Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sermon 3/30/08 1 Peter Part One: "Aliens in America

“Aliens in America”
1 Peter 1:3-2:3

I am not sure how many people watch the television show Aliens in America, but I could not help but think of the show as I studied 1 Peter. The show is about a high school student named Justin who is trying his hardest to fit in, but let’s just say, he is socially awkward. To make matters worse, his mother Franny keeps butting in and trying to help him fit in. All you have to do is remember high school and you know this is a bad idea.

Franny decides to take Justin’s popularity into her own hand and decides to be a host to a foreign exchange student. She selects a cool, athletic guy who she thinks will bring instant popularity to her son, but there is a mix up and Raja shows up instead. He is a sixteen year old Muslim from Pakistan and he in no way fits into the high school scene either. Instead the two boys become good friends and navigate school together as outsiders.

Interestingly enough, I have only seen one episode, but I did notice some parallels between this show and the letter of 1 Peter. Although some people debate who wrote this letter containing the name of Peter, for our sakes we will call him the author, which is very probable. If Peter wrote this letter, it would have been written in the early 60’s AD. The letter is addressed to different churches in Asia Minor. This type of letter is called a “circular letter” because it circulated from church to church. Peter refers to the recipients of this letter as “exiles,” (1:1) “foreigners,” (1:17) and both foreigners and exiles. (2:11) Peter’s audience, while they are not literal exiles, they are living a life that is separate from the culture.

Asia Minor was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman culture where numerous gods were worshiped. The society as a whole believed they were to gain honor by whatever means they could, even by harming others. Due to the values that Christians held, they were at odds with society and they at least suffered culture and emotional persecution. It is in the backdrop that we must understand the words of 1 Peter. After the introduction, Peter begins the letter with these words,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter begins by giving praise to God, who has given us Jesus, which has given his readers a living hope. Throughout this section, Peter compares this hope that Christians have compared to that of those without Jesus. Repeatedly he says that thing Jesus gives us is imperishable. In verse four he says it will never perish, fade, or spoil. In verse seven it is greater than gold because gold will perish. Again in verse 18 it is greater than silver or gold. In verse 23 Peter tells his readers that they have been born again with something that is imperishable rather than something perishable.

As I was working through the text, more and more I think Peter has to sway his readers to continue on in their faith. I am sure it was difficult for them to follow Jesus in this society. Their faith in Jesus was causing them to experience dishonor while other people gained status and wealth by following the status quo. I am sure they were struggling to live out their faith when it would be so easy to conform and prosper.

I think we have similar struggles today. For instance when we watch prime time TV shows, we are told that guys are normal only when they view pornographic material. We are told that relationships are abnormal if they do not lead to sex. We are told that couples ought to live together before they are married and we are taught that if we believe the Bible is in any way inspired, then we are psychotic. With all the messages that we see and hear telling us that our faith and values are outdated, it seems hard to not give in.

Peter addresses this difficulty as we have seen by telling us that our faith will lead to something worth far more than the values of the world. He follows this up by grounding the Christian faith in the very purposes of God. He writes,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Peter tells them that the faith they have now came from the searching of the prophets who spoke of Jesus. Now, Peter’s audience has been privileged to have this revelation given to them. The very faith that causes them to be aliens in their own community is the same faith the prophets longed to know and the angles yearn for. What makes the suffering worth the effort is that we, as Christians, believe in something real and alive. Our faith is grounded in the very purpose and heart of God.

Whenever we study the Bible, there are several words that we should pay close attention to because they give us textual markers. The word “Therefore” is one of those words. “Therefore” means we should take the material we have just read and use that as the cause for what follows. So, the text in 1 Peter says, “Because we our hope is built on Jesus, which is grounded in the very purpose of God, we are NOT to conform to the evil desires we have when we were called by God, but rather to be holy as God is holy.” Most of the Christians Peter is addressing may have been 1st generation Christians, meaning they had at one time lived just like everyone else did. The have been called out of that lifestyle and are now to be holy or set apart.

In keeping with Peter’s advise, we have to be able to rise above the way culture tells us to live and follow Jesus. This means being “set a part” for God. Just because society tells us belief in the bible is ludicrous, we are to stand firm and be set apart in our faithfulness to the truths it contains.

In verse 22, Peter continues on with his second imperative. Once we have been “set apart” or purified, we are to then sincerely love one another. He says this means to love each other from the heart. In this context, I am quite certain that Peter has in mind that Christians are to love one another. Later in the letter he tells Christians how they are to act towards non-Christians. We will discuss this next week. Here, Peter wants Christians to love each other.

There are two ways in which these words could be taken. First, since this letter was passed around, it could be urging the churches to love and support each other. There is no evidence that I have seen that the churches in the introduction of the letter are not getting along, but if all of the Christians are being marginalized and alienated by those around them, then they should love and support one another.

Peter could be speaking to individuals within each of the churches, urging them to love one another deeply. Either way, Peter is convinced that they will not be able to live out their high calling in this non-Christian world if they do not love each other. I want to submit that the only way we can live out our faith in the world in which we live in is with sincere love.

The church can be a funny place. In every church, there are sub groups by the very nature that we meet together. We have different Sunday school classes, we have different small groups. Some people come on Wednesday, some don’t. We support different mission groups. In the Methodist church, we have different committees that do different things. In our church we have three different worship services which reach different people. Each of these groups have their ideas of what is important and sometimes these ideas will clash. Sometimes we get this crazy idea that other people in the church are out to get us and kill the ministry that we are involved in.

Peter’s message to the churches of Asia Minor and his message to us today is that the gospel of Jesus is so amazing, yet so difficult at times, that we have to be able to trust each other and work together. The only way to do this is to love each other from deep within out hearts. We have to be able to put our own agendas aside and love each other.

Finally, Peter uses one more”therefore” in verse 2:1. He says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” This is really an expression of loving each other sincerely. He then says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” This is the perfect way to end this section. It is about growing up and growing in our faith. Peter realizes that we do not get to the goal of salvation over night. It is a process. It is a journey. Many times it is a tough road, but the journey is worth it.

When I had recently moved to Chattanooga after seminary, I was invited to be a part of the Emmaus Walk, which is a retreat that happens a couple of times a year. I had heard of people going on this retreat, so I was interested in going. I went up on the retreat after being at the church about seven months. I remember clearly thinking early on in the retreat that if had a car up on the mountain, I would have driven back home and slept in my own bed. One guy in my cabin snored like a chain saw. I could not sleep for the life of me. I remember analyzing and critiquing everything that happened. I was miserable.

At some point during the retreat I felt like God was trying to tell me something. I remember something like God telling me that I was very arrogant. That is not the message you want to hear from God, but it was true. My arrogance was standing in the way of me experiencing what God wanted me to learn. On that retreat, God showed me that regular church folks could minister to me if I would let them. It was a painful process on the journey, but it was a step I needed to take. It was a step I needed to take to be pure and holy and to follow God.

I am not sure what steps God wants to take you today. I do know that we have to agree to go on the journey and to be willing to let God take us there. This may mean giving up things that God asks us to give up. This may mean being uncomfortable in the world around us, but God promises that the prize at the end is worth it.

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