I had the privilege of recording the 'Thought for the Week' on RTHK Radio 3 this morning. Today is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. This is the written version with a link at the end to the audio version on the RTHK website.
Thought for the Week: July 1, 2018
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day
I remember very clearly where I was on the day of the ‘Handover’ – as it was described by everyone at the time, although I realize the problems with that word now to describe what was happening. I was the minister of a Church in the North-east of Scotland, and I had been invited to the home of my Church Warden to watch it with him on TV. Stanley – or Professor Wilkinson as he was more formally known – had worked as an architect in Hong Kong and had a real love for the City. To me, then, it was just a place on the map. Little did I realize that, in just three years, I would be moving to Hong Kong to live.
Apart from being good friends, Stanley and I both had in common, as Englishmen, that we were expats in Scotland. We also both came from Liverpool. Well, I have now been in Hong Kong for nearly 18 years, and although I see Hong Kong as my home, I am still regarded as an expat, which, I suppose, is fair enough. After all, we British were happy enough with the appellation before the ‘Handover’, so we can’t complain that it has stuck after it.
There is, however, a far deeper truth to this description of me than people who use it realize. For while Hong Kong is my earthly place of residence, for me, as a Christian, it is not, and never can be, my true home, any more than Scotland, Liverpool, or wherever, can be. St Paul in a letter to a church in a city that was a Roman colony wrote: ‘But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 3:20)
Christians should always value their earthly homes and work for the good of the places where they live, but we should never forget, whatever our human origins, background, and ethnicity that Christians are all ‘expats’. Our beliefs, values, and attitudes are, or should be, not those of the earthly city, but of the City that is above – the City of God that is our true home. The writer of the Letter to Diognetus, one of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament, expresses it this way:
‘Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in (wherever it may be) ... And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens.’
Our mission in this world is to invite people to join us and become members of the City that is above. The benefits of citizenship are great: forgiveness of all the wrong we have done, liberation from all those forces that oppress us, eternal life, and, above all, a relationship with God himself. The demands of citizenship, however, are also great: including a willingness to give up our own desires and to follow law of Christ in the service of God.
Christians look to Jesus as their Lord and Emperor – as their President. Their allegiance is to Jesus as the Ruler of the heavenly City to which they belong, even though for now they are forced to live as aliens in the cities of this world. This situation, St Paul again writes, must continue until Jesus has put all his ‘enemies under his feet’ and then when that day comes he will hand all rule back to God (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Until that time, we wait patiently, living as citizens of the City of God as exiles in the cities of this world, longing and praying for the Day of the Ultimate Handover.