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Citizens of a Foreign Country

Sermon - 3/04/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Philippians 3:17 - 4:1

There are two titles in this passage, the sermon text for this morning, which I hope will stand out for those who were present last Sunday.

The text comes from Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verse 17, through chapter 4, verse 1:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

Now, those titles are?  It goes to prove my point that we've become so accustomed to this language that it doesn't stand out for us.  "Lord" and "Savior" -- now, I could go back and repeat that sermon from last Sunday. . . . . no, no, no.  Alright J.

But as you may recall, part of the point I was making is that in the world of Paul, the name most commonly associated with the titles Lord and Savior was. . . . .Caesar.  Especially Caesar Augustus, and to a lesser extent the Caesar's the followed him.

Two more pieces of historical data about the city of Philippi will enhance your understanding of this particular text.

First of all, the church in Philippi was the first church founded by Paul and hence he has a strong emotional attachment to it.  And they to him.  And so we see, for instance, in the text for this morning, Paul says "Therefore my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown".  There is a deep affection there, for the folk in Philippi.  And indeed, one of the reasons for Paul's writing of this letter was to thank them for their support of him during his imprisonment.

Secondly, Philippi is in eastern Greece.  But it was a Roman colony where a majority of the citizens were Romans, not Greeks.  Probably at least 60%.  Paul draws on that image, in verse 20, when he writes:  "Our citizenship is in heaven".  The word for 'citizenship' in Greek normally is "politeiša", from the Greek word "polis", from which we get 'politics'.  The city state, and the Greek philosophy around those notions of democracy.

But that's not the word Paul uses here.  Instead, Paul uses "polišteuma", a word also derived from 'polis'.  But "polišteuma" can also mean 'commonwealth' as well as 'citizenship'.  If you look in your Bible, there's a footnote after the word 'citizen'.  And it's a little tiny letter, I think it's a letter 'g' in the Pew Bibles.  You'll see down in the margins at the bottom there's the footnote, and it will say "or, commonwealth".

Now, if the translation of the scripture you're reading uses 'commonwealth' (some do), you'll probably have a footnote that will say "or, citizen".  It can be either.

Recall from last Sunday, Octavian and Anthony defeated Brutus and Cassius (the assassins of Julius Caesar) where?  Trick question -- I didn't tell you last Sunday J.  Well, you could probably guess -- yep, in the plains outside of Philippi.

And so the death of Julius Caesar was avenged.  And then Anthony, as a reward to his soldiers, gave that region to one of his generals, to then divvy up the land among his trusted troops.  

Ten years later, when Octavian defeats Anthony for control of the throne of the Roman Empire and becomes Augustus, he can't very well allow this loyal follower of Anthony to continue to control that region of Philippi.  So he displaces him and puts one of his own in control of the region, so the troops in that area are loyal to Augustus.

Now, I know you're all as fascinated with this history as I am, right?  What do the Greeks call a colony established for veterans, such as Philippi was?  I'll give you a hint -- it's not Walter Reed J.  The standards for treatment of wounded soldiers was a little higher back in the days of Caesar than in our day, apparently.  It was polišteuma.  Polišteuma was the term for that kind of colony.

Polišteuma was the Roman equivalent of a military pension -- you did your time of service, and as a reward, you're given a little villa on the shores of the Mediterranean.  And there you can nurse your wounds and restore your health.

So here we have this community with lots of old, retired Roman soldiers and their families.  A polišteuma who hold Caesar as Lord and Savior.  And Paul says to them:  "Our polišteuma is in heaven".  It is from there, not Rome, that we are expecting a Lord a Savior.

In other words, Paul is deliberately contrasting Philippi, the Roman colony, with heaven, a Christian colony, if you will.  And says:  we don't belong to this one, we belong to that one.  We are citizens of that foreign country.  Only the point is not that we are trying to get back home, but rather that we are to live by the standards of that foreign country.  

The saying was not so much "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", it was rather "If you are a Roman, you will do as Romans do wherever you are".  It was expected that you took the values of your culture with you, and lived by that wherever you were.  And Paul is saying the same thing, then, to the church of Philippi, and calls them to a higher set of values and standards.  We expect you to live by this standard, by this commonwealth, not by that one.

Paul, then, says those who succumb to the temptation of this realm, be it Roman, American, or whatever, Paul calls 'enemies of the cross'.  Their God is the belly, they glory in their shame, their minds are set on things of this world, not of God's world.

To be part of this polišteuma, this commonwealth, or colony of heaven, is to live by a different standard.  Not only as an individual, as citizens, but as a community.  As a commonwealth.  To recreate a bit of that colony of heaven here on earth.  To be a reflection of the commonwealth of heaven, here an now.

I'd like to illustrate this this morning with just one example.  And that is the community of Le Chambon.  Wonderful story, not one that I have told before.  Andrč and Magda Trocmč, were born in 1901.  She in Italy of Russian descent, he in France from a long line of Hugenots, the fiercly independent protestants loyal to John Calvin.

In 1934 the Trocmč's were called to serve the protestant parish in a Hugenot community of Le Chambon, a community of about 3,000 people in southeast France.  Andrč was introduced to the concept of Christian non-violence oddly enough by a German soldier during the first world war, when that area of France was occupied by Germany, where he lived.  And this particular soldier, when he confronted Andrč and Andrč was very frightened by him, and he told him "No, you don't have to be afraid, I'm a Christian".  Yeah, so what we've heard that before, right?  "No, no no, you don't understand, I'm a pacifist.  I do not carry a weapon".  And told him that because of the call of the gospel that he believed -- kind of like the bumper sticker you see these days:  When Jesus said 'Love your enemies', he probably mean 'Do not kill them'.  

And so he refused to carry a weapon, and instead of being sent to prison as you might expect, his commander gave him the job of being a telegraph operator on the front lines.  That was a very dangerous position, because the way you took out the communication system, you see, was to look for the telegraph operator.  So he agreed to that, as part of his commitment to his colleagues and to his nation, as well as to remain a pacifist.

At any rate, Andrč was so taken by that as a young man that he went on to study in the Christian ministry, particularly pacifism and non-violence.  When he became a pastor in Le Chambon in 1934, he decided as part of that role to start a school for non-violence in Le Chambon.  When the war broke out in 1939, he had 4 teachers (only 1 of which was paid), and 18 students.  But the school quickly grew with the influx of refugees created by the war, not that they flocked to the school because of its non-violence, but because mostly they just needed a school.  And it had a population of 300 at one time at the school.

In June of 1940, France fell to Germany.  It was divided into two sections, one occupied by the Germans, the other nominally 'free' -- the Vichy government.  Le Chambon was in that part that was nominally independent.  Eager to please Hitler, the Vichy government duplicated the infamous Nuremberg laws against Jews, and decided to build their national unity around a common enemy -- the Jews, and promoted hatred for all things Jewish.

When the school resumed in the Fall of 1940, all of the schools were required to have a salute to the flag of the familiar fascism, with a hand straight out straight.  Trochmč, who had traveled through Nazi Germany and knew what Hitlers fascism really meant, would have none of it.  And so the kitchen resistance began.  Quiet, intentional way of living contrary to the regime.  In refusing that salute to the fascist government, was a very small but hugely significant symbolic act that demonstrated publicly to the people ole Le Chambon that all those sermons given by their pastor about resisting evil with the power of love were more than mere words.

One story in particular typifies the spirit of the people of Le Chambon.  August 1st, 1941, was declared a new national holiday to honor a new chapter in the French Legion that was formed, modeled after the German SS.  Marshal Petain, the head of the government, decreed that all bells were to be rung at noon on August 1st, for 15 minutes, for this national holiday.  

Trocmč instructed the custodian of the church not to comply, and then went off and did his business.  The next day, he found the custodian, her name was Amelie, and asked her:

"Well, Amelie," the pastor asked, "everything went off well
yesterday?  No incidents?"

"Everything went off well, Monsieur Trocme. There was nothing
wrong." ...

"Come now, Amelie, You were not visited by anyone?"

"Oh, but yes, ... There were two ladies from up there" [motioning] to the northern hills of Le Chambon. "You know, hose painted ladies who speak proper French."  Silence.

Amelie was referring to the people who had come to Le Chambon for the summer from the great cities, and who lived upon the hills in handsome villas. Their cosmetics and their classic French were all that interested Amelie about them.

"Well, then?" ...

"Well, they came to look for me. And they said, 'You are not ringing the bell, Amelie? it is a national holiday today!' 'The passe-teur gave no order,' I told them. 'Oh, well,' they told me, 'we would really be surprised if he had allowed it to be rung, your pastor!  Come, Amelie, hurry! It is noon! And it is an order from the marshal!'"

Part of Amelie's meager repertoire of expressions was a little,
crooked smile on one side of her mouth. This smile appeared suddenly as she looked up at the pastor. It was the almost mischievous, youthful smile of protesters who are in complete command of their situation.

"And what did you say?"

"I told them that that bell does not belong to the marshal, but to
God.  It is rung for God--otherwise it is not rung." ...

"Bravo! And then what happened?"

"Oh--well, they ordered me to open the big front door, and they told me that they would ring the bell themselves. But I did not want to do that.  Then I defended my temple!" ...

"And how did it all end, Amelie?"

Again that smile, but now here eyes were round. "oh, you remember, Monsieur Trocme, yesterday at noon it was raining spears, hard.  I was under the lintel of the big door. The painted ladies were out in the courtyard. Soon they were dripping wet, and they left."

Well, it wasn't long before the first Jewish refugee came knocking on the door of the Trocmč home.  Magda Trocmč took her in and helped her eventually to flee the country to Switzerland.  Before long, a steady stream of Jewish refugees found their way to Le Chambon.  Trocmč organized like-minded parishioners and school families into a network of safe houses, turning Le Chambon into a city of refuge based on the concept of refuge in Deuteronomy 19, where the blood of an innocent person may not be shed in any city of refuge.  

When word finally reached government officials of the activities in Le Chambon in the summer of 1942, police officers were sent with several buses, and Trocmč was ordered to reveal the location of all the Jews in the community.  He refused, said he knew no Jews, only human beings.  And besides, he said, the shepherd does not betray the sheep entrusted to him.  He was given 24 hours, or he would face arrest.  That night the town's lighting system "mysteriously" failed.  Boy scouts and Sunday-school leaders fanned out through the town and the neighboring farms and under the cover of darkness, hundreds of Jews disappeared into the night.  According to pre-arranged escape plans.

A house-by-house search the next day turned up only a single elderly suspect, who was proved not to be of sufficient Jewish ancestry to face deportation.  Unable to find any hiding Jews, the authorities had no grounds on which to arrest Trocmč.  And so the saga of hide-and-seek and cat-and-mouse gaming began for another year, each time the stakes growing higher, but each time the authorities leaving empty handed.

And then in February 1943, the order came to arrest Trocmč and two leaders of the school.  They were taken to a French concentration camp for political prisoners and held for a month.  And then when given an opportunity to be released if they would sign an oath of loyalty to the Vichy government, they declined.  Trocmč said 'If we sign, we must keep our word.  We must surrender our conscience to the government.  No, we will not bind ourselves to obey immoral orders'.

Unbeknownst to them, the Vichy government was losing confidence in the ability of the Germans to stop an Allied invasion.  Wanting to win favor with the British, they decided to release them anyway.  So they were released the next day.  The Nazi government, however, put Trocmč on their wanted list, forcing him to go underground into hiding until France was liberated later in 1944.  

To this day, no one knows how many thousands of lives were saved by the community of Le Chambon.  No records were kept, out of necessity.  But Magda Trocmč recalls over 60 Jews who stayed in their home alone over the course of those three years.  When credited with doing something truly good, she said "How can you call us good?  We were doing what had to be done.  Who else could help?  Things had to be done, that's all.  And we happened to be there to do them.  You must understand that it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people".

Philip Hallie, a professor of philosophy and wrote the book, discovered this story by accident as he was doing research on ethical issues raised by the war, and wrote the book "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed:  The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and how goodness happened there", he writes in his conclusion:

If we would understand the goodness that happened in LeChambon, we must see how easy it was for them to refuse to give up their consciences, to refuse to participate in hatred, betrayal, and murder, and to help the desperate adults and the terrified children who knocked on their doors in Le Chambon.

We must see this, and we must also see the many elements that came together to make these things happen.  Goodness is the simplest thing in the world, and the most complex, like opening a door. ...

I, who share Trocme's and the Chambonnais' beliefs in the
preciousness of human life, may never have the moral strength to be much like the Chambonnais or like Trocme; but I know what I want to have the power to be.  I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of all other human beings.  I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, "Naturally, come in, and come in."

 

Such is the commonwealth of heaven, here on earth.  May we live it.

 


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