Editor’s note: On Nov. 1, the church recognizes All Saints’ Day.
I love my country. Work for the common good. Vote in elections. Pray for public leaders. Admire our historical commitments to justice and freedom. Respect the flag and all who die defending it. But I’m not primarily a citizen of this nation.
I love my family. Adore my wife. Want good things for my children. Know a great deal about centuries of kin and would die unreservedly for those I cherish. But I’m not first a Honeycutt.
I love this church. Treasure our ancient liturgy. Stand in awe of Martin Luther’s reforming courage and cannot imagine affiliating elsewhere. But I’m not centrally a Lutheran.
With countless others, all the saints, I’m a stranger and foreigner (Hebrews 11:13) on this earth—here for a little while, a flawed citizen of a different homeland.
Human identity is among the strongest variables in determining personal motivation. Identity shapes one’s imagination, dreams and friendships. Identity reveals the essence of one’s convictions and loyalties.
Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
This question quickly surfaces another: Who do I say that I am? Avoiding this question in a sea of distractions, there’s a fairly good chance I’ll be shaped and formed by a variety of competing forces that may have little to do with following Jesus. Or my answers may become so facile and domesticated that I really can’t discern the difference between various (and often important) allegiances.
One of the enduring gifts of Christian theology is daily perspective. Each day about 7,500 people die in our country—natural causes, accidents, illnesses. Globally, about 165,000 die per day. Both numbers tend to create myriad fears begetting withdrawal.
Crosses adorn the very center of our worship spaces. We mark ourselves accordingly.
Conversely, Christianity boldly confronts death and mortality, refusing to look away. Crosses adorn the very center of our worship spaces. We mark ourselves accordingly. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul wrote. “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20). We dunk children and adults into this baptismal identity, new lives raised to a different sort of citizenship.
It’s not that the church looks back on Abraham and Sarah (Hebrews 11) as a quaint older couple who once embarked on a new path. We actually join biblical sojourners who’ve traveled down this road, in faith, toward another land. With the communion of saints, citizens of a new country, we trust in a far greater enterprise than nationalism.
Lesser identities (sports teams, political parties, ecclesiastical church squabbles) can become convenient diversions from thinking hard about where in the wide world I am and how God now calls me to love and live.
Pondering this new country is not escapist, quickly giving up on this world as the faithful (glory be!) are spirited away. Considering the gift of God’s new citizenry instead heightens our engagement with this planet. “Holy, holy, holy,” we sing every Sunday. “The whole earth is full of God’s glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
For God so loved the world (not just Americans, not just the Honeycutts, not just Lutherans) that he gave us a son. Following Jesus means that all other allegiances will take a back seat to this Lord (an undeniably unsettling word). Until we get this straight, it’s easy to see the church as a club we attend at our convenience only when other competing loyalties aren’t tugging at us.
Of the saintly roll call listed in Hebrews, the author says: “If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (11:15-16).
I love my country. But I’m not primarily a citizen here.
I love my family. But I’m not first a Honeycutt.
I love my church. But I’m not centrally a Lutheran.
We are strangers and foreigners on this earth, citizens of a different homeland—a new country prepared by God.