Who Are We?
Introduction to Sermon Series from 1 Peter
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-2
Good morning church! Good to see everyone here this morning. Wow, it is a busy time! There are a lot of things going on. Seem like we are in a time where there is a lot of change happening. Graduations are happening. I read a post from a friend on Facebook last week. It was an "end of an era" type of post. Their youngest son graduated from high school and they mentioned that since the fall of 1997 they had had at least one child in their local school system. I thought, "Wow, that's a long time." Then I did the math and Staci and I have had a child in the Bentonville school system since the fall of 1998. How did this happen? How has this gone by so fast. Next week we will honor our graduates here. This is a huge change in identity. These folks have had the title of "student" for quite a while. Now there may be a different title attached.
It's not just them. We think about all of our students moving from one stage to another. Whether it is from one grade to another, or from elementary to middle school, or middle school to junior high, or from junior high to high school, things are different.
Parents, we shift in identity as well. Maybe it's from parents of children to parents of adolescents, or from parents of teens to parents of adults, or maybe from parents to grandparents. Identity shifts.
We are almost into June, one of the busiest times for weddings. Talk about a identity shifting moment. Ladies whose names used to be one thing, now is something else. No longer is it just man or woman, but husband and wife. Completely new roles with completely new things that go along with them.
What about our new Christian brothers and sisters. Over the past two weeks we have be blessed to witness 4 new births, 4 baptisms. This is a giant change in identity. Paul speaks of this as "new creation." John compares it as being changed from dead to alive. What a change! What now?
Our congregation is experiencing change. Additional elders are about to be appointed - a new identity for some there. We may wonder what the future looks like. If I can get through this without crying, Randall and Georgia are moving. Folks who have been here for 35 years and have really shaped this congregation are leaving. What will this do?
In all of these things we see a wrestling with identity. Things change and we wonder what will we do now? What is next? Who are we?
Over the last few months we have looked at John's letters, as well as some of Paul's writings as we have studied Galatians and Philippians. This morning is the beginning of a new series through the letters of Peter. When it comes to wrestling with a new identity, I believe that Peter has as much to say as almost anyone in Scripture. He knows about this struggle.
Think about the first time we meet Peter. Luke tells about this in Luke 5. Peter is a fisherman. He has probably always been a fisherman. We don't know much about Peter and Andrew's parents, but I would imagine that their father was a fisherman. Up until the narrative that Luke records in his gospel, I can imagine that there's not a lot of guesswork in Peter's day-to-day life. He is doing what he has always done. We can almost see him get up from the table, kiss his wife goodbye (maybe hug his children and pat them on the head?) and say, "I'm off to work. See you when I get back." He knows what he needs to do. He knows where to fish, after all he grew up on this lake. He knows what to do with the catch. He knows what needs to be done with the nets every day. This probably happens six days a week. Sabbath is time for the synagogue, but other than that, the routine probably doesn't change much.
Then Jesus shows up. Jesus is being followed by a big crowd - so much so that he has to get into a boat and push away from the shore. Afterwards he tells Peter to move out and let down the nets. When the nets are full to the point of breaking and other boats almost sink from the catch, Peter has an identity shaking moment. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." He finds a new identity as Jesus calls him to follow.
We get to watch Peter grow and wrestle with his various identity issues. Some of the labels we would give to Peter might be things like spokesman. He seems to be the one who speaks up more often than the rest. We can almost picture Peter as someone whose hand shoots up in the air before Jesus has finished asking the question. We see Peter believing he knows not only who he is, but being a little too confident in who he believes Jesus to be. So, in Mark 8 when Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" we are not surprised to see Peter beat everyone to the buzzer and say, "You are the Christ." Then when Jesus says that they are going to Jerusalem and he will be crucified, Peter rebukes him. It is like Peter saying, "I know who you are, but I'm not sure you do, Jesus." Here Peter gets another lesson about his identity.
Not much later, after the transfiguration, we see the impulsive Peter suggest that tabernacles be built - one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. Then we hear the correction come from the father. Peter, you need to be the learner not the leader.
Peter as the fearless follower becomes Peter the failure as others know who he is, but he refuses to admit it. Then we see the restored Peter become one of the pillars of the early church. So when it comes to the idea of figuring out who we are, Peter has something to say. In fact, that is where he begins as we look at this first letter we have.
Read the text
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-3)
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" - of all the labels we may attach to Peter, it seems that he understands what informs everything he does - "Apostle." He is one who has been sent. He is one to whom Jesus said, "Go." and he went.
This letter is written to Christians who are all of a sudden finding themselves in a foreign place. Not because they have migrated to that place, but because their identity has changed. They need to know, they need to be reminded, they need to have security in who they are. Don't we all? Don't we need to be reminded of who we are as things around us constantly shift and change? Don't we need to be able to have this foundational material as we navigate life in a place that is not really home? I want us to see how Peter begins this letter by reminding them of their identity. I think these are things we all need to remember.
The first thing is "elect" or maybe the NIV translation "chosen." Do we ever stop and think about God choosing us? I know that down through the centuries, Christians have debated what it means to be the elect, or the chosen. But if we could put that aside for a minute and just appreciate what it means to be chosen by God, I think it would make a judge difference for us. We talk often, and we should by the way, about our choosing to follow God, about our choices. We need to know that God moved first. Scripture is full of examples of God choosing.
Peter will speak more about this in chapter 2 when he says you are a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." These are words that echo back to Israel at Sinai where God says, "you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine (Ex. 19:5)" Later on, as Israel prepares to enter Canaan, God will tell them that they are chosen. Listen to Deuteronomy 9:4-7
"Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is dbecause of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. 5 eNot because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm fthe word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
"Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are ga stubborn people. 7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. hFrom the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.
He chose them because of who HE is not because of who they were.
This continues throughout the Bible. Paul will speak of this, but in terms of adoption in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. I have to admit, I love that idea. You probably know this, but the most sought after group for adoption are newborns. As children get older, the chances of adoption really diminishes. It's not really hard to see why. We watch little children as they grow. They amaze us at how quickly they pick things up and how moldable they are. The older they get the more behaviors and habits become ingrained and the more difficult it may be to break those habits. When God got a hold of me (and I suspect that I am not unique in this) I had a lot of habits and behaviors that were opposite of the way he wanted me to go. I was rebellious and set in my ways, hard-headed (feel free to stop me if you want). Again, so were all of us. But God saw us, looked at us, faults, failures, rebellious nature and all and said, "I want that one!" I can almost imagine one of those divine council scenes we find in Scripture and seeing one of his royal court asking, "Are you sure? Do you know what she's like? Do you know what he's done? Do you know what they possibly do?" And God responding, "Yes. But I want them anyway." We are wanted. We are desired. We are chosen by God. And, this is not just reserved for us, it is for all of humanity. This is what God wants.
Sanctification of the Spirit
Sanctification is one of those big churchy words. We don't hear this much outside of these walls. Again, there have been debates throughout the centuries as to what this means and how it works, but the bottom line is that we are made holy. Set apart for God's use. We are his instruments. In the tabernacle there were the Holy Things; things set aside for the express purpose of facilitating the relationship between God and humanity. They were only to be used for God's service. In fact, not everyone could handle these things because they were dedicated to the Lord. Peter says that not only are we chosen by God, but his exclusively. We are being formed, transformed, made holy, sanctified by the Spirit of God who lives in us. Spirit indwelled, Spirit led, Spirit transformed continually to be used in his service. Special, precious, and completely his. I'm sure that there were Christians who first read this letter that were struggling. I know there are Christians who read these words today that are struggling, thinking "I'm not very holy." Remember, it is a process. It is a process that takes time. It takes effort on our part, but it is accomplished by the One who never fails.
Obedience to Jesus
We are disciples. We are apprentices of Jesus. We are those who are following, listening, and imitating what we see in the One who has called us. I can imagine that Peter was an apprentice to his father growing up. We can almost see Peter as a child going out on the boat with his father, learning how to handle the net, where to fish, what to do with the catch, how to handle the boat, how to care for the tools of the trade, etc. Then we watch as Peter becomes an apprentice of Jesus. He learns how to deal with people, how to pray, how to relate to the father, what it means to be faithful, what it is that God wants, how he can fit in to this plan. We see Jesus coach, encourage, correct, and mentor along the way. Peter says in the introduction to this letter that this is the role all play who answer the call of Jesus. We watch him, we listen to him. We learn what he wants for us and how we can access that. We walk as he walked. We stumble. We ask him how we did. We ask him to show us how to do it better. We are his disciples, his apprentices.
All of these things so far have spoken of our value, our worth to God. There may be no worse label that we could think of than "worthless" or "useless." There may have been people to whom Peter is writing that wondered why they were even there. There may be people here this morning, or listening in on the live-stream, that feel that way. Peter has so far said that we are chosen by God, given the Spirit so that we can be more like him, and called to be disciples. And if that isn't enough, we were worth the life of his One and Only Son. Value. Worth. We hear these words. We understand them as it relates to how we live day-to-day. Right now we understand the value of real estate in Northwest Arkansas. Houses and land are worth what people are willing to pay for them. Right now the value is high.
For God so loved the world that he was willing to give his own life. He was willing to risk it all. He was willing to go to the ultimate lengths to be with us. This is the value that God places on humanity. This is the value we are to place on humanity…..all humanity whether they are people we meet day to day, people that actively oppose what we stand for, people in our families, people in our congregation. Valuable.
Peter begins this letter with and will continue this theme throughout the letter of exiles. We live as strangers whose allegiance is solely to the Kingdom of God. We are not home and don't feel at home. We are in a long line of God's people who follow him and look for home. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us about this.
By faith qAbraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place rthat he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in sthe land of promise, as in a foreign land, tliving in tents uwith Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to vthe city that has wfoundations, xwhose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith ySarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered zhim faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and ahim as good as dead, were born descendants bas many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, cnot having received the things promised, but dhaving seen them and greeted them from afar, and ehaving acknowledged that they were fstrangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, gthey would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed hto be called their God, for ihe has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:8-16 ESV)
We are scattered. But, we are scattered to grow. Parable of the sower - first thing is that a farmer goes out to scatter the seed. We grow where we are planted and join in with others and grow together.
Reminder of who we are.