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God's Own People
November 9, 1997

1 PETER 2:9-10

There is power in words.

In the darkest hours of England's history, when the Nazis were at the brink of victory, Prime Minister Winston Churchill saved England with his words.

In our own history, Patrick Henry ignited the American revolution with the words, "Give me liberty or give me death." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt inspired the nation caught in the throes of the Great Depression with the words, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

There is power in words. Peter encouraged Christians to face the threat of persecution courageously with the words, "You are chosen, destined and sanctified." Words have power. You can tell yourself, "I am dumb, helpless, hopeless, and a victim of circumstances." Or, you can tell yourself, "I am chosen, destined and sanctified." There is power in words.

A church can tell itself, "We are small, weak, unable to do much." After I graduated from seminary, I was appointed pastor of four churches back in Minnesota. Three of them had memberships under 25. They thought they were small, but I wouldn't let them act small. I preached a sermon, "When Is a Church Small?" A church of any size is small when it thinks it is small, insignificant, powerless. A church is big, significant, vital, dynamic, growing, busily doing God's work when it catches Peter's vision in the powerful words, 1 Peter 2:9, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."

That's who we are. We are not just a group of people who like each other. We are not just a social group who gather together for dinners. We are not just a United Methodist church. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people. Peter reached back into the Old Testament, taking powerful words which had been addressed to the nation of Israel, and then applied those same powerful words to small, scraggly, politically powerless churches made up of slaves and women. Imagine! God said, "I choose you. You are now my chosen people. You are now my priests. I want you to intercede on behalf of people. I want you to do my work. I want you to be my own special people."

Not that all people aren't God's people, but we who are in the church are special-- God's personal property, so to speak, God's reserved domain, people God means to have for himself! We are God's own people, set apart, sanctified for special work. To do what? What is the special work? vss. 9-10, "In order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people." Once you were nothing. Once you were lost and staggering about looking for purpose, searching for meaning, wondering where you belong, where you fit. Now we know who we are, now we know where we belong, now we know what we are to be doing. We are God's own people, and we are called to do God's work.

How can you tell God's own people from everyone else? How can you tell if a church is made up of God's own people? A fourth-grade class played Balloon Stomp. Each child had a balloon tied on his or her leg and the object was to burst everyone else's balloon while protecting their own. The children leapt ferociously on each other's balloons, except for the few who stood there, not quite knowing what to do. Finally, there was one balloon left-- one child won and the others lost.

Then, another class played the same game. But, these children were mentally handicapped. It took some time for them to understand that the balloons were to be stomped, and then they played the game differently. They helped each other! One girl carefully held her own balloon in place so that a boy could stomp it, and then he did the same for her. When all the balloons were gone, with none left, the entire class cheered in unison. They were all winners! They practiced generosity, trust, cooperation, gentleness, and concern for one another.

How can you tell if a church is made up of God's own people? Clarence Jordan visited a church in the deep south. He was surprised to find a vital, dynamic, growing, integrated church, not only Black and White, but also rich and poor.

He asked the old hillbilly preacher, "How did the church get this way?"

The preacher said, "Well, when our preacher left our small church, I went to the Deacons and said, `I'll be the preacher.' The first Sunday as preacher, I opened the book and read, `As many of you as has been baptized into Jesus has put on Jesus and there is no longer any Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, males or females, because you is all one in Jesus.' Then I closed the book and said, `If you one with Jesus, you one with all kind of folks. And if you ain't, you ain't.'" Jordan asked what happened after that.

"Well," said the preacher, "the Deacons took me into the back room and told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more."

Jordan asked what he did.

The preacher roared, "I fired them Deacons, and I preached that church down to four! Not long after that, it grew and grew and grew. And I found out that revival sometimes don't mean bringing' people in but gettin' people out that don't love Jesus."

How can you tell if a church is made up of God's own people? There was a woman whose life had been one tragic loss after another. She was now a lonely widow, rejected by her remaining son. She struggled against the pain of a debilitating disease, yet she made it to church every Sunday. She lived in a little converted garage. She wore the same shoes and dress to church week after week, year after year. Yet, when there was a special need presented, hers was the first gift to be received. Besides that, she made one of the largest annual pledges in the congregation.

When the church launched a building campaign, her pledge was the first to be received and the pastor could not believe the amount she had pledged. He decided to discuss her large pledge with her because he was afraid she had overextended herself. But she said, "Every morning I sit at this little table and I sing, Holy, Holy, Holy. Then I ask God to help me live from the heart, to do what the heart tells me to do. I have done that for many years, and although I have lost much and had to relinquish loved ones, my health, my home and most of my possessions, I have discovered that the only thing I cannot lose is what I give. Please do not take that away from me! Receive what I want to give in the spirit in which I give it. I do what my heart tells me to do."

How can you tell if a church is made up of God's own people? Charles Colson tells of visiting a prison in Brazil that was turned over to two Christians twenty years ago. They call it Humanita and they run the prison on Christian principles. The prison has only two full time staff; the rest of the work is done by inmates. Every prisoner is assigned another inmate to whom he is accountable. In addition, every prisoner is assigned a volunteer family from the outside that works with him during his term and after his release. Every prisoner joins a chapel program, or else takes a course in character formation. Colson found the inmates smiling. He saw men at peace. He saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated, not with graffiti but with biblical sayings.

Humanita has an astonishing record. Only 4% of its prisoners return, compared to 75% in the rest of Brazil and the United States. Colson wonder how it was possible and saw the answer when his guide escorted him to the notorious punishment cell once used for torture. The cell now held only one inmate. As the guide put the key into the lock, he paused and asked, "Are you sure you want to go in?" "Of course!" Colson replied. Slowly the guide swung open the massive door, and Colson saw the prisoner in the punishment cell: a crucifix beautifully carved by the inmates, the prisoner Jesus hanging on the cross. The guide said softly, "He's doing time for all the rest of us."

Isn't it amazing what God can do! Isn't it amazing what God can do with us when we become God's own people! God can even take prisons and transform them into churches. If they ever ask me to design questions for the District Superintendent to ask at the annual Church Conference, I would have the Superintendent ask, "What miracles have happened this past year?"

Regarding our congregation, I would tell him, "We are a church of miracles. We are a church of God's own people where the sick are healed, where Susan's tumor disappears.

We are a church of God's own people who take care of one another, look out for one another, help each other break their balloons so that there are no losers, and everyone is a winner.

We are a church of God's own people who love Jesus and are one in unity with all kinds of folks.

We are a church of God's own people who live from the heart and give from the heart.

We are a church who took a patio where the sidewalk was buckled and transformed it into a work of art where people fellowship and children play.

We are a church of God's own people who are constantly expanding. We are building a new building, expanding our facilities so we may better serve God. We open our hearts and doors to children and people who need to know they also belong to Jesus. Our arms encompass the world as we give to missions through our conference apportionments and with special offerings.

We are a church of God's own people who do not keep the good news to ourselves, but "proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris