what he died of, but to discover what kept him alive for eighteen years of painful, chronic illnesses.
 
Walter always had something positive to say. He and his wife had an up- dated prayer-list, to which they were glad to add names and requests.
 
He always had time for others. His illnesses made him house-bound, but many, many people, especially children, went to visit him.
 
He lived by the power of faith in Christ; rejoiced in God’s love, and prayed that the Holy Spirit should continue to strengthen him for service.
 
This man's positive, Godly talk, impressed me every time I met him; was central to my thoughts, as I took his funeral service; and, nearly thirty years later, I still remember him with gladness.
 
Paul wrote to the ‘Christian Citizens’ at Colossae, and to us, today: ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace’.
 
4)- Many people, in churches up and down our land, live somewhat in the past, and resist all forms of change.
 
Christian Citizens’ never reject, untried, any means of grace which might lead them and others that bit nearer to the Lord. ‘Christian Citizens’ never dismiss any worshipful means of expression which might enable them, and others to, the more fully, show their love of God and each other. They say: ‘This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice, and be glad in it; and fulfil the opportunities for good, that it brings with it’.
 
5)- ‘Christian Citizens’ know just who they are; 'Members of Christ', and this, not in the sense of a list of names of those who belong to Christ, through commitment and dedication ...
 
... but 'members' in that bodily sense; of being, as it were, the feet and hands, eyes and ears, of the Lord Jesus Christ; as each church lives out the 'Body of Christ' image, to the world all around it.
 
As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: ‘Now you are the body of Christ; and each one of you is a part of it’. (1.Cor.12:27).
 
He wrote to the church at Ephesus: ‘Speaking the truth in love; we will, in all things, grow up, into him, who is the Head; that is, Christ. From him…
 
...‘the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows, and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’. (Eph.4:15+16).
 
Christian Citizens’ know that they are 'Children of God'; adopted by the Lord, for love of themselves alone. They know that they are caught up in salvation grace which; if not interfered with, or prevented; will eventually fulfil in them, all their deepest desires - and much more.
 
Christian Citizens’ have many positive and powerful images, of love and grace in Christ; and feel constrained to share these great truths with others, and encourage them to share in the gifts of God, so freely given in Jesus.
 
7)- ‘Christian Citizens’ love the best of life in this worldly realm; and they anticipate ongoing life with the Lord, in the heavenly realm; whenever that day falls. They have a proper concern about death, but, in Christ, no fear of the transition from the one realm, to the other.
 
Another man called Walter; also well into his eighties; was a great reader. We used to sit and 'talk books' whenever I called to see him.
One day, Walter wanted to do something rather different. He said that he had a very definite need to talk about his eventual dying; and about his preparation for that day.
 
He said, among many other things: ‘Life is precious! ... I see it, as a great gift. Now I want to talk to you about my dying. I want to die, as I have lived; aware of, and delighted by, the best that life can bring to each day ...
 
..’I have had a great privilege, in living for so long; and in having received, and experienced, so much good. I have never really resented the bad things that have happened, because, with the help of many people…
 
‘…I have always come through such times, that bit wiser; that bit stronger; that bit more able, not only to cope, but also to overcome'. Our meeting that day, ended with him saying: ‘Please God, I shall be alive tomorrow, when I hope to begin to repair a friend’s grandfather clock’.
 
8)- ‘Christian Citizens’ are also 'Ambassadors of Christ'. In earthly and diplomatic terms, an ambassador represents, in his or her person, everything that belongs to the country that appointed him, or her, to that office.
 
When an ambassador speaks, it is as though the country of their origin has spoken - and so it is with 'Ambassadors of Christ'. Jesus himself said so, when he taught his followers: ‘He who hears you, hears me’.(Luke 10:16).
 
According to Christ's own word; when the 'Ambassador of Christ' speaks, it is as though the Lord himself has spoken. How does the Lord sound, to other people, through our mouths?
 
The finest witness that any Christian, or church, can give, is when the world all around can look upon them and say: ‘We know that the Lord Christ lives! We see him with our own eyes; we see him in the lives of you Christians’.
 
When this sort of witness is given; the ‘Kingdom of God’ has not only drawn very near; but new people are attracted into faith in Christ; and, themselves, become 'Citizens of Heaven'.
 
Amen.