Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Vieux Carré Baptist Church online.
In honor of church being online, and to spread happiness in dark times, I want to tell you my new favorite internet meme: it’s a theory, that 2020 is not real life, so don’t worry, we have just somehow gotten trapped in a story written by a middle school boy. Like, there was this virus or something, and like the whole world ran out of, umm, toilet paper, yeah, there was no toilet paper anywhere, it was gross. And school was cancelled, just cancelled for like the whole year, and everyone had to stay inside, so I just got to play video games with friends online and watch movies for months. And you can’t go to the store, so you just eat freezer meals, like pizza—no vegetables.
It’s funny, because it’s so real. AJ has been living his best life now—we’re having completely different experiences through of all of this, and I’m understanding things about my own childhood, remembering going through my first cat 5 hurricane when I was 7, and thinking how cool it was that they let us sleep in the closet, and then we built this 6ft mound (of debris) in the front yard, and I climbed on it, and school was cancelled, and—super cool—you could see the sky through the ceiling. I had a great time.
I’m excited, today, to start a new series with you. Just before Easter, we finished a series through the book of Ecclesiastes, where we talked about what, in life, is meaningful and what’s just wasted—wasted effort, wasted time, wasted life. I encouraged you to enjoy your life with your friends and family, spend your time following after Christ and taking part in his work in the world, because our lives are brief, and in the end only what God has helped to build will remain.
Then we celebrated Holy week, and Easter, knowing that Christ is risen, and because he’s risen we can have hope that life doesn’t end in pain and loneliness, that Christ is undoing even death as he restores the world. But we know, too, that not everyone has faith in resurrection, and sometimes we doubt, too, or forget, so we talked about ways we can find God when he’s missing in our lives.
Today, I want you to go with me to the book of 1 Peter, towards the end of the new testament, and we’re going to start at the very beginning. So 1 Peter, chapter 1. I’m actually planning to be in 1 and 2 Peter for a while. Now, both the book of James and especially the past two months have taught me to say, “God willing” when making plans, because he is the only one who knows the future. But, God willing, I’m planning to stay in these first two chapters until Pentecost, and then pause for the summer to take a close look at the work and person of the Holy Spirit, then come back to Peter’s letters until the advent season. I know we’ve been going through a lot of the old testament, so I thought it would be good to return to the new, and since we’ve been flying through books at high speed, I thought we might slow down and go deeper here.
The apostle Peter was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, and around the time he was writing this letter, the city was in a state of unrest, and Christians were in part being blamed, which of course meant that they became targets of the Jewish leaders and Rome alike, mass persecution broke out, then rebellion against Rome and Rome reconquering the city, with blood and brutality, even to the burning of the temple and the end of Jewish religious practice as they knew it. These were dark times.
Peter opens his letter writing to the “exiles in the dispersion,” and to repeat, briefly, some things we talked about when we started the book of James: this greeting bears with it an enormous amount of meaning. The dispersion was a time in Jewish history when the people of God were conquered, many were killed, and others were taken to every corner of the conquering empire. It was a time when many of the people of God questioned whether God was still with them, and their troubles made them doubt that God would still fulfill his promise to undo the effects of sin on the world, to redeem his creation, and bring the world, at last, to peace. God’s peace of everything as it should be.
But all of that is Old Testament, and Peter is writing in the New Testament, to the Christian Church, so when Peter writes to the tribes in the dispersion, he means to say that the people of God are again in a time of crisis, a time of doubt and fear, like when they were conquered before. The persecutions in Jerusalem had scattered early Christians to every corner of the city, province, and world; they were in pain, their lives were in chaos, and they were no longer able to gather together to live and worship in community. So, in many ways, they were exiles again. They may have fled of their own accord, but the effect was the same.
So here we are, with fear and anxiety for our lives and the lives of people we love, many of us have lost people we know and love; we’re unable to make plans for the future because everything’s been thrown into uncertainty. Many of us have had our livings taken from us, many have fled the city, and we’re unable to gather together in community to worship. So I know it’s not the same situation, but I’m speaking to you, this morning, as though you’re exiles, and I want us to hear what Peter writes to the exiles.
Read with me, in 1 Peter, chapter one, starting at the beginning through v.12. [1 Peter 1:1-12] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father God, please let us know your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
The first point from our text today is this: in exile, remember the election and foreknowledge of God. In exile, remember the election and foreknowledge of God. I’m looking at vs.1-2, when Peter reminds his church that, even in exile, they are elect, and God foreknew even the troubling times that catch us so off guard.
Election, in scripture, is a word describing God’s part in our salvation. Peter talks later about faith, which is our part of salvation—faith, belief that God will raise us up. But he opens his letter talking, not about faith, which fails in all of us from time to time, but election. In hard times, it’s good to think first of what God is doing, before we look to ourselves.
As an adoptive father, I can tell you, there is no adoption that happens without willing parents. You don’t stumble into an adoption. It takes many years of purpose and planning. We elected to adopt Andrew, because we loved and delighted in him, even before he was a part of our family. So if you are a Christian, you are an adopted son or daughter of God—that’s what we mean when we pray, “Our father,” that we are in a very real way part of God’s family—and this is not by accident, he has adopted you intentionally, because he loves you and delights in you.
We need to remember that we, who are in Christ, are elect when we face difficult times. Because so often, our response to difficulty is to think, “God must not care about me if he allowed this to happen to me,” but it’s not true. God loves you and delights in you, and he showed it by adopting you into his family.
In our exile, I want to take a minute to look at God’s part in our salvation, because so often we focus on what we’re able to do, which is very little. For example, let’s say, next week, our best and brightest people find a vaccine, two years ahead of schedule, and the world bands together, we forget our differences, and we get this vaccine to every person in the world, and we start with the poor and the elderly, those who have been most affected in all of this, we start in the despised and forgotten parts of the world, and the richest of us pay the cost for those of us who can’t afford treatment and can’t afford to stay home, and we stop the virus next week.
Even in that scenario, what about the thousands who have died in our city already, our friends and family members? Will there be a medicine for them? Will one of our political leaders be able to bring us joy when we mourn their loss? Will forgetting our differences bring us peace in the wake of all of this, and make everything as it should be in the world after so much death?
If we look first at our own work in the world, at our own power to address the brokenness of the world, our reactions are fear or hopeless disregard for our world, and rightfully so, because if we’re just looking at ourselves, as one author writes, we live in a world “of irrevocable loss and incurable fault.” So Peter reminds us, remember God’s part. Remember that he chose you to be a part of his family, that he loves you, that he is bringing restoration to the world, and he starts with the people who are weakest and most affected, even with us, and he uses his own inheritance to heal us, and he will bring peace to the world. If we start there, we can see that we have hope, even now, because God is even able to rescue even those who have died.
Remember the election and the foreknowledge of God. Foreknowledge means that God is not surprised by any of this. He knew of this crisis before he elected you, before he chose you to be here. He’s not caught off guard. And I asked a question at the beginning of all of this, in small group, that I’d like to answer now: what does it matter that God foreknew all of this if he still allowed it to happen?
It matters because all of the promises he made to us, promises of resurrection and joy in the end, he made all of them knowing these days were coming. One of the things I’ve regretted in the past few weeks is that I stood up the Sunday I announced the church was closing and told all of our people that we would still be serving the homeless on Fridays, and the very next day the mayor banned all gatherings and police were patrolling the French Quarter to stop anyone from gathering a crowd. Our friends found out we weren’t able to continue, that they needed other plans to eat and shower, from a sign on the door. I was made a liar, not intentionally, but because I wasn’t able to see what came next.
And one of the unsettling things about times like this, is that things you counted on, took for granted, start to fall through. Things like food, money, childcare, things you carefully worked out and spent your life getting sorted, everything falls through, and you’re reminded that nothing anyone promises you is certain. It’s all dependent, because a virus or a hurricane can send us sprawling, and even with the best of intentions, we can’t fulfill our promises.
We need to know in exile, that God foreknew his own children would endure such times, because then we can know he’s not able to be made a liar. If he knew this was coming, and he promised us all the same, then his promise to make all the sad things come untrue isn’t broken. Our hope survives even through all of this. So, in exile remember the election and foreknowledge of God. He loves you, and he’s not surprised by any of this.
Peter’s second encouragement is this: in exile, remember the end. In exile, remember the end. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is unperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
How do you comfort a people who are facing death, who’ve been forced off the land which is their livelihood, or forced to leave their trade and tools to flee, who have gone from a respectable profession within a community to being a refugee in a land unknown? Ask them to remember the end, which is possible only because the end is already written, so we can know it, we can remember it, and we can live like we have a destination ahead of us.
One of the emotional effects of this time, as we stay home, has been a feeling of aimlessness, listlessness. I know it’s been especially difficult for those of you who are out of work. I know for me, I’m working more than ever, but I feel like I don’t do anything anymore. What was it about going into my office each day that gave me a sense of movement? I’m keenly aware right now that my work has me sitting in front of a screen most of my day, and the whole world is baking, gardening, something where we can know there’s an end in sight, there’s a goal, an aim.
Everything in the world is on pause, so we need to remember that God’s plan to redeem the world is coming ever closer, and nothing is able to stop him or slow him down. Even now, we have a destination. You may have lost your job, but you have an inheritance waiting, one that’s not dependent upon the market or the economy.
And you may say, all of this hoping and waiting on God, this opiate religion, why not be the change you want to see in the world? But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about when you’re in exile, in the times and places when the world goes beyond your control or even influence. When you have a good plan for your life, and you’re telling yourself things are looking up, but then the whole world stops mid-sentence.
Lewis writes, “Hope…means…a continual looking forward to the eternal world….It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven, and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth, and you will get neither.”
Tish Warren—I’m just going to keep quoting her, it’s fine—asks us, to imagine an interstate—I think of I-10 over the spillway—and imagine a traffic jam on your way to spend Christmas with family or friends, which is starting to feel like the next time I’ll get to see family and friends. What would happen if, all of the sudden, everyone forgot that there was anywhere to go? If they turned off their cars and got out, thought that the tiny strip of concrete over the water was the entire world? At first, people would fire up the grills, pass out drinks, make the best of it but when supplies run low, and they get cold and hungry, fights would break out for food and clean water, for gas and for nicer and nicer cars. Violence, meanness, purposelessness. Coalitions would form, rebellions after that. Some would surely think positive and seize the day, set up a feeding station, and point out how beautiful the lake is—which is good, but remember: what people need is to remember the destination.
Live your life like you have somewhere to go, even now. Even in all of this. Don’t lose hope and close yourself off; don’t forget the other travelers on the road. In exile, remember the end.
The last point from our text is this: in exile, remember you rejoice. In exile, remember you rejoice. Peter writes, in vs.8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
These are people who are running for their lives into exile, losing everything they had, all for the sake of their faith; faith, again, is our part in salvation, desiring God, believing he’s able to turn back sin and death. You would think these exiles would begin to despise this faith that’s cost them so much, abandon it, regret it—and some did. But those who went into exile found that, even when they had to leave everything else behind, joy came with them. It may be a joy that’s inexpressible, you can’t explain it, but there it is all the same, filled with glory, because it’s the joy of faith itself. It’s the joy of knowing that no matter what happens in the world, no matter where we go, even if we go to the grave, God’s able to reach us and rescue us there.
If you get a moment, I hope you’ll go back in the text and just notice how strange these verses are. And some of you will understand, everything’s in second person, and it’s not imperative, it’s not a command. The first time I read it, I thought Peter was telling them how they should feel, but that’s not it, he’s not saying you should love the Lord and rejoice, he’s reminding them, you do love God and rejoice, and emotionally, there is a huge difference between those two statements.
In days when I’ve grieved and suffered loss, occasionally people will tell me that I should rejoice, because you know, that person you loved will be healed and raised up in the end. They’re in a better place—rejoice. Like I’ve forgotten a lesson from Sunday school and need to be reminded. And if you’ve ever been there, you know, telling someone who’s suffering to rejoice instead of mourning is like coming across a person in the road pinned and crushed under the weight of what they were carrying, and instead of lifting part of it to help them escape, you add just a little weight to the load. For some of us, rejoicing is a daily battle. To quote Jenny Lewis, “If living is the problem, that’s just baffling.” I’m not telling you today to rejoice. Because even if one day God will make everything right, today is not that day, and even our God wept bitterly at the death of his friend when he knew he would be raised just moments later.
I’m not telling you to rejoice right now during all of this. I’m asking you to remember, you do rejoice if you have faith in God. I hear this kind of reminder almost daily right now. Jess is especially good about it. AJ’s in a shy stage, and when she’s leaving she always says, “Bye AJ, I love you,” and right now, he’s not saying it back. So she’ll tell him straight, “You love me, so say it.” It’s a good reminder. And we tell him all the time, in our family, we don’t hit, we say kind words. In our family, we don’t lie.
Peter is doing the same thing here. He’s saying, I know you’re in exile, and you’re mourning the loss of everything your life was. But remember, you rejoice. There is joy still in Christ, even now. God is still in control. He still loves you. He’s still coming to rescue you. As Christians, in our family, remember, you rejoice. It’s a good reminder, because joy is at the Center of the Christian life. Our struggle, as Christians, this spiritual battle we’re in, in many ways, is a struggle against futility and fear, toward joy. As Richard Foster writes, “celebration is the heart of the way of Christ.”
If you’re watching this today, and you’re longing for joy or hope, I only know of one place to find real hope and joy that doesn’t fade away when everything else goes dark. Come to Christ, even now—our contact info is on this page, call, text, email. I want to pray for you.
And, friends, even when all of this is over, we’ll need to remember these things. When we are able to gather together again, and fear has passed, mourning subsided, and we begin to be more at home, less exiled, remember: this world is not our home. As long as we live in a broken world and long for the next, we are exiles of a sort. Remember that God is in control, that he loves us, that he’s coming to rescue us, and we rejoice. Pray with me.