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Scattered, But Chosen
September 14, 1997

1 PETER 1:2

We are working our way through the book of 1 Peter. Today, we look at the second verse of chapter one.

Through these sermons, I am indirectly teaching you how to study the Bible. We begin with the original meaning of the passage, asking: What was the context? What was going on that prompted the letter? What was the cultural environment? How does the passage relate to the rest of the letter, the rest of the Bible? What was the word of God in that situation? What does the passage mean for us today? What is the word of God for us?

Verse two contains three powerful words. There is power in words as words have authority. Words that are implanted and cemented in your mind affect behavior. Poets know that words paint pictures. Words that roll off the tongue have an intriguing, mesmerizing quality. Remember supercalafragilisticexpialadocious from Mary Poppins?

Imagine what the words of verse two meant to the original readers! They were small bands of Christians located in various places. They were persecuted for their faith in and loyalty to Christ. Peter called them "exiles of the dispersion" in verse one. Like Jews who had been dispersed from their homeland, Christians also felt like refugees, exiles. They were ostracized, misunderstood, insulted, abused, and many of them were killed dying horrible, tortured deaths. These first Christians were the disenfranchised of society. We know from later passages in Peter's letter that many of them were slaves and women, both of whom had no power. In fact, it was probably their inclusion in the church, without permission of their masters or husbands-- an assertion of independence-- that brought on the persecution.

To such people, imagine the power of these words. Imagine slaves and women in the first century being told that they are chosen, destined, and sanctified. Imagine! These words have power even for us. Try rolling them around in your head: I am chosen, destined, and sanctified. Let's look at each word.

CHOSEN. Chosen is not a matter of free will. You do not have power to be chosen. Choice is the power and prerogative of the chooser. When we lined up as children for softball teams, I was usually the last to be chosen before the captains got to the girls! "Oh, I'll take Doug," one of them would say. My fantasy was: "Oh, wouldn't it be great to be chosen first!" But, I had no choice, no freedom, no power.

But, the Christians who received Peter's letter, the "exiles of the dispersion", the disenfranchised who were not chosen by society, were chosen by God. God pointed his/her finger, and said, "I'll take you first." They-- and we-- are chosen, not because we reached out to God, but because God reached out to us. The next hymn we will sing this morning, says,

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.

It was not I that found, O Savior true;

no, I was found of thee.

It is God who does the choosing!

DESTINED. Try rolling destined around in your head. "Not only am I chosen, I am destined!" Destined is a stronger word than chosen. Not only does God choose, but God uses our genetic heritage, family and cultural environment, situations and circumstances, to bring us to a place where we can hear and understand that we are chosen.

As you look back on your life, can't you see crossroads where you made a choice, took a turn, and sometimes wonder where you would be today if you had taken the other turn, gone down the other road? I almost went to a Lutheran college to be a school teacher. If I had, I wouldn't have met my wife. Would I even be a pastor? Can you see the hand of God, the hand of destiny, in your choices? When you admit there is no such thing as coincidence, but destiny, you realize that you are not the result of whims, or chance, or luck, but destiny, God's plan.

George Meyer tells how he was passed by a woman driver who gave him the brightest, sweetest smile. He smiled back, and followed her into Turlock where she stopped her car. They introduced themselves, got acquainted, and married each other! (Not all in the same day, however!) George and Elsie were married 45 years when she died in July. Was that meeting on the highway by chance, luck, coincidence or destiny? Ask George; he'll tell you it was destiny, God's plan.

Do you think your baptism was your own idea,? Was it the whim of your parents? Do you think joining the church was entirely your idea? No, the hand of God was at work designing, destining, setting you up so you could be chosen. Wesley called it prevenient grace, where God's grace is at work in our lives even before we realize it.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself, "I'm not sure I am chosen or destined." How do you know you have been chosen by God? How do you know you are destined to belong to Christ? I purchased several commentaries on 1 Peter to help me prepare these sermons. One is a translation of Martin Luther's commentary which he wrote in 1523. Luther said you are among the chosen because you are hearing the preaching, hearing the Word. If you hear the gospel, acknowledge you are a sinner unable to save yourself, but believe God has saved you through Jesus Christ, you are among the chosen, said Luther.

How do you know you are chosen? Because, you are hearing these words. If you hear what I am saying, you are among the chosen. Did you think coming here this morning was your choice, your idea, or because your parents made you come? No way! You are here this morning hearing this sermon on 1 Peter because God brought you here. Events conspired in your life to bring you to Merced, and to bring you here this morning. It is destiny!

After a service in Palo Alto, a visitor with a pronounced British accent told me he was a Baptist pastor from England. He was looking for a Baptist Church, but couldn't find one, and as it was getting late, he decided to come to our service, even though he was sure I would be too liberal, whatever that means! But, he was surprised to hear the gospel so clearly preached in a Methodist Church. He said, "If anyone here this morning goes to hell, it won't be on your shoulders!"

As a minister of the gospel, it is my responsibility to preach the word of God, to tell you as firmly, lovingly, and clearly as I can that you are chosen and destined to belong to Jesus Christ. What you do with it is up to you. Your choice is not my responsibility. God has a plan, a destiny, for you. You have the freedom to accept or reject.

SANCTIFIED. Sanctified has two meanings. 1) to set apart, to set apart for special worship and service. Common, ordinary things like candles are set apart in the church for the purpose of worship. They are sanctified. The readers of Peter's letter were sanctified, he said; set apart for service to God, set apart to worship, set apart from the evil worldly system in which they lived where the Roman Emperor was worshipped as a god. The theme of the letter, the purpose of the letter which will unfold as we work our way through it, is how to live in the world but remain true and loyal to Christ.

2) The second meaning of sanctified is to make holy. In 1:15, Peter says God has called you to be holy because God is holy. In the tradition of John Wesley, we talk about prevenient grace (God working in our lives before we realize it), justifying grace where Christ justifies us, forgives us, and enters into relationship with us, and sanctifying grace where the Holy Spirit is at work making us holy. The Holy Spirit does not just clean up an old life, but introduces us to a whole new life where we are made pure and holy, belonging completely to God.

Imagine the power of these words for the first century exiles and refugees. Can you roll the words around in your head, and claim their power in your life-- chosen, destined, sanctified.

Now, for what purpose does God choose, destine, and sanctify? "To be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood."

OBEDIENT. Peter encouraged the persecuted to hang in there, to be loyal and obedient; not to forsake Jesus, but obey. The days of persecution are not over. There are more Christians being persecuted for their faith in the world today than ever before in history. You and I do not face overt persecution perhaps-- loss of job (but one man recently told me he lost his job because he was too honest, and refused to lie for the boss), loss of status, loss of family, or loss of life. But, there are many subtle forms of persecution-- peer pressure, going along with the crowd, fitting in with the neighborhood. There are many pressures on us not to stand up for what is right and do what is right.

Why were you chosen, destined, and sanctified? To put God's word in action. Set aside personal interests and inclination and do what God is calling you to do. What "sprinkled with his blood" means will be continued until next week.

Yesterday, the world buried Mother Teresa, a modern Christian who was certainly chosen, destined and sanctified to be obedient to Jesus Christ. In 1949 she was a teacher in a Catholic girls' school in Calcutta, but her destiny was not to teach daughters of well-to-do families. Her heart belonged to the poor and the dying. She said, "I do not see the poor first, but Jesus, Jesus suffering in the poor...We serve Jesus in the poor. We nurse him, feed him, clothe him, comfort him in the abandoned, the sick, the orphans, and the dying."

According to one commentator I heard, Mother Teresa reached over, took Princess Diana's hand, and said, "Don't worry when you suffer, when life gets difficult for you. Reach out, take the hand of someone poor, and discover the joy of serving."

You also are chosen, destined, and sanctified to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris