Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
A friend of mine stopped by the office one day to discuss several projects we work on together. But, as often happens, the conversation drifted off to other issues of mutual interest.
My friend, you see, comes from Roman Catholic background; He is a devout Christian and an individual who reflects thoughtfully on the state of the Christian Church and matters of faith. During recent conversation, he wondered out loud why the Catholic Church says so less on the great social issues of our time. He laments the fact that fewer children raised in Roman Catholic homes continue to practice their faith as adults. For him, the church has become too self-focused at the expense of a broader mission in the world.
Today the Apostle Peter examines the role of the church in the world, as he addresses members of his religious community, He describes them, as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people called out of darkness into his marvelous light, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.. The church has a unique identity and a mission derived from that identity.
Peter concludes with these words, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Clearly, he sees the church as a God created entity or body with a divinely directed mission or purpose in this world.
Today our epistle encourages us to think about the nature of the church and its mission. We are a people, a community, a body, an entity, but what that means today in our modern society and community is never easily defined.
Scholars believe the Apostle Peter wrote his epistle during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. Domitian was a pagan emperor with no use for the Christian faith. The Book of Revelations and Peter’s letters were probably written during the time of Domitian’s persecution of the Christian community. This historical context shapes Peter’s message to the church. He wants to encourage Christians to remain true to their faith, despite the threat of brutal death.
It’s never easy being the Church in this world. The Apostles Peter and Paul faced both persecution and death for the resolute attempt to be Church in tough times. Today circumstances have changes. It’s not tough to be Church anymore. The problem today is it’s too easy to call ourselves Christian and that creates a whole bunch of problems in itself.
Scripture refers to the Christian community in at least three different ways. The Apostle Paul talks about the Church as the body of Christ. Peter describes the Church as God’s people. Scripture also refers to church as the ecclesia or congregation.
Many Christians probably would have a difficult time saying exactly what it means to be God’s people for several reasons. Let me give you an illustration. My friend who stopped by last week asked me about the origin of the name Pokora. I get that question all the time. I patiently explain that my grandfather came from East Prussia on the Baltic Sea, part of Germany before World War II. Following the war, what family remained alive moved to Herten, a little town in the Rhine River Valley. My ancestors were known as Sudovians or Old Prussians. If someone said to me, who are my people, I would have to give a long explanation.
The United States is a nation of peoples. We may think of ourselves as Afro-American, German American, Italian Americans. We know the parts, but have a time defining the whole. We are Midwesterners, New Englanders, Southerners. The problem, of course, is we move around so much we may meet somebody from North Carolina who lived most of their life in Minneapolis and retired to Arizona. We have become a people divided in so many ways.
That’s the problem Peter faced. The Christian community was divided by race and geography, politics, wealth, all the usual factors. And that’s the way it remains today. Someone once said the most divided day of the week is Sunday morning, when people go to church. Once Germans and Swedes and African- Americans went to their own church. Today the ethnic divisions may have largely disappeared, but other divisions remain.
The Lutheran Church has had its own set of issues. For many years, Lutherans equated becoming God’s people with uniting diverse denominations into one institutional body. But being the people of God implies more than institutional merger. Just ten years ago Lutherans were at each other’s throats. We were actually in the middle of schism, which doesn’t conform to anyone’s definition of what it means to be God’s people. Additionally, even today no one has done anything to reconcile the feuding parties within the Lutheran Church.
The Apostle Peter calls us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. What does that mean? First, it implies God chooses us for his purpose. We are called to set aside our agenda and get on God’s bandwagon, so to speak. Too often people say they are spiritual, but not religious. Often, when people make a statement like that, they participate in no religious body. I have yet to figure out how they would articulate or demonstrate they are part of Christ’s body, or that they share a oneness with other Christians.
Peter suggests we are a royal priesthood. He means we stand between humanity and God, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to all people. We offer prayers to God on behalf of all humanity. As his priests, we live and represent the truth of Jesus Christ to this world. Additionally, we are called God’s holy nation. This does not suggest we are exempt from the laws of nature or claim special privileges for ourselves. Rather, as a holy nation, we live according to God intentions for us. The Holy Spirit directs and shapes our lives. Life is not all about our wants and whims but serving God’s greater purpose.
The good news today is this. St. Peter said once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. Once we had not received God’s mercy, but now we are blessed. We may individually be Christians, but we are also the people of God. We have a collective responsibility to represent the truth made visible in Jesus Christ. The people of God is more than any one congregation or denomination, but every Christian denomination and congregation must judge itself as the people of God. You and I, together as members of this congregation, are a true manifestation of God’s people. We serve a purpose greater than ourselves. God has chosen us for himself and for his purpose through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.