The Rev. S. Randall Toms: “A Colony of Heaven” (Philippians 3:17-21)
From the Rev. Dr. S. Randall Toms of St. Paul’s REC in Louisiana comes a very good sermon on that theme of citizenship in heaven and on earth that we have seen elsewhere this week, titled A Colony of Heaven. This message is based on Philippians 3:17-21 and I think one thing that appealed to me about it is that Fr. Toms talks about the Pilgrims and their status as colonists (hence a Thanksgiving Day theme!) and our own status as colonists of heaven on earth:
As we enter this season of the year, our thoughts naturally turn to that group of settlers that we call “the Pilgrims” who came to this country on the Mayflower and established a colony in the New World, which we often refer to as the Plymouth Colony. In 1630, the Puritans would come to the shores of Massachusetts and establish what came to be known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During this period, many colonies were established. We hear that word “colony” so often that we say it without even thinking of what a colony is.
By definition, “a colony is a settlement established by people outside their native land, and ruled by the mother country.” That definition is certainly a fitting description to describe the colonies of the Pilgrims and the Puritans. They were living outside their native land, and they were still ruled by the mother country which was England. During this time of Thanksgiving, we marvel at the courage and the perseverance of the Pilgrims and Puritans who were determined to persevere and survive in such a hostile environment, all for the sake of their religious beliefs.
When we speak of these colonies that were established over 300 years ago, we forget that there is still an important colony that continues to exist in our present time. The colony that I am speaking of is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. In many ways, the Church is, indeed, a colony. We are a people who live outside our native land, and we are ruled and governed by the mother country. This kind of colony is described for us in our epistle reading for today. St. Paul reminds us in Phil. 3:20 that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In the old King James Version, we read, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, if you have a newer translation you will see that that word “conversation” is almost always translated as “citizenship.” Our citizenship is in heaven. Though we may be living in this world, possessing citizenship in the land of our residence, in another sense we are living outside our native land. William Hendriksen, in his commentary on Philippians, translates his verse, “For our homeland is in heaven.” Moffat’s translation renders this verse, “We are a colony of heaven.” The Church should see itself as a colony of heaven. St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church should see itself as a colony of heaven in the middle of the city of Baton Rouge.
As St. Paul wrote to these Christians at Philippi, he wanted to remind them that even though they might be citizens of the Roman Empire, they were also citizens of a greater kingdom. The Philippians were very proud of their Roman citizenship, just as we are proud to be citizens of the United States of America. But we hold dual citizenship. We are citizens of the United States of America. Some of us are natural born citizens of this nation, while others of us in this room have been naturalized. By whatever means we have come to be citizens, our names are on record as being citizens of this country. We are governed by the laws of this nation and enjoy the protection of the powers of this nation.
But as Christians, we have another citizenship. In Eph. 2:19, St. Paul said that when the Ephesians believed in Jesus Christ, they were “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints.” We are fellow citizens with all of those who are citizens of the United States, but we are also fellow citizens with the saints. We share heavenly citizenship with all those who are believers in Christ. It is wonderful thing to be a citizen of the United States of America, but how much greater it is to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven!
Fr. Toms goes on to talk about our mission as colonists of heaven on earth in the rest of this sermon – and he has some very important things to say about how we must not withdraw into our own little world, but remain engaged with the culture. For example, he writes:
God’s colony is meant to propagate and spread in its influence, and not just through natural generation. I think the Puritans and some such religious colonies made this mistake. They separated themselves from the world and thought they would eventually prevail just by having godly children. We think it is our duty just to hibernate within the colony and try to keep all of the evil forces out of it. When you adopt that type of agenda, you become a cult, not the church. The primary posture of the church is not defensive–it is offensive. Whenever you look at those first disciples, a little colony of Christians, see how that colony was on the move.
I believe he is very much correct about this, and I commend the rest of this message to you, as it needs to be heard in our time.
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