Two Sundays ago, my friend Kelli and I ate lunch in Chinatown, after visiting a local United Methodist Church. The blessing and the curse of seminary is that you analyze every church service, sermon, contemporary Christian song, and Joel Osteen tweet that crosses your path. Kelli and I briefly paused our intense theological conversation, as she went to the restroom and I to the soda fountain.
In that short moment, someone swiped my wallet from my purse. I realized about an hour later as we left the restaurant. Eventually trying to make light of the situation, I said to Kelli tearfully, “maybe there will be a sermon out of this one day.”
In my wallet was my driver’s license, among many other things.
I’ve learned just how little I can do without a driver’s license number: to change your temporary address with the DMV– driver’s license number; verify your identification when calling a bank–driver’s license number; opening a new checking account– driver’s license number. And, the kicker: to obtain a new driver’s license, I need my driver’s license number.
I felt so frustrated explaining over and over to customer service representatives why I don’t have that number. I can’t drive, even if I had my car in the city. I can’t buy or do anything that requires me to prove my age. I feel like I can’t prove who I am.
This is a very SMALL experience in the life of someone who is undocumented. Many undocumented immigrants don’t even have identification from their home country.
If I have been this frustrated (and anxious) just one and a half weeks of not having an ID, I can’t imagine what it is like to not have one for YEARS– to be told you don’t officially exist in society. Paul tells us something different, though.
Here Paul is writing to the Philippians. Philippi was located Macedonia. But, it was later destroyed and rebuilt by Emperor Octavian, becoming a colony of the Roman Empire. Octavian strategically set Philippi up as a military outpost, with the mission of bringing Roman culture and expanding Roman influence to neighboring areas.
Since Phillipi was a Roman colony, those who lived there were granted Roman citizenship with its many privileges, including property ownership, tax exemptions and legal protection. The prestigious honor of being a Roman citizen conferred the ultimate power of Rome.
Have we not heard about a similar honor of being a citizen of the United States?
I recognize what it means for me to be a rich, white, citizen in this country. The worst thing right now is that I don’t have an ID. But I will by next week. The reality is that I don’t know what it is like to be undocumented in this country. I don’t know what it is like to be an immigrant and don’t know the hardships they have to face. I am humbled remembering all the privileges I have been given. Though important, these things will not last.
Paul knew the context of the Philippian church, and challenged the Philippians not only to live in the history and identity of the Roman Empire, but also to embrace the deeper story rooted in the life and power of Jesus Christ—to live as citizens of heaven here and now, and to wait with hope.
But waiting with hope does not mean being complacent. We are not people OF the world, but we are still people IN the world. Though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, the reality is that 11 million undocumented persons are living in the United States today. And, we are not all equal in this society.
As we are called to live into being citizens of heaven, we are to bring the reign and rule of heaven to earth here and now. Jesus’ power brings all other powers under him and he transforms his followers to be able to finish their mission from heaven.
What does this mean for our own lives?
We are called to live into an alternative narrative—the central story of Jesus, who brings peace and justice to all God’s children. We live in the “already, but not yet.” God’s kingdom has already come in the person of Jesus. Jesus ushered in the reign of heaven, in which his followers have citizenship under his glory and power. But, the perfect kingdom toward which Jesus pointed is still to come.
Let us continue to work for justice and love all of God’s children, living into the vision of the Kingdom of God. This is the story that we, the citizens of heaven, must remember, retell, and pass down to the generations that follow to shape our identity in Christ and mission of the Gospel.
Elizabeth Murray, a native of Johns Creek, GA, is a second year Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School. She graduated in May of 2011 from the University of South Carolina with a business degree. Elizabeth is a certified candidate for ordained deacons orders in the United Methodist Church. She plans to go into social justice ministry.
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