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By The Authority...
September 7, 1997

1 PETER 1:1-2

This morning I'm beginning something I have never done before. I am planning to preach my way through a book of the Bible, verse by verse, passage by passage. I'm excited about the journey, and I hope you will join me in studying the book of 1 Peter, during the sermon and at home.

Let's look at 1 Peter. What kind of literature is it? It might be difficult for you to realize it is a letter because it begins with the sender's name. In our letters, we close the letter with the sender's name, but in those days, the salutation began with the sender's identification. In this letter, who is the sender? Peter, and who is Peter? "An apostle of Jesus Christ." Then, the salutation tells us to whom the letter is being sent. "To the exiles of the dispersion." So, the next time you write your Aunt Mary, begin the letter with, "Douglas, your nephew, to my Aunt Mary!" Convenient, isn't it? Now, when you receive a letter, what is the first thing you do? I look at the end to see who it is from!

This letter was written by Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Apostles were chosen and sent as messengers. Jesus chose twelve to be apostles. After his death and resurrection, the early church continued the tradition until the apostles began to die out. There were two criteria for an apostle: 1) He must have been an eyewitness of Jesus. He must have walked with Jesus. Paul was an exception. Paul claimed the title apostle because of his dramatic encounter with the risen Lord, and there were some who questioned his use of the title apostle. Peter did not need any justification for his use of the title apostle. 2) Mandate. An apostle must have been mandated, commanded, and given authority to carry out Jesus' directives. An apostle represented the sender, and the sender, in this case Jesus, gave authority to the apostle to act in the name of Jesus, and on behalf of Jesus

Therefore, the letter is not a pious opinion, but an authoritative word from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. The letter has an implicit authority. It does not have authority because the church said so by including it in the Bible. The church, by including it in the Bible, recognized the authority of the letter. The church does not confer authority on the letter, but recognizes the authority of the letter.

The letter by Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, acting on the authority given him by Christ, was sent "to the exiles of the dispersion." It then lists several places where Christians lived. It was a circuit letter. Before post offices, mail delivery, and e-mail, letters were hand delivered, and taken from place to place. The places are listed in geographical order

"Exiles of the dispersion" is a reference to Jews who were uprooted from their homeland, and scattered throughout the Roman Empire as rootless aliens. Christians in these early days, because of persecution by the Roman Emperor, neighbors, and even their families, felt they were exiles, refugees. Imagine what courage it took to become a Christian, to shift loyalty from the Emperor to Jesus, and incur the wrath of government, families and neighbors. What Christians needed was an authoritative word in which they could trust, on which they could lean, to give them direction, comfort and encouragement. Therefore, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, on whom the authority of Christ had been conferred, wrote a letter to his people.

People today are floundering, desperately looking for authority, looking for someone to lean on, someone to trust, someone to guide them. It is encouraging to see so much interest today in the spiritual. Television programs like X-Files, and Touched By an Angel, books on spirituality and personal growth, even weird cults like the UFO Heaven's Gate, all show a hunger for the spiritual. But, isn't it sad to see so many floundering, looking in unlikely places for God.

People want and need an authority they can trust and respect. The profound sense of loss and deep grief the world is feeling for Princess Diana is phenomenal. Our fascination with Princess Diana is not just because she was beautiful, fashionable, and concerned with human need, not just because she died a horrible, unnecessary death, but Americans seem to have a deep fascination with royalty. We don't have a Queen or a Princess, but we seem to secretly crave such authority.

At the same time, led by the media, we are busily undermining authority to the point of disrespect and even ridicule. The church has lost authority and respect. The Bible has lost authority and respect. The President has lost authority and respect. We do not do ourselves or our children any favor by disrespecting the President and our political leaders. The media is intent on discrediting and undermining respect for public leaders, but, regardless of your politics, the office of President deserves respect. And when we do not give respect, we are hurting ourselves and our children, because people need authority in their lives. The authority of school teachers and police is no longer respected, and who is harmed? Our children.

America has undermined authority and is now desperately looking for an authority to respect, yearning for a Princess. People are desperately looking for a savior, looking for meaning, looking for hope. Listen to a word of desperation, a cry for help, a cry for hope, from a sixteen-year-old girl.

I never thought about killing myself; it just became a condition. Kind of like catching a cold. One minute you are fine, and the next minute you are sick. Whenever people would talk about suicide, I would think to myself, "I would never do that." Why would someone want to do something so final, so stupid?

For me, I just wanted the pain to stop. And it got to the point where I was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen.

I am 16. I spend the summer with my mom and during the school year I live with my dad. I feel like an inconvenience to both of them... I was having trouble with my friends. The ones I had not lost already to "different lifestyles" were unable to help me. In their words, my problems were "too much" for them. The intensity of my pain scared them, like it did me...

I was alone. All I had were the voices in my head telling me I blew it, I was too needy, I was never going to be loved once someone really got to know me. I felt that I wasn't even good enough to be loved by my own parents...

I went into my mom's bathroom and took a bottle of...pills. Soon the pain would be over.

Fortunately, the pills didn't work. She didn't die. Oh, how she needed a word of authority, some direction in her life, someone to trust, something to depend on.

Young people, listen. Any of you contemplating suicide, listen. Any of you who are floundering, listen. You who are looking for deeper meaning, looking for royalty, looking for authority, listen. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote to the exiles-- to you who feel alienated, you who feel like a refugee, you who feel alone, estranged, rootless, floundering. Listen! Peter had authority from Jesus himself. Believe him. Trust him. Trust his letter. What did he say? "You have been chosen and destined by God," which we will continue next week.

You may have noticed I changed the announced title of this sermon. "Scattered, But Chosen" will be next week's sermon. This morning I couldn't get past the third word of the letter-- apostle, and the authority of an apostle! At this rate, it will take us a long time to get through the letter, but what else do we have to do??

When I was ordained, Bishop T. Otto Nall put his hands on my head and, with my hand on the Bible, said, "Take thou authority to preach the word of God." Claiming that authority this morning, I say to you... By the authority invested in me by the United Methodist Church, I say to you: Trust in the authority of the Bible. Trust in Jesus Christ, your rock and foundation.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris