Christ is risen!
Identity is a powerful reality, and filled with all kinds of information. But your own understanding of who you are and where you belong is central to how you order your life.
I never will forget my first post-liturgical coffee hour after being received into the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was at a local Greek Orthodox parish with my “visitors” name tag on that read “Barnabas Powell.” This precious little old lady came up to me and greeted me in her heavy Greek accent “Powell? Is not a Greek name.” and I responded “No, ma’am it isn’t. My family is Welsh and Irish in origin.” Then with a confused and quizzical look she responded “Then what are you doing here? Don’t you have your own church to go to?” My response confused her even more “Dear, this is my Church.” “What?!? Why?” was her amazed response.
You see, this precious lady wasn’t upset I was there. She was confused. Her self-identity had formed her thoughts in such a way that she simply couldn’t imagine someone from outside her “tribe” wanting and valuing what she had had all her life. As we talked more we became close friends and, as I explained to her my love for the Greek Orthodox Church and Orthodox theology, she later explained that she was so grateful that I was there.
You see, your self-identity creates a mental and emotional filter that determines how you see the world and your place in it. And if that filter isn’t transformed by the Faith, it can become a barrier that excludes instead of a bridge that welcomes.
In today’s Scripture Lesson we see the author of the Book of Hebrews challenge a group of Hebrew Christians who are considering abandoning their faith in Christ to go back to their ethnic religion in the face of persecution. And the author of Hebrews challenges them specifically with their Real Citizenship.
Look at Hebrews 13:7-16. Here St. Paul declares “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) St. Paul insists that we followers of Jesus have a citizenship that supercedes our allegiance to all other citizenships of human origin. None of those things that are temporary are more valuable than that which is eternal. And, in fact, it is our ultimate citizenship in the Kingdom of God that must inform, develop, and discern all other “citizenships” we may hold dear.
Now that is not to say our love for our family, our culture, or our country isn’t important or isn’t precious and valuable. Not at all. In fact, the miracle of our Orthodox faith is that it baptizes and makes beautiful all the diversity of humankind. Orthodoxy miraculously “Christianizes” our human culture and weeds out that which is temporary and makes even more beautiful that which reflects the beauty of eternal values.
But it is to say that, when we are pressed for our deepest allegiance, it is to Christ above all other loves!
Listen to an ancient voice that shows this is not a new idea that we Christians have our first alliance with God’s kingdom above all others:
Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe…
Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetus
And a recent speech by our Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople and New Rome states “Whenever an Orthodox church succumbs to nationalist rhetoric and lends support to racial tendencies, it loses sight of the authentic theological principles and gives in to a fallen mindset, totally alien to the core of Orthodoxy”
So, today, what is the most powerful influence on your ultimate loyalty and self-identity? What do your priorities, your choices, your behavior, reveal about your own self-identity? If St. Paul is right in that “here we have no lasting City” then to place my ultimate loyalty on that which is temporary seems to be a foolish choice. And learning to place my ultimate loyalty, my ultimate self-identity in that which is eternal is the wise way of life.
Are you first and foremost a “citizen” of God’s kingdom? Do your choices, your attitude, your behavior, your actions, your priorities reflect that self-identity? Today is the day to allow your citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom to filter through every aspect of your life and baptize all of who you are, which always includes your culture and origins, and make those precious gifts shine with the light of eternal values instead of creating barriers to building God’s beautiful and truly “catholic” kingdom made up of every race, tongue, and nation. You were made for eternity. Don’t let the temporary darken your ultimate citizenship!