LIVING AS EXILES
The text for this sermon is I Peter 1:17-23. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on April 6, 2008, the Third Sunday of Easter.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Pastor Carol and I enjoyed our time off after Easter Sunday and we have returned to you refreshed and glad to be home. We were in Williamsburg last weekend and I took the opportunity to view a couple of episodes of the new mini-series “John Adams.” Some of it was filmed in Williamsburg. The particular episode that caught my eye was the one in which John Adams was selected to represent this new nation as the ambassador to Great Britain. Can you imagine the burden and fear he must have felt in having to address King George in light of the recent Revolutionary War and the defeat and surrender of the British troops? John Adams knew that his every word and mannerism was of great importance in representing his new country and getting King George and other English folk to understand his mission. It amazes me that King George’s initial reaction to John Adams was favorable. I think that was in part because John Adams made his presentation with an attitude of humility, yet spoke forthrightly, making his case for why there now needed to be cooperation between these two nations.
Well, John Adams as an ambassador relates to the theme of this sermon. My sermon text is today’s second lesson from I Peter where the epistle writer speaks of Christians as being exiles in a foreign land. We are told that we can be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. The short letter of I Peter (just 5 chapters) was written to Christians at a time of persecution and hardship. It is a letter of encouragement and it prompts the faithful to remember who we are and whose we are.
Peter reminds all Christians that Jesus’ Resurrection is the most important thing that has ever happened. It not only rivals the creation of the world, it exceeds it. Now our entire lives are to be oriented to this new reality.
Whereas the world and lots of people are going on about their lives as if Easter never happened or doesn’t matter, we now are called upon by God to live in such a way that we not only believe it ourselves, but represent this belief to others around us.
What does it mean to be an exile in a foreign land? Peter speaks of the values of this world as being silver and gold. You and I know the values of American society as being all tied up with acquiring and possessing. If we don’t have plenty of financial resources, a big home or new car, we feel as if we haven’t arrived. Some find great satisfaction in their educational level or their job status or their place on the social ladder. Some Christians today have even been led to think that such things are a stamp of approval by the Lord and their claim on God’s favor. So Peter lifts up again the truth of the gospel: our future, our salvation, is wholly based on the precious blood of Christ.
Peter goes on to talk of the audacious claim that God has chosen us Christians for a special purpose. The words he uses are that we are now a chosen race, a royal priesthood. We’re taken out of the world now in the sense that our ultimate allegiance is to God. We are left in the world to live and interact with others as witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Peter calls upon Christians to be holy. This may be something that is especially difficult for Christians today. One who is serious about being committed to Jesus Christ cannot go about conducting his or her life in the same way they did before they made this commitment. Just going to worship and adding a little devotional reading is not enough. Remember that for Peter, salvation is new birth (1:3); it is not just an add-on to ones life. One becomes a new person through a new orientation. There are many voices out there – political social economic, relational – telling us what is means to be a good person. For Peter, we are to be holy, sanctified, set apart. To be holy, therefore, is to enter willingly into exile. We are called to act and be different from the rest of the world.
I have been listening to Professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s lectures on Christianity. We’re using them in the Sunday morning adult forum. Dr. Johnson’s approach is a helpful one. He asks of us who are Christians now to take one step back and take an objective look at why we do what we do and for what purpose. He reminds us that Christianity is not just head-level knowledge or a set or rituals. Instead Christianity demands a way of life, it is all encompassing. Christianity says that all of our understanding of how the universe works is tied to God and our whole future is tied to the good news of Jesus Christ. So our values, our relationships, our goals, our words and actions, our hopes and dreams, all take on new direction when we live as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are constantly aware of God’s presence and we are always seeking to share God’s love with others.
Let me end with a delightful story about how we can encounter God in our everyday lives:
“Lunch in the Park with God”
from Burning Hearts Within by Jef Olson
There was once a little boy who decided he wanted to find God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to park a lunch – 4 packs of Twinkies and 2 cans of root beer.
He set out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. On one of the benches sat an old woman looking at the pigeons.
The little boy sat down beside her and watched the pigeons too. When he grew hungry, he pulled out some Twinkies. As he ate, he noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her one. She accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He though she had the most beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of root beer and offered her the other one. Once again she smiled that beautiful smile.
For a long time the two sat on the park bench eating Twinkies, drinking root beer, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally the little boy realized that it was getting late and he needed to go home.
He started to leave, took a few steps, turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than before.
When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy but strangely quiet. “What did you do today?” she asked. ‘Oh, I had lunch in the park with God,’ he said. Before his mother could reply he added, ‘You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.’
Meanwhile, the old woman left the park and returned to her home.
Her son noticed something different about her. “What did you to today, Mom?” ‘Oh, I ate Twinkies and drank root beer in the park with God.’ And before her son could say anything at all, she added, ‘You know, God’s a lot younger than I imagined.’