One Holy Nation
1 Peter 2:1-12

From the beginning of time Almighty God has had a heart for His people. God’s love for His people is so great that He gave His Son’s life to make things right between Himself and His people. That’s love folks! God’s love for His people is awesome! You may ask, “Yes, but who are His people? Who are the people that God loves most?” That’s a good question. I’ve heard folks offer answers to that question. Some of the answers I have heard don’t hold water. Some border on the ridiculous. People who don’t understand the heart of God will quickly answer that God loves “us” more than any other. Who is “us?” Well, of course “us” is us. You know, you and me. Those like us. Those who look like us, walk like us, talk like us, act like us, and live like us. God loves us more than any other!

Any student of God’s Word and any follower of Jesus who sincerely seeks to walk with the Lord would never subscribe to such a juvenile understanding of God’s love and God’s people. The tragedy is that it is precisely this mindset, an attitude of arrogance, that is alive and well in the Church today. This mindset is the greatest hindrance to the work of our Lord around the world today.

It is this mindset that turned the Hindu teacher, Mahatma Ghandi, away from Jesus. Ghandi said in his autobiography that during his days as a student he was interested in the Bible. Ghandi was moved as he read the gospels. He was so moved that he considered converting to Christianity. Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. One Sunday he went to a church to see the minister and ask for instruction on the way of salvation and other Christian doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. He left and never went back. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”

Isn’t it a shame that this great teacher, who is known throughout the world, was turned away from Jesus from those who professed to love Him most! How many more folks since Ghandi have been turned away from the love and grace of Almighty God by those of us who claim to follow Jesus? I don’t really think we want to know, it would shame us all. We can’t undo the past, but we can sure take steps to assure that such things never take place on our watch.

I want us to take the time this morning to begin to understand the depth, breadth, and height of God’s great love for His people. I want us to discover, in light of God’s love, who qualifies as “us?” We need a new way of thinking. We need to dismantle the old ideas of nationalistic arrogance, racial elitism, and economic pride and begin to see ourselves as citizens first and foremost of the Kingdom of God. One holy nation, united not by language, status, race, or ancestry, but the cross of our Savior!

Jesus understood that the greatest unifying force in the world is something other than what we as people seek to unify us. As a matter of fact, if you were to go to the mall and poll one hundred people, they would never guess the strongest bond of all. You may ask, “What is it? What is this that is stronger than Super Glue? Is it stronger than blood-line?” You bet. “Stronger than the ties experienced by fraternity brothers or sorority sisters?” Without a doubt! “Stronger than political affiliation?” No question! “Stronger than gang affiliation?” You better believe it! “Stronger than the camaraderie shared by athletes on the field of competition?” Of course! Jesus knew the greatest unifying force of all. Take a look at Matthew 12:46-50 and you will see what I am talking about.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. {47} Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” {48} He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” {49} Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. {50} For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mat 12:46-50 NIV)

I came to declare to you today that my brothers and sisters are of every color, tribe, size, flag, and nation under the Son. Some live in palaces and others live in lean-tos. Some speak English, but most speak languages that I can not understand. Some toil for endless hours on end in rice fields while others sit on corporate boards. My brothers and sisters are black, brown, yellow, red, and white. We are united in our family tree! We have been planted in the fertile soil of the Gospel of our Savior. Watered and nurtured by His Holy Spirit. Growing larger day-by-day by our Father’s mighty grace. We are adopted as sons and daughters of the King! We are one holy nation seeking to do our Father’s will!

Let me share with you some of the stories of my brothers and sisters, your brothers and sisters, from around the world. Let’s catch up on what is happening with the family.

I’ve got family in Uganda, and so do you if you are a follower of Jesus. There is good news coming from the family in Uganda. President Y.K. Museveni says, “Solutions to individual and societal problems can be found in Jesus Christ…” Religion Today reported that President Y.K. Museveni made the remarks in a speech to the nation in January. “Tribal differences, religious divisions, poverty, lack of education, political upheaval and racial strife are proof that the principals of Jesus Christ have not penetrated Africa enough,” Museveni said. Some people find his remarks strange because he has not always followed Christian teaching. President Museveni says “As the years have gone by … I have decided to follow Jesus Christ with my whole heart.” It’s good to know that we’ve got family in Uganda who are working to spread the Good News of Jesus our Savior to a troubled land.

You won’t believe me, but I’m going to tell you anyway. We’ve got family in Iraq! That’s right, and you won’t believe who it is! Let me share with you the news story I read that brought the good news to me.

Iraq — Saddam Hussein’s wild son Uday, whose debaucherous lifestyle has been creating headlines for years, was bedridden for some time last year after being shot. Dawn Friday Fax has heard from a reliable source that a young Christian called Rahkma (name changed) “saw herself explaining the Gospel to Uday in a dream.” The dream made such an impression that she immediately set off on her way to Uday’s office in Baghdad.

“I have a message for Uday from Jesus Christ, which I can only give him verbally,” she told the security guards, who initially suspected an unusual joke, but Rahkma persisted. “Jesus Christ is a well-known person,” one of the guards said, “so perhaps we should let the woman in,” [to] speak with Uday.

“There’s a woman here who claims to have a message for you from Jesus Christ. We can’t get rid of her. What should we do?” they asked him. Uday told his secretary to send Rahkma to him in his limousine. She spent 2 hours with him, and could not only explain the Gospel to him but also prayed with him to invite Jesus into his life. According to the report, Uday was crying as he prayed. “What can I do for you or your family?” asked Uday. “Nothing,” replied Rahkma, giving him a Bible. “I’m simply your sister now.”

Observers consider it unthinkable that Uday will publicly speak of his experience with Jesus in Iraq’s current religious and political climate. However, during a televised speech some days later, he spoke out for increased tolerance towards Christians. (Reprinted with permission from Dawn Friday Fax.)

We’ve got little brothers and sisters living in the slums of Brazil that I just read about this past week. Let me share their story with you.

NOVA FRIBURGO, Brazil — Children and teens in a notoriously violent Brazilian slum are getting excited about the Bible. The Projeto Casa Esperan?a (House of Hope Project) is an independent Christian aid project seeking to work with at-risk adolescents in the city of Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The group recently received donations to purchase 128 hardcover Bibles.

Paul Cull, the Project’s leader, described what happened next. “In the week following, without doing any form of publicity or door-to-door distribution, we gave 34 Bibles to children and teenagers who approached us requesting them.”

One six-year-old boy told Cull he wanted a “big Bible,” as opposed to a kid’s version. When he pointed out to the boy that he couldn’t read, the boy replied he would learn to read with the Bible.

“Finally I realized that this little fellow was really serious, and gave him a Bible,” Cull said. “He came back the other day telling Cathy [one of the PCE workers] that he had learned to read the words ‘heaven’ and ‘earth.'”

In late March, an area newspaper profiled the slum where PCE works, describing it as the “most violent suburb in Nova Friburgo.” According to Cull, 11 people were murdered there last year, 10 of those being youth. Yet Cull remains optimistic. “I have never seen such a hunger for the Word of God among 10-15 year olds as I am seeing now, and personally believe the Lord is saturating this suburb with the ‘gasoline’ of His Word before sending the fire of revival.” The Lord is igniting a fire in the hearts of our little brothers and sisters living in that Brazilian slum! That’s good news for the family.

There’s also good news coming from our family in Cuba. For so long our family members in Cuba were held in the stranglehold of Fidel’s tight fist, but the tide is turning.

The aftermath of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion left many thousands of people, including missionaries and ministers, imprisoned for their faith. Thirty-seven years later Communist leader Fidel Castro is still in power and people are burdened by oppression, but there is a new tolerance for religion in the country. Recently, Hugh Hurt, missionary with the Florida Baptist Convention, recalled how people were unable to find seats and lined the walls at every worship service he attended.

At Los Pios, where Hurt was leading revival services, the 110-seat sanctuary was packed with more than 200 Cubans, some even standing outside to listen through the windows. Twenty-six people came forward and made professions of faith that night, a night of simultaneous revival held in several churches around town. Altogether, 360 people made confessions of faith that night. We are part of a growing family!

I could go on and on telling you stories of our brothers and sisters around the world. I could tell you stories of how our brothers and sisters in England are starting churches in pubs. I could tell you how our family members in Russia are growing strong in God’s grace even though the reins of government control are being tightened. I could tell you stories from the continent of Australia where the family is creatively reaching a new generation for Jesus our Savior. I could share with you the stories of Chinese brothers and sisters who are meeting in house churches till the wee hours of the morning praising Almighty God and thanking Him for the persecution they face on a daily basis.

There is something I’m learning about my family tree. Our family tree is bright and colorful! It is as diverse as the flowers of the field. It is also strongest where the winds of challenge and suffering are most violently blowing! Our brothers and sisters are not afraid of difficult situations. Quite the contrary, where suffering lingers, our family members are most prevalent. Let me give you a couple of examples.

The mechanics at Good News Garage in Burlington, Vt., do more than repair cars. They help fix lives. The place looks like a typical auto shop, with three work bays and three mechanics doing all kinds of repairs. But they’re not in it for the money. The garage is part of Lutheran Social Services of New England. The cars are donated junkers that are being restored to running order and given to needy people who have the promise of a job but no way to get there. People get the cars for free or whatever they can pay, and become their legal owners. The better cars, such as a Mercedes-Benz, are sold to help finance the garage. Donors get a tax write-off.

The program’s director, Hal Colston, came up with the idea and presented it to a group of five local Lutheran congregations that had been looking for projects to help their community. Good News Garage has placed more than 100 vehicles with new owners since opening in 1996. People who have transportation don’t realize how hard it is to get to work, go to the store, or do much of anything else without a dependable car. Public transportation is limited or nonexistent throughout largely rural Vermont, although Burlington does have a bus line.

Having good transportation can mean the difference between getting and not getting a job, and escaping from poverty. Barb Lemmon, a registered nurse who meets with patients 40 miles away, got help from Good News Garage. Less than a year after being given a car, Lemmon began “making a decent income,” was able to buy a car on her own, and returned the Good News Garage’s car for someone else to use, garage manager John Van Zandt said. “I’ve worked at many dealerships throughout the years, and it’s nice to be working to help people that need it rather than just making the dealership owner rich,” he told Religion Today. “It’s a lot more rewarding, especially when you can help someone like Barb.”

Family members in the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance have underwritten the entire cost of resources used for the school counselors working with children and their families who were traumatized by the recent shooting at the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Four classmates were killed and one teacher died as a result of the shooting. The First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro is working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance team leaders to meet with counselors at the school and to offer help to the suffering families.

Wherever you find suffering and heartache, there you will find our brothers and sisters with a cup of cold water, a comforting prayer, and assistance of every form and fashion.

Today marks the third anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah building in downtown Oklahoma City. I have never witnessed a greater outpouring of love and support in my life. I had a birds-eye view for two weeks as I was downtown working with the family members waiting to hear news of their loved ones who were missing. We were inundated with men and women, boys and girls, from around the country who had traveled to Oklahoma City to offer their help. Ninety-nine percent of those I came in contact with while working at the family center were followers of Jesus.

All around the world you will find followers of Jesus serving, giving, and sacrificing their time and lives to serve those who are wading in troubled waters. Why would people do such a thing? How could someone give up their own aspirations and dreams to pursue giving their life away for others? How can people overcome things like race, class, creeds, and national allegiances and work together in harmony and peace, with passion and zeal? What is the key to living such a life? I’m so glad you’ve asked. Peter gives us the answer to all of these important questions in I Peter 2:6-12. Take a look.

{6} For in Scripture it says: “See, I (Jesus) lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” {7} Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” {8} and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. {9} But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. {10} Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. {11} Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. {12} Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pet 2:1-12 NIV)

How can people overcome the things that society spends so much time debating and legislating? The answer to our question is Jesus. He is the One who unites us together as one holy nation, a royal priesthood united for the purpose of serving our King. By His shed blood we have been rescued, saved, and redeemed in order that we might become His servants, for His cause.

Peter proclaims to the people of his day, {9} “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. {10} Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Peter wasn’t speaking to the Jewish people or the Gentiles – He was speaking to the people of God!

Notice that Peter says we a holy nation, a people belonging to God – “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” That is “us” folks! The people of God who have been called to proclaim the praises of our mighty, merciful, and majestic God!

Notice also that Peter continues his theme in verses 11-12 when he says, {11} “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. {12} Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter says that we are to live good lives so that the people who do not know the Lord will see our good deeds and glorify God.

Those who have placed their trust in Jesus, who have bent their knee and submitted their lives to Him as King and Lord, are missionaries to a lost and dying world. Peter calls us “aliens and strangers in the world” and this is because this world is not our home. We are on a mission – a mission of mercy, a mission of grace, a mission of salvation, a mission of healing, a mission of hope, a mission for our Master, our King!

I am a member of the family of faith, the people of God. My brothers and sisters live in every corner of the globe, serving faithfully the Lord and Savior that I am seeking to serve in my own corner. I never see many of them though they are in my prayers. We are part of one holy nation united as one with the cross held high for the world to see. One day, when this life is over, when all of God’s holy nation will gather around His throne, we will have a party to end all parties. We will sing our national anthem and it won’t be the song of America, Canada, Mexico, Africa, Israel, Japan, Germany, or any other country! We will lift our voices and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” We will celebrate the mighty deeds our King as we gather around His throne. John tells us what that scene will look like in Revelation 7 when he writes,