Back to series

Good morning, church.  Go with me to 1 Peter, chapter two, we’re going to start in v.9.  We’ve been in a series through first Peter for about four weeks now, and honestly, when I realized that, when I was writing this sermon, I just kind of paused.  Time is so strange.  It passes in fits and starts.  How have we been in 1 Peter for four weeks?  And yet the days seem to go so slowly.

I’ve been thinking about the passage of time a lot recently, probably mainly because yesterday was AJ’s birthday.  He’s five now, which I know doesn’t sound like a big deal, but people.  He’s five, and I don’t know when that happened, and if he can go from two to five without my noticing, then he’s almost eighteen, and I can’t handle him moving out right now.  These are my real thoughts.

The other reason, of course, I’ve been thinking about the passage of time is because yesterday Louisiana entered into a phased reopening of the economy.  I’ve had a lot of people asking me when the church is going to reopen, so my mind has been doing its best to stretch into the future.  We’ve decided that during phase one of the economic reopening, we are going to continue operating as we have been—doing Sunday mornings and Wednesdays online, and continue providing food for the homeless population through Unity, Rebuild, and other partners.  We are looking at the government’s phase two as our phase one.  So, if everything goes as planned, we should be reopening the building on Sundays around the beginning of July, though I recognize we never know what the future holds.

There were two main reasons for this decision.  One is that we want to obey the law, and during phase one, we would need to maintain about eight feet from the center aisle, and have seats six feet apart from each other, which would leave us room in the building for about five or so people, so our reach and our witness are more effective in this online environment.  The second reason is that we have two very high risk groups in our church: those who are experiencing homelessness, and those who are elderly or work with the elderly.  We don’t want to facilitate the crossing of those two groups right now, for the health of everyone involved.

If anyone wants to talk with me about the reopening decision, please, give me a call—our number is on this Facebook page.  I know this is something that affects us all, and I want to make sure we are open and honest in our communication about it.  I’ll add, I really miss seeing everyone face to face.  I saw my friend Mr. Joshua this week, and lit up, just beside myself excited to see him.  It’s that way with each of you.  To quote the apostle Paul, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you; that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

It may seem like a long time, but if AJ is able to be five years old—which is ridiculous and I need to start some sort of savings account for him, for college or marriage or hospital bills when he wrecks his motorcycle, whichever direction he goes.  But if he’s actually five, then I think this time, sooner than we know, will be a memory and a lesson.

So go with me to 1 Peter, chapter 2, v.9-12.  As I promised last week, we’re going to revisit some of what we read last week and begin a conversation that’s going to last through the rest of this book about how to live as an exile.  The first part of the book is meant to encourage  people who are hurting, but I hope you’re feeling very encouraged, because we’re done with that now, and we’re down to brass tacks.  Don’t worry, I’m only kidding.  But really.

1 Peter 2:9 says this: [1 Peter 2:9-12].  This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God.  Pray with me, briefly.  Father God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free.  Amen.

The first point from our text today, the first lesson Peter offers on living as an exile, is this: really you’re a citizen of another race and nation.  Really, you’re a citizen of another race and nation.  I know we’ve been living in a kind of exile over the past few weeks, so we’ve understood exile in new ways, but we also need to realize, even if we don’t usually recognize it: Christians are always exiles, and in my mind, this is one of the most needed truths in our culture today.  As Christians, when you get down to what’s real, we are citizens of another race and nation, as Peter writes, we are a chosen race, a holy nation.  I know it doesn’t seem that way, but the longer you live the Christian life, I think the more you feel it: the reality is, Christians are always exiles in this world, longing for home.

Do you know how, in all of the best books, people are living their ordinary lives, and then something happens to show them a whole new world all around them, only they’d never seen it before.  For example, imagine you’re a foster child, living with a cruel family, and your situation is really rather desperate.  But then all the sudden, owls start bringing you letters, and a giant busts down the door of your shack and tells you, “You’re a wizard!”  And he bears you away to another world, far from the people who have been mean to you, from all of this brokenness, to a world where you have parents and adults who love you, a community that knows and notices you, an inheritance and purpose.  There may be darkness for a little while, and you may still live the life you’ve known from time to time, but now you know that’s not your real life.

Or you’re an average person living a perfectly respectable life, thank you very much, where nothing remarkable ever happens, until one day there’s a knock on the door, and then another, and another, and on and on, and the next thing you know, you’ve fallen in with a band of dwarves, and you’re finding a magic ring, and fighting a dragon, traveling to unknown lands to meet people you’ll never forget and do deeds worthy of remembrance.

Or—last one, I could keep going—you’re playing a game of hide-and-seek as a child in a wardrobe in a forgotten room, and all the sudden, you’re in a whole other world where you’re kings and queens, legends renowned and glorious, with purpose and prophecy and peace.

These are the best books because they identify a deep longing, a deep truth.  We’ve explained away our deep desires for another world by calling it wish fulfillment, childish.  But we would do well to learn many lessons from children, if we are humble enough to see what they know that we’ve forgotten.  There’s something in us, deep enough that we can’t shake it, a part of us that knows this world isn’t all there is, that there is a deeper reality on the tips of our tongues, and just over the horizon.  We almost expect to stumble into it at any moment, if we haven’t grown so old to have forgotten it.

So Peter tells us, I know it seems like you’re exiles without a community, the people around you, even in church with you, are of a different nationality and race.  It seems that way, but there’s a deeper reality in our world, one in which you’re beloved children, as we talked about last week; a single, chosen race; citizens of a holy nation, even the kingdom of God, itself.

This idea of citizenship is one that would have been powerful for the people to whom Peter is writing.  One of the greatest honors of Roman society was to be declared a Roman citizen.  Rome would go through the nations they conquered and declare the best and brightest people to be citizens of Rome, the leaders and rulers of every nation, chosen people, worthy of the kingdom and empire.  Otherwise, you would pay a fortune to be granted citizenship, or you could join the army, and if you survived, you would return home with citizenship and wealth.  It wouldn’t matter, then, if your home was in a far part of the world, and your nation, your race, was conquered and destitute; you were a citizen of Rome, and therefore a citizen of the greatest nation on earth.  You had special privileges, access, protection, and honor, much like in America today.

Peter tells his people, you may be exiles in this world, but the deeper reality is, you’re citizens of a kingdom stronger and more lasting than Rome.  God, himself, is king.  Don’t be ashamed when you see your nation on its knees.  Reality is, you’ve always been exiles in this world, because this world is not your home.

Church, are we citizens of the United States, or citizens of the kingdom of God?  Which one is the deeper truth?  What race are you?  Really, who are your ancestors?  We’re like children who’ve gotten lost in a game of pretend.  We started out playing knights and dragons, and now we’re actually starting to hurt each other, because we’ve confused our role in the story for our deeper reality.

I’m not saying you can’t be both a citizen of the United States and also a citizen of the kingdom of God—that’s not true in our text.  We’re going to talk more about this, but Peter is writing to a people with three identities—they are subjects of Rome, citizens of a conquered nation, but also, and primarily, citizens of God’s kingdom.

If you don’t know this about me yet, you should: I’m a current events junkie.  I was on the varsity knowledge bowl team in high school—oh yeah, varsity; we had letterman jackets—and I was assigned to study literature and current events.  I never stopped.  I love to read and talk about what’s going on in the world.  And I am the worst person to have at a dinner party, because the only two things I really want to talk about are religion and politics.  I vote in every election.  Every.  Election.  It’s all the old people and me.

But, listen, I will never preach politics from the pulpit, because this nation, no matter how great it is, pales in comparison to the nation, the kingdom of God, and my hope for the future is not in a political movement, but in the Spirit of the living God.  Until Christ reigns in the renewed earth, we will live under unjust authority and sinful rulers, because every politician and every political system on earth is marred and broken by sin.  I long for America to be a great nation, because to quote proverbs “righteousness exalts a nation,” and I long to live in a place that “does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly with our God.”  I long to live among a people who love God and each other.  I have prayed for every president I have known on a near-daily basis, that God would give him wisdom in his decisions and love of mercy.  Every governor, every mayor.

We’ve gotten lost in our role in this story of the world, and we’ve forgotten what’s real: that we are citizens of God’s kingdom, members of his chosen race.  And so we’re exiles here.  Those Christians who have gone before us are our fathers and mothers.  They are our race.

Our churches are segregated, and we’ve split them again and again over the political issues of the day.  Our political affiliations have begun to determine our morality—we’ve stopped praying and thinking through our moral positions on things like abortion, racial oppression, and immigration—even everyday things like how we talk to people, sexuality, and food—because we’re accepting as gospel what we’ve been told from our favorite news sources, conservative and liberal.  We’ve traded ministerial influence for political power—each party now has their religious backers who are willing to equate the works of God in our world with the works of the party, as though God is small enough to fit into the white house, or within the borders of our one, brief nation.  We’ve added political opinions and racial mores to our gospel, so people are rejecting God, not because they reject the gospel, but rather everything we’ve mingled it with.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

When you consider your love of country, your race, when you engage in society, remember: you’re exiles.  Reality is, this world is not your home, and your citizenship is in a nation yet to come, yet already breaking through.

So where does that leave us?  How do we work this out?  How do we live in a world that’s not our home?  How do we live as exiles?  That’s the rest of 1 Peter.  We’re going to brush the surface today, but we have many more weeks ahead of us to flesh this out.  Peter writes, and this is my second point for today: Christians are third-culture kids.  Christians are third-culture kids.  I’m looking at vs.11-12, where there’s a tension between a necessity of being in the world and getting lost in the world.

I first heard that term, “third-culture kid,” from a friend of mine, who grew up in Moscow, Russia.  His parents were missionaries there from the time he was a young child, both he and his sister, but his parents were extremely American.  So he grew up speaking both American English and Russian, acting both American and Russian, feeling very much both American and Russian, but then at the same time, neither American nor Russian.

He had always felt a little odd in Russia, which he thought made sense—he was an American, after all.  But when he moved back to the States, he realized he was odd here as well.  His manner is very direct, very Russian, and it offends some people here.  The food here seemed very strange and unhealthy compared to what he was used to.  And every time he slipped up and spoke Russian around a new friend, he would get off the phone and they would be looking at him like, “See something, say something.”  He realized very quickly—he didn’t have a home country.  He didn’t belong to his first culture, or his second.  He was a third culture that wasn’t even really a mix of the two, it was something other.

This would have been a lot of what Peter’s readers are going through.  They are in a strange place, in cultures not entirely familiar, different food, different clothing, different ways of being in the world.  And whenever you’re in that situation, you face a choice, three options.  One, they could withdraw from the culture entirely, find a little group of people willing to ignore the world around them.  If you give up any chance to have an effect on the world, then the world isn’t able to affect you.  So, one, they could withdraw, or two, they could get lost in the new country, divest themselves of their identities, buy the blue jeans or togas or whatever the Romans wore, I don’t know, listen to the music, eat the food, and in every way be Roman.

Peter writes to tell them about a third way: don’t shut yourself off from the world.  V.9, you’re the only chance the world has of seeing the light of Christ.  You have to, v.12, be among the nation in which you find yourself.  But don’t lose yourself in the culture, either.  V.11, abstain from the passions the Romans would seek after in worship of their wild gods, with massive drinking parties and orgies.

I know it’s a bit uncomfortable, and it makes you feel a bit out of place, but we belong to a third culture as Christians, one that doesn’t shut itself off from the people and culture around us, but also doesn’t get lost in the midst of it.  So, I’ve already said, we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, that’s where we start, but we’re also exiles in this world, meaning the culture where you find yourself here in New Orleans, this culture doesn’t belong to you anymore, and you have those same three options.

One, you could completely withdraw.  Christians sometimes start saying Christiany things and making Christiany jokes and wearing Christian t-shirts, and listening to Christian music, and eventually it gets to a point where they don’t really interact with non-Christiany people at all, and if a non-christiany person ever does cross their path, the christiany person is both offended and scared and ends the interaction as soon as possible.  They say all the time, “I just don’t understand,” without ever thinking they may need to engage with the world, to try to understand.

We were talking about race and nationality earlier.  Have you ever seen a Christian completely withdraw from race and nationality?  They decide, I’m a citizen of God’s kingdom, and therefore I will protest a soldier’s funeral.  I’m a citizen of God’s kingdom; therefore I’m not bound by the laws of this nation, therefore I don’t need to fight for justice here, or peace, or equality; therefore I don’t vote, or I don’t talk politics.  I’m a chosen race, therefore I don’t bother learning racial history, understanding racial oppression.  I’ve noticed that people who shut themselves off are sometimes able to talk all day long, a thousand if-onlys, about the ideal Christian society without ever trying to figure out how Christianity might affect our real society here today with the real people who are in it.

Peter doesn’t tell you to shut yourself off, though.  Peter says to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Peter tells us to keep our conduct among the nations honorable, so they might see your good deeds and glorify God.  Church, we can’t shut ourselves off.

But neither can we take option number two, and get lost in the world.  You’ve seen this, Christians who get lost along the way.  They convinced themselves at one point that they knew something other Christians didn’t, that they were the real faith, the new school, and everyone else is old, ignorant.  I’ve seen it most often in this way, recently: the Christian slowly decides that self-determination is of more value than existing within a worshipping community, that the modern age would benefit from sloughing off our history.

They make the same exact mistake of mingling religion with politics, only it’s a different party, so they think they’ve done something new and different.  They’re so impressed with their own take on Christianity that they can’t see all they’ve done is lost sight of Christianity to look at the world, which is ironically typical.  Many Christians in our world have done so much to become relevant with the gospel, that the gospel is lost, and all they have is relevance.  They don’t realize until it’s too late that the inner self they were so infatuated with was just the spirit of the age, and in following their heart, they were really just following after the world.

The third option for how to live an an exile is what we need in our churches today: people who are willing to live as third-culture kids, recognizing they don’t belong to this world, because they’re citizens of God’s kingdom, and they can’t yet belong in the next world, because God’s kingdom isn’t yet here in its fullness.  Rather, they are exiles here, in between, something other.

This looks like Christians who recognize the spiritual inheritance passed to them through many generations of our ancestors, that chosen race, people who do what they can to steward the gospel and translate it to their own generation, who are not infatuated with the current age or culture, but who are filled with love for an eternal God who has loved his church equally in every time and place.  Christians who are able to leave their culture behind to create, in our churches, a third culture that might allow the races of our world to come together in worship.

This looks like Christians who engage meaningfully with our national politics and discourse, calling our country, not to the right or to the left, not forward, not backward, but Christward, “further in and further up,” towards peace, justice, and righteousness in humility.  People who, rather than refusing to understand the world as it is, listen to the culture, listen to their city, know its hurts and its histories, its people and its music, and are able to articulate where this culture fits into the gospel story of God redeeming our world.  Christians who don’t follow the spirit of the age, because they are infatuated instead with the spirit of God, and who don’t mingle any other rule or message with the gospel, but offer a clear message without other impediments.  People who lead with their own sin, rather than being appalled at the sins of others, and show their darkest parts, where God’s grace is brightest, telling the lost how God redeemed even them.

So in exile, you’re really a citizen of another race and nation, you’re a third-culture kid, and lastly, briefly, in exile, God is still faithful to us.  In exile, God is still faithful to us.  I’m looking at v.10, and really all of the old testament references in this section, they’re all driving at the same point: God is still faithful to us, even in exile.

V.10, specifically, is a reference to the prophet Hosea, who was prophesying during the first exile to which Peter compares his present time.  After Judah and Israel fell and went into exile, Hosea prophesied what was then unthinkable, that God wouldn’t abandon his children, but rather he would gather them from their exile and bring them home.  Hosea assured God’s people that despite all seeming, God was faithful to love and care for his children even in exile.

Church, God is faithful to us in exile.  Even in these difficult times of really feeling exiled, away from our church and away from our community, he’s faithful to us.  But even as we reopen and leave our houses, we’ll still be exiles, learning what to do in this culture that’s not entirely our own.  God is working, always, in and amongst us to fulfill his promises to redeem and restore the world back from sin.

So if you’ve realized today that you’ve not lived as an exile, that you’ve completely withdrawn from the world or completely lost yourself in it, know that our father is calling you back to center, calling you home, calling you to that third way, and he offers you mercy and a people where before you were without.

Or if you’ve realized today that your book hasn’t had anyone come into it yet to reveal the magical world around you, please let me be the one to encourage you: open your eyes.  God is working all around us, and he makes our world one of beauty and wonder.  If you pray to our Father, and admit to yourself that there is something more than this world, he is faithful to save you from all of the sin and brokenness in your life.  It’s not wish fulfillment, but the source and answer to everything you’ve always wished and couldn’t even express.

The rest of this book is going to teach us what it looks like to live as exiles.  As we find meaningful ways to engage the world around us, I pray that we would do so in humility and in unity.  I am eager, I am excited to go through the rest of this book with you, because this is one of those good books that opens our eyes to the reality around us.  There are hard days ahead of us, but our God is faithful to see us through.  Pray with me.