Friday, September 22, 2006

Who are we?

I'm off to Ashburnham in beautiful Sussex later today to do a weekend away for a neighbouring church. Yesterday it was 28 degrees, deep blue skies and summer; today it's grey and wet and 10 degrees colder. I was looking forward to afternoons on the lawns, discussions by the lake; now I envisage groups huddled round the central heating. Oh well.

I'm working with my Christians in McWorld material based on Philippians - I love that letter. I've revamped it a lot (the material that is, not Philippians!), added a whole session and, I think, made it a lot better. I'm wondering if there might be a book in it. I might trail some of it here through the autumn.

One of the key things I'm looking at is Christian identity in McWorld - who tells us who we are? In Philippi the empire told people who they were, the Jews had a separate identity and people found a sense of belonging through cults and associations. How did the Christians fit in?

It struck me that having opened by calling his first hearers 'holy ones' (saints, 1:1), his usual greeting, he goes on to remind them time and time again that they are 'in Christ'; 20 times he uses that phrase (or the related 'in the Lord'). Such a concentration of spiritual-geographical boundary markers in such a short letter indicates something about Paul's intent, I think.

I suspect it's no more than this: he wants to remind them that whatever pressures they're under from the surrounding culture, their neighbours and possibly the political authorities (though there's not much evidence of any official interest in the followers of Jesus on the part of the governing powers in Philippi), they are to see themselves as citizens of heaven whose true identity is found in Jesus.

This accounts for the amazing poem about Jesus in chapter 2, introduced with the call to think about our lives as Jesus thought about his and the equally amazing testimony of how Paul has modeled his life on that of Jesus and invites his hearers to do the same. Our identity then is found in our destiny - 3:14, 20f - and our location 'in Christ', a suggestion that Christian identity is simultaneously individual and corporate.

And that individually and corporately, we live out our citizenship - politeuesthe (1:27) - in a way that honours Christ. This speaks of the kinds of communities we create in McWorld and the kind of politics in which we engage.

I'm looking forward to having a stimulating time...

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