While I have lived in Australia for almost 11 years and have a piece of paper stating I am an Australian, I still probably regard myself as British. It’s got nothing to do with who I barrack for in the Ashes, but more like the traits of my character that come out without me thinking about it. For example, if I see a line of people, I’ll automatically assume it’s a queue and join it. I’ll tut under my breath when I hold a door open for someone and they don’t acknowledge it. I think most problems can be solved by a cup of very hot tea and a biscuit. I’m obsessively following the Brexit proceedings. Despite living on the other side of the world, my values are largely informed by my exposure to what is essentially a “foreign” culture during my formative years.
I’m thinking of this as one of our readings today comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Located in modern day Greece, Philippi was an important city in the Roman empire during Paul’s time due to having gold mines and being on a main trade route. While the inhabitants of Philippi lived far from Rome, they certainly saw themselves as Roman and lived according to Roman customs. Which was a problem as Roman culture did not value self-giving love, service of others and being humble. So appealing to their attitude, Paul reminds them that they are also citizens of heaven, and as such, they should embody the characteristics of Jesus even as they live in a foreign land.
It’s not easy to live as Jesus calls us to live in our time and place either. As a society a high value is placed on wealth, status and power. The message of Jesus to be humble and to put yourself at the service of others is alien. If we are to imitate Jesus, we need to see how we can please others, not just us; how we can help others not just help ourselves. Why would we live in such a counter cultural way? It’s a question of faith. Do we believe who Jesus is, what He says? Paul reminds us we are promised a share in His glory if we share in His life. If we have faith in Jesus, we will live as Jesus calls us to live. We can see faith as simply trusting that Jesus is who He says He is and doing as He asks us to do. If we also believe we are citizens of heaven, living in a foreign country, let’s have faith to live out these values, as strange as they be to our time and place.