Yesterday, 43 of NASCAR’s best drivers raced the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. To be honest, I didn’t make it to the end of the race before going to bed.
I grew up loving the sport, and still do. Most Sundays after church, I would watch the races with my grandfather. We both pulled for Dale Earnhardt, which did not sit well with the rest of my family who supported Ford drivers. My passion for the sport was such that after graduating from Journalism school my goal was to be a NASCAR writer for a major publication. I never achieved that goal, except for covering one race and interviewing several NASCAR drivers at different appearances. I’m not disappointed in this.
One thing has always interested me about the sport. It’s not how fast the cars go, though it is impressive, or how a driver’s quick reflexes can avoid a major accident, which shows their athleticism. There is something else. It is that you do not have to struggle to find out a driver’s loyalties. They are very clear. A driver’s loyalties are painted all over the cars they drive and the fire suits they wear. Every interview is filled with references to a driver’s loyalties, which are appropriately referred to as “sponsors.” In mentioning their sponsors, a driver and the sponsoring company seek to create an emotional response in the fan. They want the fan to be loyal to that specific product. For instance, if Tony Stewart is loyal to a certain restaurant it is desired that a fan might want to take their family there too.
This is an extreme example of loyalties, but we are familiar with the idea. We all have loyalties or things we are passionate about. Just like a NASCAR driver has sponsor loyalties, our passions advertise something about us and who we are. Loyalties are things we are passionate about or are devoted to. They can define who we are and how others view us. Unlike a NASCAR driver, someone may not be able to tell where our loyalties lie. We do not wear them publicly for all to see. Or do we?
Our loyalties are more obvious than what we may realize. Let me take a moment to show you some of my loyalties. As I do, I invite you to think about the loyalties in your life. For starters, I am loyal to Apple. I own several Apple products, such as an iPhone and MacBook. I am loyal to West Virginia University, because it is my alma mater. I am loyal to Kentucky, because it is where I plan to serve God. I am loyal to Diet Coke, because I believe it tastes better than Diet Pepsi. I am loyal to money, because without it I cannot put food on the table or gas in my Nissan or Hyundai. I am loyal to the Bible, because it is the written Word of God. I am loyal to the Book of Discipline, because it contains the structure for the United Methodist Church. I am loyal to the Kentucky Annual Conference and Frankfort District, because it is our conference and district and I am a firm believer in connectionalism. I am loyal to my theological heritage as a Wesleyan, and the heritage of the entire church. I am loyal to my calling as a servant, pastor, prophet, leader, and teacher in the church. I am loyal to family. I am loyal to my wife. I am loyal to my friends. I am loyal to God.
That is a lot of loyalties. You probably have a lot of loyalties, as well. On their own, our loyalties are not bad. They are a part of who we are. However, our loyalties come with a cost. They can dominate and define us to the point where it blinds our vision, blinds our discipleship, and makes us into what Paul describes as an “enemy of the cross of Christ.”
Today, we begin our second section in our focus on the Kingdom of God. In June, we defined the Kingdom of God. Admittedly, we only scratched the surface. We will continue to define the Kingdom of God as we move forward. This month, we will look at what it means to live as Kingdom People who are representatives of the Kingdom of God to those around us. We will start by thinking about what it means to be Kingdom citizens. To do so, we need to look at Paul’s comments in Philippians 3:17-4:1.
In Philippians, Paul is writing a “thank you” note to the church in Philippi. The church had donated to his missionary efforts. Paul is also addressing some specific issues that exist in this proud city, especially since he knows he will not be with them. Philippi was a Roman city that has roots dates back to Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, who founded the city in 356 BC. Marc Anthony established it as a Roman colony in 42 BC, and it likely became a place where Roman military veterans lived. This gave Roman citizenship status to the Philippians. Residents received special benefits from Rome and was treated as a “Little Rome.”
The Philippians were proud of their citizenship status. This comes across in the letter. It likely led to a relaxed lifestyle, which led Paul to consider them as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” The way they lived was counter to the message of the Gospel, which was the message Paul gave them. For the Philippians, there focus was on the world and not on God. They lived as if they were god. It was about their desires. It was about their wants. It was about their ideas.
The church in Philippi was more devoted to the world than to God. Paul said this would lead to their destruction. Worldly things do not carry hope or salvation. They only destroy us and make us want more of it. When taken to extremes, the things of the world kill our faith and make us focused on anything but God. The Philippians were not imitating Paul by following the Gospel. Instead, they were imitating Rome by living as a Roman would.
Does this sound familiar to us? The way we live our life is a reflection of how we view God. The life we lead shows whether we are living as “enemies of the cross of Christ” or as Kingdom citizens. This is true for all of us. Even though we are here today, even though we read our Bible, or say our prayers, or do any other “means of grace,” it is all for not if the life we lead is more defined by the world than by a deep relationship with Christ. How we lead our life indicates what we believe is important. If the life we lead has no connection to the faith we proclaim, then we are making a conscious and public decision to live as an “enemy of the cross of Christ.”
At the beginning of the sermon, we talked about our loyalties. We have a problem if our loyalties become more important to us than our faith in Christ. We are no longer defined by the realities of the Kingdom, but the realities of the things of this world. If your devotion to your career becomes more important than your faith, you are living as enemy of Christ. If your loyalty to your family is more important than your faith, then you are living as an enemy of Christ. If your devotion to country or a political party is more important than your faith in Christ, then you are living as an enemy of Christ.
We could continue all day. When we live as enemy of Christ, we are saying the message of Christ has no affect our lives. We make a public statement of saying Christ words are not true to me, because I chose to not live by God’s desires If we are saying this by the life we lead, how do we expect to inspire others to know and live for Christ?
My friends there is hope. There is a better and deeper way to live. It is to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God as a Kingdom Citizen. Paul alerts us to this higher calling in 3:20, when he calls all of us to live as citizens of heaven. Paul is telling us there is a higher lifestyle than what the world teaches us. Something that is much greater than their Roman citizenship or, for us, our citizenship in a consumeristic and idolatry-driven culture. That is to be Kingdom citizens.
What does it mean for us to be a Kingdom citizen? We do so by living in a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. Our heart’s content must be to seek a deep relationship with Christ that defines every core of our being. Christ must be the object of our devotion and our love. All other loves and devotions must be defined by our love of Christ and our secondary to this love. Some of our loyalties may become less important and some may become more important, but they all become secondary to our devotion to Christ.
As well, we must be willing to live as strangers in the world. That seems like an odd description, but it is a message we see throughout Scripture. We are called to live as if we are not native to this world, but as if we from some other place, which we are. We are Kingdom citizens. Kingdom citizens live in the world, but are not defined by the world. We are defined by our relationship with Christ.
When someone sees us, they should be able to tell that there is something different about how we live and act towards others. Followers of Christ are called to live in a distinct way that is often counter to the ways of our culture and world. Our faith calls us to live holy lives that inspires others, by our words and actions, to do the same. When people see us, our hope is that not that they will see an American, a political partisan, or even a fan of a certain team. We hope that they will see Christ working in us and through us.
In a moment, we will partake in Holy Communion. As we do, I invite to you to inspect your life. How are you living as a follower of Christ? Are you living as enemy of the gospel that you desire to live by? Is there something that you are too loyal to, or defined by, that it prevents you from following Christ? If there is, lay it at the altar, symbolically, as an act of repentance and a desire to truly live in a deep relationship with Christ.
Friends, no one in our community will know the deep and meaningful love of Christ if we are living as enemies of the cross. No one will know how deep, how powerful, how forgiving, and how live giving Christ’s love is if we are more committed to being defined by this world than by Christ’s grace. As well, we will never experience the true depths and graces of Jesus Christ if we are too committed to the ways of the world.
Let us take on Kingdom Citizenship and be defined by the gospel, to be defined by grace, and to be defined by holiness. Let us make those are definitions and our loyalties. Let us truly live as Kingdom Citizens today and tomorrow.