On Wednesday evening at the pro-Cathedral Advent reflection hour I suggested that if we Christians feel at home in the secular society that surrounds us then there is something wrong with us.
However if we flee from the secular world creating a Christian ghetto we have also misunderstood the call to be followers of Jesus.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say that Christians are in the world but not of it, but that’s our reality. Christians follow Christ who is the king of a different kingdom. We are called to live in a way that is not dictated by the fears and fashions of a secular world.
Jesus reminds us that His kingdom is not of this world and that his followers would often feel alien even among family and friends – as T.S. Eliot puts it in Journey of the Magi: “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation / With an alien people clutching their gods.”
There is a powerful English poem that communicates this difference vividly. Cecil Spring Rice’s words were later set to music by Gustav Holst creating the popular patriotic hymn I Vow to thee my Country. The poem highlights the tension between the two realms: the earthly kingdom achieved by military prowess, and the life of God emphasised in the second stanza:
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Across the twenty Christian centuries, some remarkable people have embraced the reign of God while living fully in the world. These powerful witnesses remind us that gentleness and peace lived with fidelity of heart and intimate friendship with Jesus Christ is the ultimate life.
The problem we have in the midst of complex twenty-first century pressures, is that try to build earthly kingdoms using the predominant methods and measures of capitalism and commercialism reducing the life of Jesus to an existence of ritualism, moralism and legalism.
We disciples of Jesus will often feel like aliens in our surroundings even with those closest to us struggling to understand us as we seek to keep Christ firmly in our gaze.
The problem with not feeling at home in society is that we can be left feeling homeless in this world, but we take heart when we find companionship with others who also seek Christ.
Set aside a few minutes to ponder Jesus’ words in today’s gospel as he reminds us that we will feel out of place in this world, and whatever we do may be criticised. This is why our measure of success must not be how people react to what we say and do. Our only measure of how we are doing is our desire to walk with Jesus the pattern and path of his life, often being misunderstood and even suffering and death. This is our path to resurrection.