Christians Are Strange

Hi friends! Tim was in the pulpit this Sunday, so I’m posting a “golden oldie” from a few years back. I hope it is a blessing to you. Have a great week!

SCRIPTURE – 1 Peter 1:17-23
Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

SERMON

Christians Are Strange
1 Peter 1:17-23

Were you ever the new student? Do you remember that feeling on the first day of school of being the new student? I went to eight different schools in 12 years. Eight schools in 12 years. Contrary to what you might think, I wasn’t kicked out of any of those. My school-hopping was mainly because of moves or busing.

I got used to it after awhile, being the new kid, but I never liked it. Making new friends, meeting new teachers, new buildings, new classrooms. My new school in 7th grade was so big I spent half an hour trying to find my Spanish class, only to find out I was actually enrolled in French. It’s not easy being the new kid, because from day one you’re automatically an outsider looking in, immediately labeled as weird or strange.

The folks Peter was writing to could relate to such labels. They knew what it was like to be an outsider. This letter from Peter was written to churches in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. The readers were mostly Gentiles who had heard about Jesus Christ and accepted him as the Messiah and their savior.

But being Gentile converts among Jewish believers wasn’t the only way that these folks were outsiders. You see, the early church didn’t tend to attract the social elite or the wealthy class. Its message of sacrifice and obedience didn’t have much appeal to those who had it all. Instead, the people who were drawn to the early church were the ones who had nothing to lose. That’s why the early church was comprised largely of women and slaves, two groups on the fringe of the Greco-Roman culture.

The readers of Peter’s letter were most likely women, slaves and disenfranchised workers who had no place in society. But they had found the meaning of their existence in the Christian family. The church was the one place where someone told them they mattered. Although they found no acceptance in society, they found unconditional acceptance in God’s family. The problem was that their belief in this fringe religion only made their social rejection even worse, and they were tempted to give up their faith.

So this is what these churches were struggling with: how do you maintain your Christian identity in the midst of a pervasive and oppressive pagan culture? How do you stay Christian when everyone around you is doing the opposite? A commentary I read compared the situation of these Christians to being a Christian on a college campus. How do you maintain your faith in such an environment?

At first glance, it may seem like this situation has no relevance to us today. We’re not a fringe religious movement, we’re not comprised of social outcasts and nobodies, and we certainly have the freedom to believe what we want. In an age when nonstop “God Bless Americas” ring in our ears, it is easy to forget that Christians today are also outsiders. We are surrounded by coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family who do not share our faith and hope in Jesus, and may even think of us as a little strange.

So if we are serious about living out this faith we profess, Peter’s words are relevant to us. The pep talk he gives the churches in Asia Minor can also stir our spirits if we let it. The problem is that Peter’s words are not easy, and what he calls us to do could actually make being a Christian harder rather than easier.

I wish he had said, “OK, do your best to fit in. Mix, mingle, assimilate with your non-Christian neighbors. Try not to let your faith stand out. The more you look like the locals, the less chance you have of being picked on.” But Peter doesn’t say that. He says, “Live your lives as strangers here.” Never stop being the new kid in school. Don’t go along with the jocks or the preppies or the nerds or the skaters. Don’t compromise who you are for the sake of fitting in. And who you are is the key to how you live your life.

Who are you? Peter says, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” You are one who calls God “Father.” You are a child of God. Through Christ you have been given intimate access to God, so intimate that you can speak to God as a parent speaks to a child. You have been graced with a depth of love and acceptance that no non-believer can claim. You are a child of God. That makes you different.

Having God as our father not only comes with great love, but great expectations. We don’t believe in a pushover God. I have to admit that at times I’m a pushover dad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Sydney, if you do that one more time…” And she does it one more time, and I say, “Sydney, if you do that one more time…” and she does it one more time, and I say, “OK, I mean it, if you do it one more time…”

God is not a pushover God, and it serves us well to remember that. We tend to emphasize God’s love and grace and forgiveness at the expense of remembering that God is also a God of justice and judgment. Belief in God is not a free pass to sin. Even as believers, our actions have consequences. Knowing that God judges with absolute fairness – even the ones He loves most dearly – should drives us to live in a healthy fear and awe of Him.

Peter’s not using a scare tactic here. When he talks about “reverent fear,” he is talking about a level of respect and obedience. Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Growing up I deeply loved my mom, but I also knew that she had the power and authority to ground me or to take away dessert. I didn’t presume that I had the same power as she did, and we can’t assume we have the same power as God does. To live in reverent fear of God means to give God the respect God deserves as our Father.

If Peter had stopped with this idea of “living in reverent fear,” we might believe he was trying to frighten us into good behavior. But he goes on to tell us why the way we choose to live our lives is so important. For the Asia Minor Christians, they had a whole society telling them, in one way or another, that their lives didn’t matter. They were not important. They were nobodies. They were the new kids at school who didn’t fit in, who didn’t belong.

In our society today, we have almost the opposite. We are told that our lives are so important that we can’t let anyone else tell us how to live them, and even something as life-changing as becoming a Christian doesn’t always lead to a perceptible change in a person. Peter tells us that through Christ we’ve been redeemed from the empty way of life that’s been handed down to us, and that redemption should bear fruit in our lives.

I remember as a very small child riding in the back of my cousin’s pickup truck. No car seat, no seat belt. There was a time when car seats didn’t exist, right? Babies would ride in their parents’ laps or be stretched out on the back seat. I wonder how many children were hurt or died before car seats came along? Now that we have such safety devices, I couldn’t imagine not using them. “Just throw Molly in the trunk, she’ll be fine.” “OK, Syd, you can ride on the roof to Walmart.” If we know that a life-saving option is available, why would we choose not to make use of it? We wouldn’t buy a car seat and then leave it in the garage, so why would we profess faith in Jesus Christ and not live out that faith every day?

God created us, God loves us, and we are so important to God that God sent his only son to die for us. Our lives matter. We are valuable. And because God created us, loves us, and sent Christ for us, we are called to live a life worthy of such extreme acts of love. We are called to live a life that is a reminder of God’s love for us and that is a response to that love. We are called to live out the faith that we profess, to let our love for God be the driving force behind every decision we make, from how we spend our Sundays to how we spend our money to how we treat our waitress.

If we dare to do this, we become strangers in this world, not living our lives as most others do. Living out our faith will make us different from those around us. An extreme example of this is the Amish, but we don’t have to be Amish for our faith to make us distinctive from others. Being baptized and professing belief in Christ should make a difference in our lives and change the way we live. How does your faith make you different from others in the world? What would your family, your friends, your neighbors point to in your life as evidence of your faith?

Peter urges us as Christians to remember the extravagant price that Jesus Christ paid to claim us. His precious blood should evoke our precious faith. We are different. Our lives belong to him. And so, without apology, God calls us to be different. Paul says in Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed.” You don’t have to do what the world does to be accepted. You’ve already been accepted. Now, be transformed. Let the way you live be your witness to the Good News. Be different than others. Be strange.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Christians Are Strange

  1. Just wanted to say hello. You comments the past few weeks have been wonderful to read. Every time I think I cannot go on, I read them. Dave got me an iPhone, so they are with me all the time. When I am having a tough fourth block, I think, Kory is praying for me. I will get through.

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